I was recently sitting on a train where the WIFI was not working. Yet again. I started wondering how many other passengers were feeling the same level of frustration with the same problem. But nobody is talking. Everyone is busy, consumed by their own agendas and keeping their heads down. So I accepted the problem and decided to work offline. But it struck me that we often forget about the benefits that come from connecting with people.
 
I see many similarities in the world I work in. It’s estimated that the UK public sector spends £3bn a year on consultancy services. That’s a lot of projects for a lot of similar organisations. People are not talking enough; and by people I mean buyers of similar categories of consultancy. Think of the potential costs savings that collaboration could bring across all consultancy spend in the public sector.
 
In fact, a recent report by the National Audit Office on the use of consultants in the public sector stated that these organisations don’t collaborate enough. Let’s not confuse Collaboration (with a big
C – many people buying exactly the same thing together) and collaboration (small c – many people sharing and learning from what others have done – with the chance to reap substantial benefits).
 
There are some great initiatives that drive Collaboration and countless savings such as the many NHS or local government procurement hubs. The mass of frameworks run by The Crown Commercial Service have been driving better value for the public purse for many years.
 
At NEPRO we enable collaboration (small c) between our clients. Our vision is to help the public sector buy consultancy better. We have a bank of 1,000 projects across 19 consultancy categories. So we’re well placed to help clients easily find out about project outputs; regardless of geography or organisation. And more often than not, clients are asking us to share information on projects we’ve already delivered.
 
There’s already been many impressive results, but true collaboration is different and typically requires a special mix to create the right context for success. That means strong vision, clear leadership, hard work, governance protocols and dedicated programme management to drive the end result and outcomes.


For true adoption and greater collaboration, there are several obstacles the public sector needs to overcome:
 
1. It’s too Hard
 
There are over 1,000 contracting authorities in the UK, each buying similar services. Within these authorities there are literally thousands of people both geographically dispersed across the country and split by their own specialisms and expertise.
So how does Sarah, a Head of Service in an NHS trust in Somerset, find out that Phil, a Director from a local authority in Norfolk, has recently commissioned exactly the same professional service she’s about to buy? She doesn’t. So, Sarah commissions the same thing; probably from some of the same suppliers, paying the same fee; possibly more.
 
Or how does a SME supplier of HR consultancy know how to team up with a supplier of ICT consultancy to bid for a piece of work to offer a complete solution? This requires investment in research and the ability to respond quickly but typically the requirement from the buyer is urgent, so examples of suppliers joining together to bid for
complex services are few and far between.
 
2. Lack of Information
 
In the age of austerity, public sector organisations are doing more and more for less and this is set to continue for the foreseeable future. Procurement teams and Service Managers are increasingly stretched, putting them in reactive and fire-fighting mode with little time to think and plan ahead.
 
It’s in the early thinking and planning where there’s potential to collaborate, but how do you find out what your colleagues are doing? CIPS believes that having the right technology in place is a critical enabler to true collaboration. There are some examples of emerging technologies that support collaboration, but these have not yet taken off.
 
3. Ownership Brings Benefits
 
Some people like to fully own their projects in the public sector because of the control this gives them and the recognition that comes from success. That means some organisations don’t want to buy “second hand” and miss out on the potential benefits that total ownership brings.
4. Contractual Limitations   
 
Many public sector organisations sign contracts with suppliers, which limit IP rights due to confidentiality. The ability to share therefore becomes restricted. One supplier told me they had taken legal action against a previous client who had breached an IP clause by sharing data with a competitor.
 
But overriding all these points is a cultural barrier which needs overcoming. Collaboration should be the norm. It should be the first thing to think about not the last. It should be viewed as the enabler for innovation. For savings. For change itself.
 
At NEPRO we are passionate about being the enabler of this change. We are hopeful that with cultural and technical developments, our vision for a collaborative procurement community for consultancy will be realised.
 
Now back to the WIFI. I took a chance. I started talking to another passenger and behold! a simple solution was forthcoming. True collaboration in action.

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