Event report: How big tech companies can work better with SMEs

Pictfor hosted a panel discussion in Portcullis House on 7 September 2016 on the topic of ‘How big tech companies can work better with SMEs’. The panel included:

  • Matt Warman MP, Co-Chair of Pictfor
  • Chi Onwurah MP, Co-Chair of Pictfor
  • Simon Blagden MBE, Non-Executive Chairman of Fujitsu UK and Industry Chair of Pictfor
  • Mark Barber, Co-director of ITM, an SME
  • Emma Swift, Programme Development Lead at Tech City UK
  • Tim Barnes, from the Rain Cloud, a CivTech incubator
  • Kathryn Corrick, the COO of Represent, an SME

Pictfor Co-Chair Matt Warman MP served as Chair for the first half of the event. He delivered a welcome highlighting the importance of small businesses to the UK economy and that SMEs and big tech companies can have mutually beneficial relationships. He introduced Simon Blagden MBE, the non-executive Chairman of Fujitsu UK, who opened the panel discussion by stating that a lot of innovation comes from smaller companies, while larger businesses have the ability to help bring new ideas to market. He noted that half of Fujitsu’s suppliers are SMEs and that the company spends £200million a year with SMEs. In order to work better with SMEs, Fujitsu developed a number of best practice initiatives and have captured many of the learnings and insights in their publication, Collaboration Nation. Best practice initiatives include payment terms that benefit SMEs by making sure payment is processed within 10 working days, rather than 90, which is industry standard. In order to lower the time that SMEs spend simply getting in touch with  Fujitsu they set up a system called ‘connect with Fujitsu’ to connect SMEs direct with the correct part of the company. Further interventions include streamlining risk processes and doing road shows to meet with SMEs suppliers to help make a personal connection.

Mark Barber, Co-director of ITM, one of Fujitsu’s SME suppliers, agreed with Fujitsu’s model of best practice concurring on the importance of cashflow and the fast payment of invoices. He outlined the benefits for an SME of working with a larger firm, stating that big firms have much better customer access and therefore have access to bigger opportunities. Mark shared what he believes to be best practice for SMEs when working with larger businesses, such as providing services as if they were operating within the larger company and to be very aware of resources required to do a particular job. He also recommended getting regular testimonials, holding quarterly business reviews with same people each time so you get to know each other, and ensuring you request a centralised point of contact.

Emma Swift, Programme Development Lead at Tech City UK, warned that the lack of understanding between SMEs and larger firms is often incredible and argued that it is imperative that both start-ups and larger firms work towards a better mutual understanding. She recommended that large businesses could work with startups through running competitions, investing and helping with collaboration with third party organisations, while Government can help to facilitate collaboration by supporting engagement programmes. Emma gave a number of examples of best practice engagement from across the UK. She highlighted Barclays work in Manchester, where there is natural and organic interaction with start-ups, and Siemens work in Hull where the organisation has developed a close relationship with an incubator. She highlighted how employing a sandbox model can be a good way to facilitate collaboration and gave more examples from Bristol, Tech City and the fintech sector.

Tim Barnes of the Rain Cloud then gave his perspective based on his experience within tech and as someone who runs a leading CivTech incubator. He noted that there are significant changes coming in terms of the Government’s procurement processes. He highlighted that Matt Hancock MP has outlined the Government’s goal to increase spending with SMEs to a third of central spend by 2020. Most of that, Tim argued, would be hidden in supply chains, so people would compete on an equal basis. He agreed with the focus on SMEs as he believed they can provide the right kind of innovation. Tim pointed to Citymapper as a great example of private company who solved a problem for free by using open data from Government.

Kathryn Corrick, the COO of Represent, an SME, addressed some of the challenges of working with Government. She highlighted that while registering to work with Parliament takes five minutes, registering to work with the Government is more challenging and requires a D-U-N-S number. Kathryn argued that stipulating having a D-U-N-S number is a ‘strange stumbling block’ when a Companies House number is more easily accessible. Kathryn also related a time she worked with four other small organisations to bid for a UKTI contract and only lost, after spending time on the pitch, as a large company was able to offer to do the work for free. She highlighted the importance of networking events and Meetups, which are frequent in most large cities and can provide opportunities for SMEs to meet potential clients.

Pictfor Co-Chair Chi Onwurah MP closed the session by talking about the aspiration that the UK should lead globally on how to work with SMEs. She outlined her belief that the Government needs to prove that SMEs are the lifeblood of the UK’s economy through the way we engage with them.

Click here for the list of those who attended

If you would like further information on this topic or about Pictfor’s programme of events, please contact admin@pictfor.org.uk.

Please note: This document includes the minutes of the meeting. This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.

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