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Collaborating with SMEs to deliver practical user experiences

SMEs in digital and technology markets face strong competition. Studies from SAP have found that digital transformation can help grow businesses without significant increases in overheads.

Examples show increased revenues of over 300 per cent with additional staff of just 30. It is vital for SMEs to think big and collaborating with more established businesses can be an answer.

Technology companies do not begin life as big or as well-known as the likes of Apple or Google. They start off small, and it has always been difficult, even back in the 1980s and 1990s when some of today’s largest global firms were founded. Today, with the spectrum of apps and online businesses, cornering even part of the market takes practical solutions that can be quickly understood and implemented by customers.

There are 5.4 million SMEs currently operating in the UK alone. This development has aligned with a growing appreciation for the role smaller companies and business technologists have to play in being able to put creativity and innovative technology into the hands of the citizen.

At Atos we reviewed our supply base and identified that 73 per cent of these businesses were SMEs. Financially, 23 per cent of our overall external spend went to these SME businesses. Recognising that these relationships did not happen by chance, but rather because our business has benefitted from the importance of SMEs to our customers, we began a structured programme named SME Harbour.

Mutually beneficial collaboration

The programme is a simple, safe and transparent way for us to partner with small and medium sized businesses. We identify and evaluate specialist smaller companies to ensure that, through a collaborative approach, our clients receive fresh and creative ideas to deliver the best results for their business. Large corporations such as Atos offer the financial and reputational clout, years of experience and contacts. Meanwhile, the SMEs offer niche knowledge, new opportunities and the agility our clients expect.

The private sector has long benefitted from collaboration with SMEs, whether through partnership agreements or even mergers and acquisitions activity. This has happened to a lesser extent in the public sector, which is often limited by scrutiny and approved vendor lists.

Atos aims to help the UK Government achieve its policy ambitions of increasing the amount of business conducted through SMEs – the government target is to reach 33 per cent by 2020. Since SME Harbour was launched two years ago we have collaborated with over 50 SMEs, turning over £2.5 million through the programme. However, it’s not just about quantity of SMEs, it’s about the right quality that adds value, innovation and niche capability to our customers. SME Harbour has proved to be an effective model to harness SMEs’ innovative and flexible approaches. This has allowed us to bring new services and more value to our clients.

Systems for local councils

The Local Government Association (LGA) noted in a 2015/16 report that councils were halfway through a programme of financial cuts from central government, putting increased pressure on budgets and staff. It outlined that there has been an increased appetite for making changes internally and for working with alternative suppliers.

The LGA also recognises that digital strategies within the public sector requires 'close collaboration between central and local government and other partners, including the voluntary and private sectors and communities themselves', and 'carefully targeted and managed investment in both local ‘exemplars’ and national infrastructure, a well-coordinated programme of support and communication, and – perhaps most important – leadership at all levels.'

Atos is proud to be a dedicated partner of many local authorities and through our own knowledge, and SME involvement, we have shaped digital strategies by implementing systems for employees and customers.

Providing HR solutions

Through SME Harbour, Atos collaborated with Transversal to implement user-friendly and time-saving systems to an HR logging system used by Suffolk County Council. Transversal is a provider of dynamic knowledge solutions for customer-facing websites and contact centres. With more than 5,400 employee enquiries running through the HR department, pressure was on the team to improve employee communication in a timely and consistent manner with minimum disruption to day-to-day activities.

With an increasingly mobile workforce across many different locations working non-traditional hours, we were tasked to find a solution that digitally transformed the council’s way of working to ensure all employees had access to accurate information 24/7 and to reduce the number of internal enquiries overall.

We used a secure, scalable, future-proofed tool. The centralised knowledge-based programme allowed employees to serve themselves online through a single point of reference. The centralised system can be continually updated based on feedback from users who have the opportunity to rate answers without administrative intervention.

The patented search technology at the heart of the Transversal solution uses searches based on the meaning of words, not the words themselves. This allows people to search for information using natural, conversational language and find the right answer first time. Suffolk County Council now has greater control over HR information available to employees, has empowered its staff to self-serve, and is confident the information they are using is the most up to date.

Delivering better citizen intelligence

Infoshare is another example of a small company identified through SME Harbour. The firm is now working with us on a data initiative to identify vulnerable people in South Wales. Infoshare’s data management experience is complemented by our experience as a global business technology leader with a broad base of clients and market solutions. Our differences become synergies from the customers’ point of view.

We’re deploying data matching, predictive analytics, and business consultation to create a data intelligence model that could change the way the public sector works together to provide services – improving the lives of vulnerable citizens and cutting costs by removing the need for multiple agency information sources. Infoshare has worked with councils and emergency services across the UK, identifying ‘at risk’ individuals from multiple data sources to create accurate, evidence based views of citizens. Meanwhile, we have provided specialist analytic business knowledge and thought leadership to drive business change.

Working with the Welsh Government and partners we will carry out a six month pilot project to tackle the barriers to information sharing. We are advising on business objectives, finding ways to identify forms of vulnerability, sharing protocols and governance arrangements, and co-ordinating methods of data collection for the long-term.

Long term practical programmes

Atos puts the client at the heart of all we do – the SME Harbour programme increases the opportunity for us to work with selected partners that bring innovative new solutions to our clients. Collaboration between established businesses and start-ups, particularly in the saturated digital arena, can build products and services to enhance the experience of end users.

Atos continues to expand its network of SMEs by searching out and working with new or innovative organisations to deliver value to our customers. The SME Harbour programme is an integral part and with new SMEs being created every year there can be a bright future.

With dedicated internal support from Atos sponsors, and an inherently proactive approach from our SME partners, we hope the programme will continue to be a positive example of how big and small can work together.

Aiden Honley, Head of Alliances and Partners at Atos

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