Edinburgh targets SMEs with £20m in IT contracts

Claudette Jones: rejected idea of bringing IT in house after contract with BT ends. Picture: Complimentary
Claudette Jones: rejected idea of bringing IT in house after contract with BT ends. Picture: Complimentary
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CITY of Edinburgh Council is preparing to put £20 million worth of information tech­nology contracts out to tender and wants at least 25 per 
cent of the work to go to small businesses.

Claudette Jones, the council’s chief information officer, told Scotland on Sunday that the previous £30m contract won by BT is likely to be broken up into smaller parcels.

The BT deal comes to an end in April 2016, but procurement will begin “very shortly”.

Jones said: “We will be looking to get more for less. We’ve been outsourced to BT since 2001, which is a long time in IT terms. We’re going to break up the contract rather than going for one big managed service deal again.”

Jones said the council would probably still pick a single supplier for its desktop computers and local area network, but would opt for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that could be more “innovative and agile” for other services.

The council has already been working with Storm ID to redesign its website, making it easier for customers to use.

“Previously, councils thought that customers wanted to go onto their websites and surf for information – but they don’t, they want to go on and quickly find what they want then come off again,” explained Jones. “So we’re focusing on what the customer wants to see, not what we want to see.”

Jones took up her post in November, having spent five years at the council as its commercial manager, overseeing the contract with BT.

She had previously worked at NHS 24, monitoring its contract with BT, and at Scottish Media Group, where she ran its data centre through the Y2K changeover.

“The other thing we’re doing with SMEs is working more closely as an IT department with our economic development department,” Jones said.

“When they come across an SME with a service they think might be helpful to us then we can invite them to our innovation board, which I set up across all the council departments. It’s the place to come if people have problems or ideas.

“We’re piloting some of these SMEs’ products, which is a big help to them.”

As well as using SMEs’ products and services, the council has been working with some Edinburgh-based firms to improve their business model.

“A lot of people internally have asked about taking the whole contract back in-house,” said Jones. “But I think we should be a consumer of services – there’s no point in us running a data centre when there are so many good data centres in Scotland already.

“Why on earth would I do that? I don’t want to focus on keeping servers up – I want to focus on delivering services for citizens and stakeholders.”

Paul Minto, a partner at law firm HBJ Gateley and an expert in public procurement, said: “Small businesses need to register with public procurement websites so that they can find out about contracts.

“A lot of small businesses complain that they don’t hear about these contracts, so you have to be in it to win it.

“One factor holding back some small companies is the cost of tendering for public sector work.”