Tech Execs Help U.K. Raise Its Procurement Game

Six former industry players, including tech execs from Compaq and Accenture, are brought in to sharpen negotiation and purchasing skills in central government.
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The British government is ramping up a tactic it says will help it strike better bargains for services and save taxpayers money. The Cabinet Office, which is leading the charge to change bad IT procurement habits, says it's tapping the private sector to get more insight into how big suppliers operate. The hope is that these private sector business "poachers" can be turned into "gamekeepers" for the government, and share their expertise on how big tech firms work.

The government has retained six new crown representatives. A crown representative is supposed to help government departments better negotiate deals with external suppliers -- and they can be effective. In 2012, one such representative working with HMRC, the country's tax collecting body, helped negotiate a new deal with a large IT supplier that will save an estimated £200 million ($310 million) by 2017, according to the government.

Including such one-offs, the government claims to have won £800 million ($1.2 billion) back for the taxpayer by renegotiating contracts in the first 10 months it was in power, from May 2010 to February 2011. The new advisers have been brought in to "engage early with suppliers, improve relationships and negotiate the best contracts on behalf of government," said the government. The appointees have a combined 150 years of "specialist commercial insight from working in the private sector and FTSE 100 companies."

[ Why are British cops stuck with outdated technology? Read British Police Haven't Solved Tech Problems. ]

"We're serious about equipping the Civil Service with the right skills to help the U.K. compete in the global race," said the minister in charge of IT procurement reform, Francis Maude. "That's why we've recruited experts from the business world, using their commercial insight to work alongside departments to get the most from relationships with our largest suppliers."

"We know we can only drive efficiencies if we act as a single customer to maximize our buying power and be a better client," said Bill Crothers, chief procurement officer and commercial director general for central government. The new crown representatives, he said, will "bolster" the impact of work Whitehall is already doing to both spot savings and demonstrate a commitment to improving supplier relationships and performance.

The six include a former senior partner with Accenture, a former UK & Ireland head of commercial contracting for Compaq, a retired former CIO of Imperial Tobacco, a construction industry veteran, a financial services expert, and Rob Wilmot, one of the three founding executives of ISP Freeserve, at one time the U.K.'s largest Internet company (now part of Orange).