Much of the talk last week at IAP (the conference formerly known as CIPCOG) was sprinkled with repeated references to engagement with industry. The cynics amongst you might say ‘what, again?’ as this topic is as cyclical as British tennis let downs at Wimbledon.
However, I genuinely believe that it is happening this time. In the last few months I’ve attended various workshops and sessions with Government partners looking at how this might be achieved, and done some detailed work with our pals in Cheltenham on what ‘son of CAPS’ looks like. The reasoning as to why this is happening is simple necessity.
There has always been a willingness in some quarters within Government to engage meaningfully with industry, and I will not dispute this. However, this has not been the case across the board. And the reason for this is the ‘unwritten pact’. Some people get it and embrace it, some do and don’t want anything to do with it. And some don’t get it at all. Until now it’s been unwritten, the love that dare not speak its name.
But today we are going to write it down. The pact goes something like this:
1. Government needs to reduce costs and buy COTS (Commercial off the shelf) product that meets its security needs, as opposed to building stuff itself.
2. Industry builds things to make a profit.
In order to build things, industry needs experts who can translate Government needs (technically and commercially). This expertise is also valuable to Government.
Therefore, industry offers products, services and expertise to Government, in order to sell stuff to make a profit.
It’s true, and we all know it. We have stuff you want, and you have stuff we want (cash).
The beauty of looking at the pact is two-fold. Firstly, if we are all comfortable with it, it means we can talk plainly and openly, and that truly promotes partnership since we are not all dancing around a topic we know to be true.
The second part is that it promotes competition. Having been involved in projects in the past where there was limited or no competition, it stifled innovation and ultimately drove up the price. In the interests of openness, if you are the incumbent vendor, that’s great. You can pretty much just ensure there is paper in the fax machine and nip out for a cheeky nine holes.
But what Government needs right now is people that are prepared to challenge the status quo, as doing so saves money and gets you better stuff. So, vendors, don’t try and cover up what’s going on. Your customers know it, and so do you. Government, don’t be afraid of having the conversation, don’t expect something for nothing, but do engage and look for innovation. If both parties do this, both parties win.