Working in partnership with suppliers

We hosted a small, open breakfast event for suppliers as part of the Hackney fringe for London Tech Week to discover how we can make HackIT a great place to do business. Hackney Council has a clear commitment to in-sourcing and it’s important we get value for money from commercial organisations and have clear accountability in contracts. So why the breakfast?

We can make things better for residents if we do the best possible work in the most efficient way. We’ve put a strong emphasis on partnering with small businesses to help us learn new skills and adopt new ways of working. Working with a range of businesses gives us access to the best talent and a diversity of experiences and skills. Many of these businesses are local and we can use procurement to encourage them to provide job and training opportunities for our local residents. If we make it more costly to do business in Hackney, then ultimately that cost will be passed on to residents.

Today’s breakfast was targeted at businesses we’ve not yet worked with, or not worked with as often. We want to ensure that the best people want to work with us and show that working with Hackney Council could be rewarding. But we also wanted to test our thinking so that we avoid unintentionally excluding some suppliers from our procurements. Sometimes it can be more efficient to have a standard way of doing things but if you are too specific, you increase the barriers to working with new suppliers which narrows the advice you receive.

We focused the discussion on two topics: How we buy things, and How we create opportunities. It was reassuring to hear that attendees felt that we are right to use the government’s Digital Marketplace by default. It is cheap for suppliers to participate and the marketplace is refreshed frequently.

Our standards

We had a useful discussion about how we see Service Standard assessments. It’s a key frame of reference for the ability of the supplier and event in our project lifecycle. We could do more to show that we’re aligning to the government Service Standard and that they aren’t conducted as a confrontational gateway but as an honest assessment of what’s been done and what needs to be done next.

We’ll consider how we can provide reassurance to suppliers about how and why we conduct Service Standard Assessments. We’ll also explore how we might engage our supplier community more broadly in assessments

Skills

We discussed the balance between user research and service design, and development. Our experience has been that an agency tends to be better at one than the other but both are key enablers of delivering the right solution for residents. But we’re also interested in how behavioural science, ethnography, data science and devops can add new disciplines and perspectives on our challenges.

We’ll consider how we can reflect when we believe a team needs a blend of skills or when a task is better-suited to a stronger design or development skillset.

Focus

We had feedback from a couple of agencies that had worked with us that we face challenges ensuring that our own staff are sufficiently focused on the project. We know this is an important issue for the team, too. We explored how agencies manage these tensions – and we could learn more still rom software suppliers who manage bugs and incidents alongside software improvements.

We’ll explore how we can ensure we’re providing the right team with sufficient time to make projects successful.

Early thinking

We then explored how we create opportunities, shared our current approach and discussed what more we could do. We built our projects pipeline in the open in response to a previous supplier event so we wanted to know whether we’d made progress. The reassuring news was that nobody else was doing it better. But it was evident that we could be more open in order to learn more from suppliers. We explored whether an ideas wall would help suppliers spot forthcoming plans and whether service mapping would help suppliers tell us about components that might accelerate our plans.

We’ll experiment with different ways to share early-stage ideas so that suppliers can plan for forthcoming procurements and share what they know.

The breakfast was a sufficiently useful event that it re-doubled our commitment to holding these more frequently. We’ve got bold aspirations and sometimes we’ll fall short, so it’s important to be challenged by suppliers in a non-competitive environment. We’ve made some good progress, and helped demonstrate that Hackney is a rewarding place to do business. But there’s more to be done.

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