Bill Crothers calls on government IT suppliers to show more initiative on savings

Government chief procurement officer looks for new thinking from ‘outside-government’

The government’s chief procurement officer, Bill Crothers, has told the government’s major IT suppliers that they need to come up with better ideas to help the government save money.

Speaking to Government Computing, Crothers said: “I think it’s nuts from their position because they have an invitation – from maybe their largest client – to come up with exactly what their marketing speak would say, which is an opportunity to transform part of your business, take out substantial amounts of money, and along the way do more business. They’re not taking up the invitation.”

Crothers said suppliers should now know what message to expect from the government.

“I think the message has got out and they know it’s not going away. We’ve had a few meetings with the minister. The procedure is the crown representative meets with the suppliers in advance and asks them to think about the preparation for the meeting. It’s simple – it’s ‘give us money and give us ideas.’ It is, ‘over to you. You know what our message is.’

“The meetings are pretty amicable, but pretty firm. And if they start to go off-piste and take up time telling us what great companies they are, we pretty quickly put them back on the track.

“It is a cultural change if you like for them, because we have never asked them to treat us as their largest customer before. And they’ve never treated it as such, because they were dealing with each individual department. So they have to get that into their mind, and it’s still seeping through.

“We are not a single contracting entity – but we are a single customer. And it’s getting tiresome keeping trying to catch them out. They price differently over here; they price differently over there. They’ll tell one department that, ‘This is the best price you’ll get anywhere in government.’ And then they’ll do the same thing for a different department. And it’s a different price – it’s higher. It would be better for them – and us – if they knew we were going to catch that stuff. It’s a bit like cat and mouse.”

Crothers fears that both government and suppliers could be “in a groove” in their approach and suggested that the government and suppliers might get a more innovative approach from those who are not embedded in government ways and thinking.

“By that I mean people who work in the civil service and the individuals within suppliers who have always supplied to the government. It’s a closed system. If someone comes in and says, ‘I’ve spent my whole career working for government, from the supply side, they see that as great. I see that as bad, because if you see someone who’s spent their career in insurance or banking or telecoms, they would be bringing you great ideas from different industries, and what I’d like to do is get some external stimulus.”

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