Collaborate to innovate: how digital start-ups can help the public sector

by Billy D’Arcy, Managing Director: O2 Public Sector

 At O2 we’re proud supporters of our start-up accelerator, Wayra, and the work they do to galvanise innovation. Over the past four years Wayra have supported almost 100 start-ups which have raised a total of $55m (£36m) in investment, ranging from government grants to venture capital.

However, digital start-ups can face difficulties when trying to gain traction in the public sector despite the potential for their solutions to help organisations reduce costs and deliver a better experience for citizens. We wanted to explore why this was, and how organisations like O2 can do more to support the public sector by revealing the benefits that come from collaboration. And now seems like the right time, as the government has made a commitment to ensure that 25% of spending, either directly or via supply chains, goes to small and medium enterprises by the end of 2015.[1]

Last week we invited guests from a range of public sector organisations to hear from three experts on how the public sector could benefit from working closely with digital start-ups. Our panel consisted of Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Technology Officer at the Home Office, Dominic Campbell, CEO of FutureGov and Chris McCullough, Wayra alumni and Co-Founder of RotaGeek, an online employee scheduling software platform for businesses.

One of the key points of discussion, raised by Campbell, was that the perception of start-ups within government is changing but more needs to be done. This is driven by the changing behaviour and expectations of citizens, as they are increasingly comfortable with a variety of technology and are constantly embracing new ways of doing things. Therefore, the public sector needs to do the same.

However, Wilkinson explained that due to processes being slow in the past, it has led to a dependence on suppliers which makes it difficult to explore alternative options. But there is an opportunity for start-ups and government to work together to create new models, partnering the right people with each other to create open source delivery approaches. This was evident by the approach of McCullough (part of the Wayra alumni), who identified a gap and saw it as an opportunity to work specifically with the public sector which has ultimately led to the success of his company.

The panel discussion was followed by three-minute pitches from seven of our Wayra start-ups (Basestone, Localistico, Policy in Practice, Proversity, RotaGeek, Squirrel and Quidini). We wanted to give the start-ups this platform as it is critical that we start to break the mould, and help to accelerate the changes and innovation that are long overdue. After the pitches we were pleased to hear this comment from Tunde Olatunji, Head of Customer Relationships at c2c Rail Limited: ‘The pitches were great, I could really see myself picking the phone up to one of these guys and taking the conversation further.’ I believe this is exactly what the public sector needs – a hunger for innovation made a reality by start-up businesses that can help deliver a better citizen experience.

Visit our website to find out more about how O2 are supporting the public sector, or tweet me @BillyDarcyO2UK

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-government-buying/2010-to-2015-government-policy-government-buying