Cabinet Office Innovation Launch-Pad: how was it for Software Europe?

You may remember we reported on the Cabinet Office Innovation Launch-Pad way back last Spring. It was a worthwhile initiative to identify small firms with innovative products that would be of interest to Government organisations. The Launch-Pad would then give the firms a leg-up, with introductions to public organisations and a reception at No. 11 Downing Street with associated PR.

But we were curious as to what happened next. A year on, how has it been for the nine firms who were the “winners” of this particular initiative? We haven't as yet carried out a full investigation, but we did have the chance to speak to one firm, to see how the experience was for them. And not only is this firm one of the successful Launch-Pad firms, their product is actually within scope of our coverage on Spend Matters.

Software Europe are a privately owned firm based in Lincoln and produce “an online employee expenses system which saves time by allowing your employees to input their claims faster than a traditional paper-based method, increase compliance for TAX and VAT and your company’s policy, and also realise a reduction in spend from a more efficient process”.

It's a cloud-based (SaaS) solution, and integrates easily to ERP systems. They also offer a contract and supplier management product - we haven't had a demonstration of either that or the T&E system yet, so can't comment on how good they are. But they sound interesting. For example, the T&E system automatically carries out a postcode based verification on mileage claims – clever! We hope to take a more detailed look at it shortly.

Back to the Innovation Launch-Pad. We identified at the time it was running that there was a potential issue in that it didn’t actually guarantee any work to the firms. It was a good showcase – but what would happen next? I spoke to James Thompson, Public Sector Business Development Manager at Software Europe, to find out.

“It felt a bit of an anti-climax after the Downing Street reception, someone shaking your hand saying “well done” and sending you home again” said Thompson. “We are glad we did it, we knew it wasn’t going to be like getting to the Cup final where you take home the trophy, but with the associated publicity, it has been beneficial and the support from the Cabinet office following the competition was helpful. The hard work is now up to us, to leverage the introduction to showcase what we can do".

He says that his firm has since then “spent many hours knocking on doors - it would have been good if the Launch-Pad could have helped us to short-circuit that in some way”.  But he is still generally positive about the whole process.

“We did understand that the Launch-Pad didn't actually guarantee any direct business. And we have actually won one significant government contract with NHS Wales since then. But we had to undertake a full OJEU  competitive process for that. Public sector procurement professionals  are on the whole very cautious – even though we can offer our services via GPS Framework Agreements  each organisation still feels that they need to run their own tender process”.  Which is costly in terms of time and money to both the supplier and the prospective purchaser.

“Software Europe has also signed up to the Cabinet Office G-Cloud framework.  However it is still early days in terms of the level of awareness of the G-Cloud framework across the public sector.  The government has done a fantastic job getting suppliers signed up to G-Cloud, but more needs to be done to stimulate the demand side, in order to accelerate adoption and deliver cloud benefits.”

Thompson is positive about other Cabinet Office initiatives like the Contracts Finder portal, and he thinks the Solutions Exchange has potential.  “We know that lots of small firms – SMEs – have great technology, so anything that lowers the barriers to entry and gets us engaged more easily with government has to worthwhile” he says.

There is another issue at the moment though, nothing to do with the Launch-Pad. “We’re just finding in the public sector that organisations are short of resources to implement new initiatives – even if those initiatives will save them money pretty quickly.  We know that a significant number of employees across the public sector still use paper claim forms for processes like T&E claims.  However despite the benefits of automation and the need to deliver efficiency savings across Whitehall it can still be a struggle to get organisations to change how they manage their expenses claims.”

So, a mixed view there from one Launch-Pad winner.  And we're planning to come back at some stage and take a look at what could be done differently if government were to run an Innovation Launch-Pad Mark 2...


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