How SMEs can help drive the UK’s Digital Strategy

digital strategy
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Paul Wash, Founder and Managing Director of digital transformation specialists Zenaxys, discusses how and why the UK should utilise SME’s to advance digital strategy

Launched in 2013, the “Cloud First” strategy remains at the heart of UK government’s digital transformation.

Although due to be updated soon, the 2017 UK Digital Strategy defined a number of key pillars, which includes amongst others:

  • Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need.
  • Helping every British business become a digital business.
  • Maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online.
  • Unlocking the power of data in the UK economy.

There are clearly some huge opportunities but also some key challenges here.

“Bridging the Digital Divide” (Open University, 2019), highlighted the fact that the UK is still facing a significant digital skills shortage, with 9 in 10 organisations admitting to having a shortage. Although the report did not specifically address public services, it is likely a similar picture exists.

As also reflected in the UK Digital Strategy 2017, while UK companies have similar levels of internet access and web presence as those in other European countries, they are less likely to digitise their back-office functions than their peers in other countries. Fewer than 20% of UK enterprises use software to share information across the organisation, compared to 40% in France and more than 55% in Germany.

United Nations E-Government surveys placed the UK in 1st place in 2016, 4th in 2018 and 7th in 2020.

With Denmark and Estonia featuring prominently in the 2020 study, it is clear that many other nations have digital agendas high on their priority list.

Great strategies need to be built on firm foundations

For example, Denmark mandates all citizens access public services online and 91% of citizens receive online mail from the government. A nationwide government digital ID (NemID) is in place, with initiatives delivering digital training widely to upskill the population.

SAP and Microsoft have worked together to create the Common Data Model, now used within many corporations. Imagine a government wide data model that would allow central and local government to better share services and data. Harvesting value from public data requires a long-term vision based on an approach that involves managing both the technology and the complexities of data governance, security and privacy.

With the move to cloud, we have seen a much stronger push towards Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings. Components of functionality are available in building blocks, with for example standardised platforms for CRM, ERP, and supply chain management, used by many businesses with minimal tailoring. A similar approach could also yield benefits for government technology, particularly when applied to the local government scenario.

In addition to these building blocks, digital transformation approaches such as focusing on customer and employee experience and adopting an Agile approach could also deliver material benefits.

Foundations and building blocks such as these, can assist with a sustained and ongoing push towards a more digital future, in-line with government aspirations.

How SMEs can help?

The potential value which could be delivered by Small and Midsized Enterprises (SMEs) is not fully utilised within public services.

A recent report by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) indicated that at the start of 2020 SMEs account for 99.9% of the business population and 60% of the employment. Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities accounted for 15% of all SMEs. This is a huge resource pool.

The opportunity is well known in senior government. However, the challenge is how to leverage it. Traditionally, government procurement processes have been very cumbersome and weighted in favour of larger institutions. The government’s drive to address this problem (see “Home Office – Small and Medium Enterprise Action Plan 2015-2022”) has helped, but there is still resistance within public services to use SMEs. Caution, particularly in a technically complex world, means “bigger is better” often wins out.

To increase adoption, in 2018 the UK government introduced stronger measures to drive the use of SMEs, including adopting a target of spending £1 of every £3 via SMEs by 2022.

SMEs have expert skills, can operate in a nimble manner, often have more competitive pricing and are fiercely keen to please their customers.

Frameworks, such as G-Cloud and Digital Outcomes & Specialists, have of course made it much easier to purchase from SMEs. With financial due diligence, contracts and pricing already in place, supplier selection is much more efficient, radically reducing procurement costs and opening access to the rich vein of SME skills.

Where do Zenaxys fit in?

Many SMEs, including Zenaxys, deliver solutions based on tried and trusted frameworks and services offered by large cloud suppliers such as Microsoft, where cyber security, data centre security and data privacy are already proven solutions aligned with the government’s cloud first approach.

SMEs bring a wealth of diverse capabilities and can leverage skills developed in other sectors. As an example, Zenaxys staff have experience in Financial Services, where our organisation and staff have been responsible for developing “24/7” systems, with complex functionality, for tens of thousands of users, deployed on a global basis.

As Digital transformation specialists, we focus on Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power Platform solutions. Efficient delivery of projects, leveraging tools such as our auto test solution ORQA™, is a cornerstone of the way we operate.

Successful and sustainable digital transformation is a journey, not just a single event. It requires a technology partner that understands your business, working with you every step of the way. At Zenaxys, we aim to become a trusted long term partner for all of our clients. We work hard to identify what the organisation really needs and guide them through the evolving technology maze from initial ideas, through solution definition, implementation, adoption and beyond.

Our experience tells us that innovative technology alone does not deliver the desired results. Zenaxys has built its business in the belief that successful tech-enablement requires a blend of technological expertise, change management skills and digital transformation expertise.

The pandemic has shown how critical ICT can be when there is a great need and technology is deployed appropriately. Governments need to accelerate efforts to embrace the move to greater digitisation, even when the crisis is over.

Zenaxys and other SMEs are well positioned to help.


Please note: This is a commercial profile

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