How one small business owner got a government contract

Aingaran Pillai managed to secure a number of government contracts for his open source software consultancy. Here, he gives tips on how to approach the process of doing business with government.

The Cabinet Office and Government Digital Service has issued new guidelines to help level the playing field for companies wanting to secure a government contract, but it can still be a confusing and daunting process to do business with the government.

Aingaran Pillai, CEO and founder of open source software consultancy Zaizi has had numerous contracts with both central and local government. In the past, the company  has provided the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with document management solutions, procured via G-Cloud. It has also worked with the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Bristol City Council and others in much the same way.

However, Pillai says he didn’t win any of this business simply by being on the new Digital Services frameworks such as G-Cloud. ‘Like any organisation, we employed a traditional proactive marketing and sales approach. We use G-Cloud and Digital Outcome Specialists as more of a contracting framework,’ he explains.

Winning a government contract: Then and now

A few years ago, being an SME wouldn’t have got you far with government, Pillai adds, but this has changed for two reasons. ‘Firstly, there’s been a big push of late, particularly since the formation of the Government Digital Service (GDS), which actively encourages the use of SMEs to carry out government work, and also ensures large IT contracts are broken into small lots suitable for SMEs.

‘Secondly, frameworks such as G-Cloud which have provided SMEs with the opportunity for government to contract them and removed expensive tender processes, a barrier that was in place for many years.’

Three years ago, the percentage of turnover that government work comprised for Zaizi was less than 50 per cent, but now it’s 95 per cent. ‘Like any industry, it has it’s challenges but the thrilling nature of the work makes it very worthwhile,’ Pillai says.

Advice for winning a government contract

In terms of advice he would give to companies looking to do business with government, he says it is important to ensure you remain proactive and engage regularly with your government clients, and to remember that SMEs can’t rely on platforms such as G-Cloud to simply provide work for them.

‘These are not business-winning frameworks; they are procurement frameworks – therefore work needs to be done to make your company recognisable and stand out from the many other similar-looking ones,’ he adds.

‘Businesses need to be proactive with account management and chase opportunities within government departments; remember, they are used to the bigger players constantly selling to them, so showing you have the right pedigree, team and experience are vital.’

He also says it is important to be mindful of big government changes, such as an election or extreme cases like Brexit. ‘This can cause somewhat of a standstill as businesses can be put on hold and SMEs, whose life and death is cash flow, can be affected.’

Partnering with government offers a great chance for SMEs to grow at a rapid pace, providing them with opportunities they wouldn’t get with a larger enterprise.

Pillai says a case in point is the Ministry of Justice and its agencies, which has around 20,000 employees and house petabytes of data, which provides a wonderful opportunity to a data business like Zaizi. ‘Would the private sector business equivalent to that even consider partnering with an SME? Probably not.’

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