Increasing centralised government procurement of IT will not compromise the public sector's goal of buying more from SMEs, according to Ian Watmore, chief operating officer of the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group.
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Central procurement and local buying do not need to be mutually exclusive, he told delegates at Intellect's Annual Regent Conference in London today.
"It is ridiculous that we are paying vastly different prices for cartridges for printers and laptops. There's no reason why we shouldn't procure those commodities on a larger scale and bulk buy," said Watmore, who is leading the government's overhaul of IT purchasing.
"But we also need a smaller scale procurement process for innovative SMEs. If we get that balance right we will dramatically unblock a lot of frustration,"
The government must shorten the timeframe for procurement, which is prohibitive to SMEs as only big businesses can afford to go through lengthy bidding processes, he added.
Mike Lynch, CEO of UK software firm Autonomy, agreed that more should be done to encourage procurement from small businesses.
"We should do what the Americans do, who favour US companies and SMEs. Why should we be playing on different rules to the US - it's crazy," he said.
"We are sitting on an incredible national reserve [of IT talent] and we're not able to monetise it."
Watmore said IT was at the heart of the government's drive to reduce the deficit, create economic growth, improve aspirations and reform public services.
"What's most important is to open our minds, both individually and institutionally," he said.
"If we give people the information about the way government operates, that will create the right sort of pressure. Secondly, the entrepreneurial side is much more likely to achieve reform if we enable them with information to customise and provide opportunities."
Watmore also welcomed the appointment of Joe Harley as the new government CIO, describing him as a "senior figure who could command respect across the whole landscape."