Chris Farthing of fast-growing G-Cloud applications support specialist Advice Cloud shares his views on the future of IT procurement reform

Posted 22 November 2016 by Gary Flood

'Cloud' by Art Hitklif, FlickrThink Digital Partners recently met with Chris Farthing, founder and Managing Director of Advice Cloud, which has offices in both London and the South Coast. The firm is a public sector procurement specialist offering advice to SME vendors, specially new ones to the market, and has particular expertise around the G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace

It has also recently expanded its portfolio, with some success, it reports, into the Digital Outcomes & Specialists (DOS) framework, so we thought it’d be a good idea to check in to see what is driving all this great forward momentum.

How would you sum up Advice Cloud in a nutshell, Chris?

We help both buyers and sellers of fairly complex digital technology, cloud technology and digital services in the public sector sphere. In terms of specific names we can cite, companies such as Credits, Mulesoft and Brandwatch come to mind. We’re particularly proud of Credits, which is doing great business in the market with is blockchain as a service offering.

What would you say has been your impact for suppliers, what has your contribution been?

We work with some of the very biggest companies, but our passion is for the small to medium enterprise, it has to be said. We’ve just had some great wins on DOS, which is a relatively new and very interesting commercial structure where the government lists opportunities and you have to bid for them, blind; unfortunately I can’t reveal names, but some clients who are very new to this market are now on significant contracts off it.

I have to ask why: what’s your USP?

Though every client is different, ultimately what we’re doing is just helping them understand a market that may be very new or even totally alien to them. They often need a lot of help learning the way the public sector speaks, and they need to learn to speak that procurement language to get the hearing they deserve. Once we help them to, the innovation, change and talent they can bring to a sector that’s never really seen anything like that gets a fairer chance of success.

Sounds great, and that’s very positive to hear. But how far do you think we are from the level of IT procurement reform in the sector the Coalition started talking about in 2010, like 25% of all supply coming from smaller players and so on?

There absolutely has been progress, especially in central government.

So all’s well?

No, there are some things that give me cause for concern. I am a bit worried about some of the SME messaging out of GDS being diluted, and it seems that some of the control over big contract spending’s being relaxed. There’s a feeling that it’s somehow OK to go for those big ten-year SI contracts again, perhaps.

Big IT has its place, but it’s the SME agenda that I think has to be pushed more. One thing that could help would be more visibility into Departmental IT spend, not just what’s being spent on G-Cloud, out of GDS, as well.

At the same time, we need the new leadership of GDS to settle in and I am confident that once Kevin Cunnington and his team are more established things will start moving in the right direction again.

Interesting, thanks. What’s your feeling about G9, which is also starting to take shape?

I think it hasn’t been as well supported as it could have been, to be honest. I think we had one meeting and a few online forms? That’s a lot less than DOS got, and I think the Marketplace deserves a bit more. But again, let’s give the team the benefit of the doubt and let’s look for some pick up on this in the New Year.

Let’s start to wrap up here. Chris, what’s the one thing that you keep seeing vendors trying to get into the public sector IT market for maybe the first time still getting consistently wrong?

Like I said, it’s not understanding the buying process – their customer. They need to put more into seeing how the customer thinks and buys technology, as well as the T&Cs and standards that they simply have no option but to follow. So if you are a SaaS provider, they can’t look at you if your security doesn’t follow what they need it to, and so on.

The encouraging thing here is that if you do put the effort in – and use services like Advice Cloud to do so – you really can win significant and interesting business.

Great stuff! Let’s close on a positive, Chris. If we came back to talk to Advice Cloud in six months, what progress would you like to share with us?

As it stands, about 60% of our G-Cloud  clients are doing regular business off the Digital Marketplace. I’d like to see that move to more like 75-90. I’d like to see more openness and transparency in the public sector IT market, and finally I’d like to see more innovations like DOS and the opportunities it represents coming along, too.

I’m sure we can all agree on that! Thanks for your time today, and good luck.