An appetite for innovation: our experience of working with the public sector

A four-way split image of Westminster Houses of Parliament, doctors in a hospital using technology, a police call centre and a town hall

Ahead of Digitech19, we’re turning the spotlight onto two of our public sector experts, Alex Larcombe and Paul Mathews, who have many years of working with the sector under their belt. I spoke with them about their experiences…

Ben Rogers (BR): Can you tell us a little about what you do at AdEPT – how you came to work here and in your field?

Alex Larcombe (AL): I’m a Sales Director responsible for the public sector at AdEPT, so my main focus is building strategic partnerships with our clients and partners. I’ve been in this industry from the start of my career, having worked at BT and Virgin Media Business prior to AdEPT.

Paul Mathews (PM): …And I’m a Head of Business Development, also specialising in the public sector. Like Alex, I’ve been at other technology and telecoms companies before AdEPT, including hSo, Century Link, PGi…

BR: Why do you work in the fields you are in? What interests you about the work?

PM: For me, and I’m sure for all of us, it’s the opportunity for problem solving – the ability to build bespoke solutions. I can visit a client – ranging from a doctor’s surgery to a large health trust – and develop a solution that doesn’t just give them value for money, but will work for them well into the future.

I think the reason I love being at AdEPT so much is that I can really get involved – with some other, larger, companies this perhaps doesn’t happen as much. At AdEPT, we’re encouraged to develop customer-focused solutions. That mentality starts at the top with our chairman Ian Fishwick and works its way through all the teams and people. And that’s why we’ve been successful with HSCN despite being a relatively small player.

AL: From my perspective, telecoms and IT is the most exciting industry out there because it’s got so much going on – certainly over the last 20 years the amount of innovation that’s happened probably outweighs any other sector. Yet at the same time, it’s a very people-orientated field of work and with AdEPT it’s very much about having that personal, consultative-led approach. I believe that people who work in the public sector are looking for the personal touch – not least because the market’s so complex: there’s too much technology and so many suppliers. So for me, it’s about properly investigating the client’s issues with them – and really understanding where they want to go as an organisation – before developing a meaningful solution. That’s the challenge and it’s incredibly rewarding.

BR: So you’re both in senior positions, but you both get hands-on with solving problems?

AL: Exactly that – we’ve got everything in our kit bag to solve our clients’ problems. Whether that’s internal capabilities or through our ecosystem of industry-leading partners.

BR: A lot of companies talk about the personal touch and their consultative approach. How is AdEPT different?

PM: One of the main things is that we don’t discriminate on budget. All of our clients are treated equally, no matter the size of their budget or company. Our solutions are based on what the client wants. It allows us to develop a solution that will work for the future, not just something for now.

AL: You’re absolutely right – there is a lot said about having a consultative approach and sometimes it is empty talk – so I think what Paul’s said is very important. Another thing that can get in the way of being truly consultative is red tape. Perhaps because we’re a smaller business, we can make decisions more quickly – so it means we’re agile and responsive and can build solutions that are genuinely tailored to each client.

BR: In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing these organisations?

AL: There are a number of challenges. Obviously the biggest one is budget, and having to do not just more with less, but better with less. Often, IT is one area that can offer savings, so it does come up a lot in our line of work.

There’s also Brexit. There’s so much uncertainty in the market and often we find that, understandably, people are holding onto their budgets.

At the same time as these challenges there’s also the issues of legacy kit. Every public sector organisation will have IT equipment that’s coming to the end of its life and will need to be replaced.

Of course then there’s security. Take for example the Wannacry attack of a few years ago – that demonstrated the significance of IT security. And then there’s the GDPR, which is another challenge.

One more is the shutdown of legacy voice. In 2025, the traditional copper telephony environment is being switched off. And there is so much out there in the public sector that is reliant on this infrastructure that it is quite astounding. So those organisations will have to look to future-proofing their telecoms systems – in the future they won’t be able to pick up the phone and get a dialling tone from a traditional phone line.

And I guess one final theme that links all of these challenges is that there is an overwhelming level of technology, and there are so many vendors which can cause confusion to anyone unfamiliar with it all.

Obviously we can talk about the ways that AdEPT can help, but I think it’s worth turning the attention from us for a moment and talking about the culture within the public sector. There is an enormous appetite for innovation and underlying all of it is a huge passion for serving the public. These two things drive an extraordinary level of determination to overcome the challenges.

PM: I think that’s why we like to consider ourselves as a ‘trusted advisor’. We’re there to help the public sector get on with their core business and not have to worry about the technology. It’s certainly the approach we take with our existing clients.

BR: So that goes back to what you said earlier – about helping organisations irrespective of size? Do you think with the public sector, it helps to work with smaller and larger organisations of different types, such as health, local government, and central government? Does it allow you see the bigger picture?

AL: Absolutely. Take, for example, our work with about 800 GP surgeries right up to our work with large NHS authorities. Or, our work with smaller, individual local authorities, right up to large county councils. There are definitely lots of common challenges across the public sector – especially the challenges I described earlier – and often, knowing how to tackle something with one public sector organisation can provide valuable lessons for another public sector organisation. Of course, while every organisation is different, I think the days of working in isolated silos are coming to an end.

BR: Technology is really the tool that enables change – and for the public sector, those changes can affect communities and people’s lives. How does AdEPT fit in with this?

PM: Where we help, primarily, is with technology as a backbone. We help put the backbone in place so organisations can get on with what they do best – with faster, more reliable connectivity and communication tools. We do our job so they can do their job.

AL: Another challenge that’s relevant here is about the Cloud. There’s a lot of public sector organisations that use on-premise equipment, particularly from a voice and contact centre perspective, but they want to move to the Cloud – or need the flexibility of both. So for that reason we’re investing a lot in our own Nebula solution, to provide voice, data and IT services, either on-premise or in the Cloud. There’s no one-size fits all with public sector organisations so, as a partner, being as flexible as possible is really important.

BR: Let’s consider people for a moment. I’ve recently been reading a report by Deloitte, called ‘The State of the State’, which is all about the public sector. It includes some interesting quotes from senior public sector officials. One, for example, is from a police crime commissioner, who says: “In terms of technology, we’ve come from a bad position. Getting a chief constable to focus on their back office is hard when all they want to do is fight crime. It’s like pulling teeth to get chief constables to talk about technology.” How do you, and AdEPT, respond to such experiences?

PM: It really is about investigating the organisation’s problems properly and to do that, you need to talk to the right people and ask the right questions. We’ll find out what works for them and what doesn’t work. We don’t believe you can advise without talking to people who are doing the day-to-day business. And that means as many stakeholders as possible.

AL: That statement is interesting because although it sounds negative, it’s actually what we want. We want our chief constables to focus on their core work of fighting crime. We don’t want them worrying about their IT, or their telecoms system. Whatever it is, we don’t want them worrying about it all. They’ve probably got six or seven vendors all trying to get their attention and being very confusing – so that’s why we prefer an outcome-led conversation with the stakeholders. In a way, it doesn’t matter about the technology – it’s about the people and finding out what works for them.

BR: On the subject of people and the IT department, earlier this year, there was a report by Socitm that explored some of the key trends within public sector technology. One of them said: “2019 is likely to see significant pressure on IT to make fundamental shifts from past operating models”. What’s your take on this?

AL: One of the things this hints at the role of IT within an organisation becoming more flexible. For example, if you consider a typical local authority workforce, there’ll be a mixture of care workers out in the community helping vulnerable people, there’ll be other workers with minimal technology in their working day, and then there’ll be people who are entirely office based. To meet the needs of this workforce, the IT department will have to work more closely with other departments and develop a more agile, flexible approach.

PM: We’re seeing that happening with our existing clients and what’s impressive is that they’re doing this despite budget restraints.

BR: So there’s a transformation in culture and mindset that’s happening?

AL: Definitely. Of course, there’s a lot of historic ways of working that are embedded in the public sector – as there is with any sector. But that appetite for innovation – that we talked about earlier – is incredibly strong in the public sector. And it’s that appetite that matters now, and will make a difference in the future.

  • You can meet Alex and Paul at this year’s Digitech19, being held in the Manchester Central conference centre on Tuesday 19 November. We are the title sponsor of this event and you’ll find Alex and Paul at our stand in the central hub. But, if you’d like to say hello before then, you can call them on 0333 400 2490, or connect on LinkedIn:

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT