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The government could be underestimating the amount of public sector deals being awarded to small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) IT suppliers, due to the shortcomings of using an online reporting system designed when infrequent, high-value deals were commonplace.
The Cabinet Office has confirmed it is reviewing the Management Information System Online (Miso) system, used by Crown Commercial Service (CCS) to collect invoiced sales information from public sector buyers.
Miso was introduced before more modern purchasing frameworks, such as G-Cloud, had really taken off, which tend to bring in a higher volume of smaller contracts, often involving SMEs.
Computer Weekly has been told by multiple sources in the G-Cloud supply chain that Miso is too complex and time-consuming for SMEs to use, resulting in some suppliers failing to register details of deals they’ve secured.
This data is used to compile the Digital Marketplace’s monthly breakdown of the G-Cloud sales data, and it is feared the percentage of deals attributed to SMEs could be slightly off as a result.
Chris Farthing, founder of public sector procurement advisory firm Advice Cloud, said he’s aware of “quite a few” deals that haven’t been registered because the paperwork involved is so onerous, and suppliers simply don’t have time to do it.
“Some people aren’t even aware of the requirements for Miso reporting. You talk to them about it and their response is, ‘Do we even have to do that?'” he told Computer Weekly.
“What they may not realise is, by not doing this, you could be damaging the framework,” he added, as the true volume of deals being logged isn’t really known.
Suppliers are also duty bound to notify CCS each month even if they haven’t made any sales by submitting a “nil return” report, and can be charged admin fees for failing to submit their reports correctly and for doing so late.
“Nil responses are easy to do, but once you have a portfolio of clients and services, it becomes a burden, especially if the sales are small-value but high-volume,” said Farthing.
Miso a better fit for big IT deals
John Glover, sales and marketing director at SME cloud-based collaboration firm Kahootz, has secured more than 40 deals through G-Cloud with central government departments, as well as a sizeable number with local authorities.
He said Miso is a good fit for more traditional procurement frameworks where large, one-off deals every few months tend to be the norm, rather than large numbers of smaller, pay-as-you-go-type cloud transactions.
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“I pull my hair out every second or third of the month because we’re an SME and, although I’m the sales and marketing director, it falls to me use Miso because we’re not a big company. So I end up spending three hours of what is valuable time for us doing this,” he said.
The Cabinet Office declined to comment when Computer Weekly asked for its response to claims suppliers are failing to report details through Miso, but did confirm the system is in the process of being assessed.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for suppliers and customers to interact with each other, and welcome user feedback as part of this,” said a Cabinet Office spokesperson.
“We are currently assessing Miso in conjunction with a review of our wider systems to ensure it can continue to meet user needs.”
Time for a Miso makeover
Kahootz’s Glover first blogged about the issues with using Miso in 2012 and has also written to CCS since then to make them directly aware of the problems providers face when using the system.
He said he’d like to see it eventually replaced by a central e-commerce-style “shopping basket” system within the Digital Marketplace where buyers place orders for cloud services, and suppliers can make use of micro-payment systems.
“I know CSS are aware Miso needs to improve as it was set up for the major frameworks, not for the micro-style payments of cloud computing,” said Glover. “The Government Digital Service is interested in taking this idea forward as it would really use the commodity side of G-Cloud to the best effect.”