Opinion: How stagnant procurement processes can limit digital innovation

Glen Ocskó is the Head of Local Government at Made Tech, a public sector technology delivery company. Glen looks at how changes to the procurement process can affect the ways that tech partners and local authorities work together and create more impactful ways of collaborating that help innovation thrive.




It’s no secret local authority teams are overstretched with juggling budget cuts and pandemic backlogs. Add in the often new and recurring challenges that come with a modern society and innovation takes a back seat. With limited time and resources, it can be difficult to adopt digital tools and new strategies that lie at the heart of innovation.     

Working in smarter, more collaborative ways and not being afraid to push back on procurement processes is the first step. Here’s a few ways tech partners and local authorities can work together to support the type of innovation we’ve seen possible. 



Drive innovation with a product mindset 

I’ve been working in local government since 2006 on digital transformation projects. This has often meant challenging the existing norms to improve outcomes for citizens and service users.  

I’ve seen time and time again councils procuring based on their desire for huge transformational projects with lots of moving parts. Often this results in hopping from one monolith provider to another. Selecting the same two to three suppliers for services like social care, housing and planning. In my experience, this leaves little opportunity for innovation.    

Instead, adopting a ‘product mindset’ by thinking about what we need for that one service, how we need it to work and when we need it can support the type of innovation that creates real change. Rather than expecting one supplier to meet all those needs, we should be looking for many suppliers to work to the same standards in symbiosis.   

Imagine if a council worked with a group of suppliers each specialising in different parts of a particular service. We’d have all bases covered and be able to cater to all the different elements and moving parts. And each would be expert in one thing instead of being barely acceptable in everything. Wouldn’t this be much more suited to everybody’s needs?  

It’s a misconception and a real fear that working with one large provider is going to be easier than managing many. By working towards replacing larger, inflexible suppliers we can drive innovation forward at a sustainable pace.   

two men facing each other while shake hands and smiling

Avoid locking in data  


Many local authorities are still using large technology suppliers for their digital infrastructure. And this means they’re often stuck in contracts that are not only lengthy and expensive, but also lock data away in proprietary formats and platforms. 

This is the legacy technology problem – where outdated software, systems and processes are still in use. And this can mean that both council staff and citizens can’t access and use the services or data they need. Using these types of old and varied platforms means that data silos are often created. Data is not always visible or compatible in these silos, making it even more difficult for information to flow between services.   

When digital services are procured it’s vital that ownership and portability of data is a priority. It’s unacceptable for companies to attempt to charge councils for having the boldness to want to do something with their data. Councils own it and need the freedom to use it to improve the services they offer.  

The use of open standards must also be mandated in procurement processes. Legacy suppliers have got away with proprietary formats for too long because they’re not challenged to be better. If procurement teams demanded the use of open standards with the free flow of data in and out of any newly procured tools at no extra cost, it would very soon lead to those suppliers being forced to improve their offerings – significantly. And it would also allow smaller, more nimble suppliers to build tools that could make even better use of this data. 


Creating a code of conduct 

To make sure we keep up the momentum for innovation this year and beyond, we need a supplier code of conduct. This is where small and medium-sized providers put interoperability front and centre as the need for shared services rise.  

As agile providers we should be championing each other because that’s how we build a collaborative system that puts people first. We need to be asking – how can we make choosing a supplier easier for local government? And how can we make it easier for other suppliers to build on our own work, so we’re collectively greater than the sum of our parts? 


Designing change, together  

As with any successful digital strategy, everyone must be on board and willing to work together to find the right approach. Councils that want to go against the traditional procurement processes need support to make positive long-term change. They understand that if suppliers don’t meet the standards needed, they shouldn’t get re-procured. But they need help to stop the pendulum swing from one monolith to another.   

We as suppliers are supporting local authorities to feel brave. Although, it will take a while to remove themselves from those big contracts and find the right blend of suppliers. And it will only work if elected members get on board with that. But if council changemakers and smaller suppliers can work better together, it will set the public sector up for long-term success and real innovation.

Another MadeTech partner, Arnie Armstrong, wrote on InfoTec about the importance of creating a cyber-resilient public sector through investing in the right places.

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann


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