SAP Concur’s Local Government Business Leader for the UK & Ireland, David Hipwell, explains how vendors can support public sector finance and procurement teams in achieving their wider objective of improving frontline service delivery…
The professionalisation of public sector finance and procurement is not a recent development. In fact, the processes for the awarding of supplier contracts has been vastly improved over a number of years – triggered partly by the incoming Conservative government of 2010 vowing to dismantle what many perceived to be a monopoly of major providers.
That has resulted in great strides being taken to make the awarding of contracts fair to both public sector bodies and vendors – and, perhaps most importantly, to ensuring government bodies achieve value for money when purchasing goods and services.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has placed great pressure on public sector procurement teams, who have been thrust into a unique situation of having to source and procure items they may never have previously needed – in huge volumes and at great speed.
Of course, that procurement activity hasn’t just been about sourcing items such as personal protective equipment – facemasks and hand sanitiser, to name just a couple. It has also been about bringing in technology and digital systems to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff, and systems to help track individuals who are being asked to work in different places and in different ways.
What has struck me as someone who speaks regularly with local government financial and procurement teams, in particular, is the dedication they have shown in doing this while always keeping the needs of their staff and the services they deliver to citizens front of mind.
That’s what makes public sector finance and procurement different. It’s also why local government bodies need ‘partners’ rather than ‘suppliers’.
As I stated recently in an article I did with PublicTechnology.net, local government bodies have a clear purpose. Unlike a commercial organisation – which is fundamentally there to make money – public sector bodies are focused primarily on how they can deliver services to citizens and communities.
As a result, we as vendors must change our mindset and our approach. To be truly valuable to public sector partners we must not simply focus on trying to sell them a product they might need. We must understand the wider objectives they are trying to achieve for their citizens and how we can help them deliver frontline services in an efficient and cost-effective way.
“To be truly valuable to public sector partners we must understand the wider objectives they are trying to achieve for their citizens and how we can help them deliver frontline services in an efficient and cost-effective way.” David Hipwell, Local Government Business Leader for the UK & Ireland, SAP Concur
In fact, it goes further still. We must consider how we can improve their overall operations; how we can help them save money, not just now, but over time; how we can free up time for the people delivering those frontline services; and what else we can do that is aligned to them and their needs.
Understanding public sector bodies’ wider objectives and their real measures of success is best achieved by being a true partner – one that strives to understand the pressures they face, the knock-on effect of an investment and where the pinch points are in their operations.
A good example comes from technology we already provide to a number of local government bodies – travel and expense management. For commercial organisations, such systems are often about automating the process to automatically calculate things like mileage and to support accounting. For public sectors bodies, the driver will be freeing up staff to focus on delivering frontline services, reducing the stress on them by automating and speeding up the process, and investing money saved back into other frontline operations.
Being a partner is about supporting the organisation as a whole. That doesn’t mean ‘getting in the way’, either. Being a partner will sometimes mean taking a back seat – while the organisation deals with more pressing issues or priorities, as has sometimes been the case with COVID-19.
“Being a partner will sometimes mean taking a back seat – while the organisation deals with more pressing issues or priorities, as has sometimes been the case with COVID-19.” David Hipwell, Local Government Business Leader for the UK & Ireland, SAP Concur
But it does mean being there with help and guidance – often for the long term. That’s how we as vendors can do our bit to support the continued great work of public sector finance and procurement teams.