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Single vendor contracts are so 90s!  So what’s next?

By Sam Walsh, PA IT Assurance and delivery expert

Government organisations are increasingly making use of a more diverse roster of IT suppliers. Where previously a single vendor provided a range of IT services, there are now multiple suppliers, all contracting with the client directly. The balance of power has shifted away from single vendors to a multi-supplier arrangement that offers the client organisation increased control over project direction and the ability to incorporate their own changing priorities.

Balancing cost, control and risk

The benefit of a multi-supplier approach does, however, bring other challenges. The trade-off for more autonomy, and at a better price, is an increase in risk. For example, in going directly to the market and seeking `best of breed` suppliers, organisations must get to grips with the increased complexity of managing multiple partners themselves. How do you ensure that all suppliers are working together to deliver against common goals? And how can you remain confident that the services from each supplier dovetail seamlessly rather than expose silos?

Building the right expertise and oversight

Consider a medium sized government department.  Should they be expected to have an experienced procurement, architecture, and change capability within their organisation? Do they have the skills required to be `agile by default` or any experience of the UK Government’s Digital Services guidelines? Do they have any expertise of large deliveries in the context of multiple suppliers?

These are some of the considerations to bear in mind when moving away from a single-vendor approach. And there are many others. All too often, the skills and expertise required to effectively run this type of programme do not exist within individual organisations or are not fully considered at the point of commissioning. We all know that it is risky to tackle a problem when you don’t have sufficient experience.

Planning the right approach

So what’s the best way to manage this risk?As with all programmes, the key to successful delivery often starts at the planning stage – which includes thinking about the specialist capabilities needed to integrate all constituent parts.

Often, it is simply not possible – or desirable – to acquire the skills in-house to manage an ongoing programme effectively. Experience tells us, too, that networks of contractors do not retain the critical project or corporate knowledge required to see difficult projects through end-to-end.

Instead, we believe in the importance of skills transfer, providing upfront access to skilled, commercial practitioners with expert delivery experience, who subsequently transfer their knowledge and expertise back into your organisation. This forms the backbone of our solution integrator proposition, which offers clients continuity in managing a complex programme while growing in-house capability and expertise at the same time.

We have seen the success of this approach in our work on the biggest agile delivery programme in the UK public sector and in delivering a major change initiative – covering licensing, payments, reporting, and digital services – for a UK regulator.

In our view, it is indeed possible to successfully balance considerations of cost, risk and autonomy, even in some of the most complex programme environments.

Find out more about our work in IT assurance and delivery.

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