How agile are your IT suppliers?
Before he retired, my local newsagent used to order my newspapers for me and deliver them to my door. And when I went on holiday, I simply told him and he’d stop delivering them until I got back, without me needing to re-order. Since the shop closed, I buy my daily paper on the train and have to go to one of those very small branches of a national supermarket to get my papers at the weekend. It orders newspapers according to an average of three days’ sales during the week, so when it sells out of my newspaper I have to look somewhere else for a copy. Even a very small supermarket cannot provide the customer focus that an independent shop can because it’s still linked to the very large scale systems that its parent company uses.
Central government departments are increasingly aware of the benefits of using small scale suppliers, and are working towards tendering processes that are more accessible for smaller businesses. SMEs are also gradually gaining traction in local government, where agility and responsiveness are becoming more valued attributes. But as yet, small scale suppliers are not much used in the university sector.
Universities generally buy-in standard packages for functions such as word-processing, spread sheets and presentations, and - within some departments - develop more specialised tools and applications themselves, in-house. But as universities are expected to become more responsive to changing demands, there is a good business case for considering the use of small businesses as suppliers for some areas of IT services and provision. These suppliers offer smaller scale, more agile contracts which could assist in the buying process and enable IT directors to make quick decisions, responding to rapidly changing requirements. They could also help a university create a competitive edge, enabling it both to reduce costs and become more agile and responsive to changing needs.
There is little need to fear the limitations of a small scale supplier now that they can, using cloud technologies, buy into very flexible and scaleable computing resources. There could be huge benefits because a small business often has more flexibility in meeting customer demands than their larger competitors, providing greater agility and a more dedicated and individualised customer service. Rather like the personal service that a local newsagent can provide, smaller suppliers can provide agile, customised solutions to very specific business needs and within demanding timescales and budgets.
Julian Mitchell is Education Account Manager at Eduserv, www.eduserv.org.uk