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Government CTO Liam Maxwell on C-level change

Graham Jarvis | April 29, 2013
The government is scrapping the cross-government CIO role. Since the coalition took office in 2010 there has been a significant level of CIO churn in Whitehall. Liam Maxwell, currently the Government CTO, has risen through the ranks and is considered to be a major reformer. CIO UK met with Maxwell recently to discuss a wide range of issues, including the politics of his role, the Government Digital Service, G-Cloud, SME vendors and -- of course -- cuts.

"The latest figures show that G-Cloud sales continue to grow steadily and there has been over £7.4 million in sales through the CloudStore, of which £5.1 million or 70% has been with SMEs."

Analysts have raised concerns though. They say that the G-Cloud has proven to be hard to sell to the public sector. Ernst & Young's IT advisory partner, Graeme Swan, said in February 2013 that there are some deep-rooted procurement attitudes within the public sector, and so he believes that the government's G-Cloud project team will need outside help in order to move public sector organisations away from the more traditional on-premise vendors.

Although Maxwell hopes to attract more SMEs to the G-Cloud, Oracle and Microsoft have been able to secure government contracts of late.

Microsoft Office 365 has secured G-Cloud accreditation, which poses questions about how serious the government and Maxwell is about disaggregating IT procurement in favour of SMEs.

Maxwell argues that the CloudStore approach makes it easier for SMEs to supply their products and services to the public sector while opening up the market. The government doesn't want company size to remain the barrier it used to be for SME vendors wanting to sell their products.

"They [SMEs] are keen for help with what they are doing, which is opening up and levelling the playing field as previously they had to have a certain turnover before they could bid, or the frameworks were non-dynamic", he says.

The barriers that once existed arose as a mountain of paperwork and before bidding for government contracts many companies felt that they had to spend £100,000 just to get on the tender list. Yet there was no guarantee that they would gain any work from this investment.

"We've been removing barriers such as the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) for example -- and making the process of bidding simpler, faster and cheaper", Maxwell says. His team is also increasing its pre-market engagement with SMEs to allow them to know about any forthcoming developments.

"We are also getting SMEs to come in and work with us before procurement on real projects, to see if they suit them."

Workshops enable SMEs to find out what's coming up, helping them to find out how they can bid for NHS projects. There's a whistle-blowing service too, which enables vendors to register any complaints that arise due to poor procurement practice.

"To date the service has handled over 300 cases, around 80% of which had a positive outcome, where a current or planned procurement was changed or the supplier was given a better understanding of the procurement process", Maxwell says.

Maxwell claims that the government's digital strategy amounts to a radical change to the market because the "whole campaign is about getting the best bidders bidding".


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