Editorial

How can vendors make the most of big government Departmental opportunity?

We asked Cheryl Stevens of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – and her answers will give you some useful food for thought

Posted 9 April 2019 by

We asked Cheryl Stevens of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – and her answers may give you some useful food for thought.

What you may not know is that she also is willing to share similar insight into what seems to be a big issue for many vendors – large and small – seeking to sell into important Whitehall stakeholders like herself: what is her ideal way of interacting with the market? We were privileged to recently sit down with her to find out.

Attendees of our rolling Think Digital Identity For Government shows will be familiar with the great insights into the future of the Identity in Government that DWP’s Cheryl Stevens provides.

Can you just remind people reading this of your role and responsibility at the department, Ms Stevens? 

Sure: I’m Head of Identity & Trust in DWP. This means I have accountability for securing our services in relation to identity and  fraud and error prevention whilst ensuring that our services remain accessible to citizens. Predominantly, my accountability is in the digital space.

Given that you are obviously a very busy person with a lot of responsibilities to discharge, how can suppliers of IT products and services best access someone in a senior position like you – what is your ideal way to dialogue with the supplier community?

It might be a personal preference, but I need to be in the right mind-set; catching me in a corridor or a 30 minute call doesn’t always work for me!

I have also learned over the years that my preference is to ‘understand the thing’ in context first, and then follow that up in more detail if my interest is piqued. The way I tend to do this is by attending conferences and events specific to my area of accountability, and both listening to others’ experience, but equally by attending as many of the vendor areas as possible to either understand what they are working on for future use or to see their product. 

I tend to research who is going to be there and what they do before I go, so that I can make best use of time. There are exceptions, but on the whole that’s my preferred approach.

Does that mean that it’s really not useful to do everything online – that face-to-face could actually be more useful to you?

Yes, as I say, I do like the anonymity of research – but for me, you can’t beat seeing and hearing what capabilities there are and what they do and I find one question generally leads to another!

So that’s maybe the ideal context for you to interface with the supplier community, but let’s go back a bit to what you want to hear from an ISV or service provider: Cost? Functionality? Time to market? All of these, or something else?

The first thing I tend to look for is what outcome does the product or service achieve, what problem does it solve and who does it serve. USP is really important to establish upfront. And then yes, all of the above.

Interesting. Where does innovation stand in all of this? What if the supplier doesn’t really have a demonstrable product yet, but maybe has some interesting new ideas on how to close a gap in the market? Isn’t that all a bit too ‘blue sky’ for someone like you?

Not at all, no. Innovation is key, especially with how quickly technology is developing and our demographics changing. As I said, I am most interested in problems being solved and for whom… that doesn’t necessarily mean a product is ready and capable, but these are the discussions I almost expect as the content of conferences and events. The key for me is that it isn’t an idea or a solution looking for a problem.

That’s really important to know, thank you. So summing up, what is the one thing that the suppliers don’t get about working with a buyer like you that you wish would change?

I think most suppliers understand how busy we are trying to do the day job whilst keeping an eye on the future, and on the whole most are pretty good at using time wisely. My top tips, I guess, would be the main things that I have covered – tell me what your Unique Selling Point is, as you see it, what is the problem it is solving and for who, and how this might relate to me; this will always engage me more.

Thank you so much. Bonus question: do you like the new TDP project of a Digital Identity supplier Directory?

I do – very much. I think having a UK ID Directory is useful in bringing those with an interest or something to add to our area of expertise together in one place, and I know it will help me when I am prepping for conferences or looking to what is actually out there and with whom. It will cut down the search time I am certain.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today, Cheryl – I am sure many vendors who follow Think Digital Partners will be grateful for this guidance.

We are delighted to be able to confirm that Cheryl has agreed to appear at the next (June 7) Think Digital Identity For Government event, where she will be one of the panelists on our Public-Private Sector Intersection of Identity session.