18 June 2019
David vs Goliath: how SMEs can compete with industry heavyweights in the public sector

By Ben Curnock, Director

It's an opportune time for SMEs to compete with legacy businesses in the public sector. RedRock Director Ben Curnock discusses how and why. 

david and goliath

Legacy brands are in their position for a reason – they’ve been doing what they do for decades and have, as a result, developed crack teams of vastly experienced professionals and garnered reputations that can sometimes oversell their actual ability. For a small or medium sized enterprise, this can be extremely discouraging and prove a real challenge in earning the bigger contracts. 

Of course, this is to be expected to a large extent. Opportunities to work with the country’s biggest names are far from low-hanging fruit, and a wide-range of providers are in a foot-race to sign their name on the dotted line before anyone else. But it can often seem like the odds are never in favour of smaller, more agile organisations, meaning they miss out on the chance to progress as a business by taking on a bigger, higher-profile client. 

This is especially true in the case of public sector contracting, which over the years has often seen government departments turn to the industries’ biggest names in order to source the talent they need. However, a change in attitudes and legislation means that this is beginning to skew in the opposite direction, creating a perfect opportunity for smaller organisations to take a step up and start fulfilling those larger contracts in the public eye. 

There are now policies in place that encourage, and in some cases mandate, the use of SMEs to fulfil their contracts, with the impetus being shifted on to business owners. The opportunity is now there, it just has to be seized. Whether that’s by joining the relevant frameworks, like the one for Digital Outcomes and Specialists, or simply by learning to endure a long and arduous tender process, SMEs have just as much chance to compete.  

In fact, there are now a whole host of reasons why an SME could hold the upper hand over a much bigger firm, not least because they boast an exceptionally detailed level of expert knowledge in their given sector, something that government departments are inherently aware of, leading to a desire to work with them. Subsequently, the tender process has been tweaked and now proposals go to an independent panel to create a shortlist based on a particular set of credentials, meaning the big players can no longer rely on reputation alone. 

For SMEs to capitalise on this, they then have to stay the course of what is a different, extended and often more challenging tender process. If successful, they will be able to work with governmental departments to develop a transfer of skills and knowledge which, in turn, provides greater internal control and enables them to develop a legacy. This differs from the ‘land and expand’ policy of old and enables both departments and individual workers to upskill and take ownership of their assets. 

An increased focus on SMEs could lead to the formation of partnerships with larger suppliers, resulting in a best of both worlds scenario for the customer. This would allow the assembly of so-called ‘rainbow teams’ from across multiple sectors, meaning they would receive the best experience available from specialists in their field in the process of creating a team that has a diverse skillset. 

This change of approach from governmental departments has unlocked a door that previously seemed impenetrable. In changing their focus to delivering projects in an agile fashion, this allows SMEs to build and deliver a minimum viable product quickly, developing the offering as the project progresses. In order to compete with legacy businesses, smaller firms must demonstrate that they have the ability to move swiftly and flexibly, and that they possess the unique expertise that the public sector client requires – tick those boxes, and you’re on to a winner.