Huddle co-founder on how to win government contracts

For small businesses, securing government contracts is the Holy Grail. With the public sector spending approximately £236bn on goods and services in 2009-10, it’s easy to see why contracts with government are so coveted.

For years, government ICT, in particular, has been an area dominated by systems integrators and technology goliaths. The Forum for Private Business (FPB) has long been pushing the government to make it easier for SMEs to supply to the public sector – and the cogs are slowly turning. In 2008, there was the Glover Review, which proposed ways to make it easier for SMEs to win government business. And this year, the Coalition promised to put an end to “procurement oligopoly“, where innovative small businesses are shut out of contract processes early on because of “ridiculous rules and unnecessary bureaucracy”.

Our success in the public sector should also provide a glimmer of hope to small businesses wishing to work with Whitehall. 

We do business with more than 60 per cent of central government departments, including Defra and the Cabinet Office. In April, we secured government-wide agreed terms. And in July we teamed up with FCO Services to announce Huddle IL3 – which will be the first commercial public cloud service to be modified and accredited for pan-government collaboration on restricted data.

So, here’s my five tips for getting started with government:

1. Networking, networking, networking 

You need to build your network of contacts and gain an in-depth understanding of the pain points that the public sector experiences. Establish what causes public sector workers to stay awake at night – or at least troubles them on a daily basis. Can you help them solve that problem? For Huddle, we realised early on that numerous people within the public sector where frustrated with the fact that they couldn’t work effectively either cross-department or cross-firewalls. While there was pressure to move forward with shared services and effective joined-up government initiatives, making them a reality was a real challenge due to security restrictions and technology requirements. Huddle solves this problem. 

2. Get reference case-studies

Once you have one public-sector customer on board, ask them if they’d be happy to be a case study and provide you with a reference – that will provide prospects with the “comfort factor”, proving that your product or service really does work in practice and results in tangible benefits. Once you have your foot in the door, your reputation will spread.

3. Keep up with the trends

Spend time researching the key topics, latest actions, policy documents and trends that are impacting public sector. For example, if a recent strategy has been set promoting cloud computing, with the aim of driving efficiencies and reducing costs, will your product or service help public sector organisations achieve these goals? How can you make sure you’re topical and responding to demand? 

4. Tailor your service

With government, it simply isn’t a case of one size fits all. Your product or service should be tailored to meet government’s specific requirements. If you provide IT, does your product or service meet the appropriate security measures and standards? Can you provide the level of support that the users require? 

5. Provide a product or service that people like using

Ultimately, regardless of all the research you do and the network that you build, if people don’t like using your product or service, it won’t be successful. Go back to your roots and make sure you’re delivering the very best experience for your users. Give people something intuitive and enjoyable to use.

Alastair Mitchell is co-founder and CEO of Huddle.

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