Advice Cloud has been helping vendors and buyers connect over the The Digital Marketplace for many years. Recently, it announced a new service, the G-Cloud Support Desk, which it says is a flexible new way for the G-Cloud community to ask its procurement experts better understand the framework. We sat down with the company’s Founder and CEO Chris Farthing to understand more.
Hi there Chris, been a while since Think Digital Partners last spoke with you. What have been the highlights of the last couple of years for Advice Cloud?
Excitingly, Advice Cloud has grown over the last few years, working with many different companies to get them in front of the public sector and we’ve helped our clients win some massive contracts with government, plus supported public sector organisations in their procurement journeys. So I’d say the highlights are helping our clients get the big wins whilst our team continues to expand and brings in invaluable knowledge and experience!
Sounds very positive, glad to hear. How are you guys coping with the Lockdown – how are you helping clients deal with any issues?
For us, as a cloud native company not much has changed in our capacity to help. We are now working from our respective homes, but we’re able to support our clients in exactly the same way. We know this isn’t the same for everybody, though, and that a lot of companies and public sector organisations are stretched for time and resources – so making ourselves as available as possible for everyone is something we’re really striving for at the moment.
Now let’s find out about the Support Desk. Why do you think the market needs this right now?
A lot of public sector teams are getting more and more stretched. Resources and staff are being refocused to the frontline; there isn’t as much time to spend on the nitty-gritty aspects of procurement. At the same time, organisations need to embrace digital more than ever. With the government re-confirming emergency buying rules with its recent Procurement Policy Notes (PPN), there are many ways for buyers to quickly get the goods and services they need, such as through G-Cloud. However, they have a difficult job with not as much time on their hands, so as a company Advice Cloud wanted to be able to come in and assist with their G-Cloud procurement needs – whether that’s to help them understand the framework better, or to progress a specific project/query.
Is it for buyers only?
At the moment, yes. Buyers can request G-Cloud support from our team of public sector experts (who each have years of public sector IT and G-Cloud experience) on a per-question basis. We can be at hand whenever needed.
We haven’t forgotten about the suppliers though, and we have masses of experience in helping them with not just G-Cloud but 20 other tech frameworks through our Managed Services. We fully understand that supplier time is precious during these times, too, so we’re looking at launching something similar to help that part of the community in the future.
Tell me more about the kind of enquiries you’re getting.
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Typically, they’re falling fall into three camps:
- New to the framework These buyers are not used to using G-Cloud but are being encouraged to do so because it can be an extremely quick and efficient way to buy. However, the buyer still has the same risks now as pre Covid-19. They have to be fair, transparent and open. Compliance is still an issue here and we can help assure buyers that what they’re doing is compliant.
- Some previous experience These buyers have used the framework previously, but mainly for smaller, low value contracts that are not at risk for challenge. Now they are being asked to buy potentially substantial contracts through G-Cloud and that requires a different level of expertise. We can quickly get to the heart of the matter and advise again, providing assurance and advice to ensure risks are managed.
- Experienced buyers And finally, these are people typically needing to know ‘the art of the possible’ with what they’re trying to do. They want to benchmark what they’re doing and check if others have found better ways or they’re trying to buy very new tech such as Artificial Intelligence that requires different knowledge around contracting.
You have a very strong team there ready to answer questions. Can you remind us about who’s there to help?
We pride ourselves in having a very knowledgeable bench, yes. We have Rob Macleod, who was the G-Cloud procurement lead at CCS from version 1 up until version 10 who really knows his stuff about the framework. We also have Tony Singleton, the Digital Marketplace Programme Director at GDS from 2013 until 2017. I’ve worked in public sector procurement for many years now, of course, and our MD Ella Grant is also on tap, being our trusted in-house G-Cloud expert for over 3 years. This expertise all backed up by our excellent Client Delivery team, who help to research key developments in the public sector, and bring all of this information and support together.
Why are you adopting a Freemium model?
We wanted to be able to provide the first question free for buyers. We know that everything is uncertain at the moment, and at Advice Cloud we pride ourselves on giving our knowledge and assistance where we can. This is evident with our vast collection of resources and info that we have on our site now. We felt it was something we could afford to do at this time and lend some support to organisations who might be struggling.
With the G-Cloud Support Desk available on a per question basis, it also makes it so that we’re accessible as and when a buyer needs us, for clarification, reassurance, or a second opinion. We are also operating this service at near cost for the Covid-19 period; now is not the time to be making bundles of cash but to be helpful. On top of that, our services are also available via P-card, which means it can be utilised very quickly without bundles of paperwork.
As you say, procurement resources are being, rightly, focused on providing support to front line services at this point in time. Shouldn’t I just concentrate on that and forget about back-end IT procurement for a while?
It might be tempting to put everything on the backburner, I do understand that. But services still need to be functioning – and, importantly, meeting the needs of the user. A lot of public sector organisations are having to look to digital to adapt to new ways of working, and future-proof, very quickly. It’s also all about making sure public services are as accessible as possible, especially in these times.
It’s also important to note that the government has made it quicker and easier to buy goods and services, as they know buyers’ focus will be elsewhere in a lot of cases. If procurement teams, or those in respective digital or IT teams, are struggling to get to grips with G-Cloud and these fast routes to procurement, then that’s where we can come in and lend a hand. Our G-Cloud Support Desk was created as a way to try and make all of this easier for buyers, so they don’t need to forget or neglect these important areas.
Thanks Mr Farthing, all sounds sensible. Good luck with the service, and hope to speak to you again soon.
To find out more about the G-Cloud Support Desk, go here – and remember, your first question will be answered for free