Panel: Partnerships, consultants key to U.K. sales

IT companies looking to land business with the United Kingdom should partner with other companies that already have a foothold in the market and leverage the expertise of consulting and investment groups, according to panel members speaking today in Washington.

The United Kingdom offers diverse opportunities in IT, telecommunications, professional services and facilities management, said members of the panel during "Selling to the U.K. Government," a presentation at the FOSE trade show, produced by PostNewsweek Tech Media, publisher of Washington Technology.

"The scale and range of the business opportunity is phenomenal," said Patricia O'Hagan, managing director of Core Systems Ltd. of Belfast, Ireland. Her small business sells biometrics for criminal justice to U.K. government customers.

Dave Feldman, consul for investment of U.K. trade and investment with the British Embassy, said the government of the United Kingdom differs substantially from the U.S. federal government in several ways.

One key difference is that the U.K. government includes the entire health care industry, he said. This means the government, as compared to the workforce in the United States, employs a larger proportion of the U.K. workforce, 25 percent.

The U.K. public sector comprises the defense and civilian sectors, National Health System, Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Executive, National Assembly for Wales, local authorities, and universities and colleges. Nearly 40 percent of the U.K.'s gross national produce is spent on government.

Feldman said that companies looking for specific opportunities consult the Official Journal of the European Union, visit the National Purchasing and Supply Agency's Web site (http://www.pasa.nhs.uk), and visit the Office of Government Commerce's Web site (www.supplyinggovernment.gov.uk).

The advantages of working with the U.K. government include less market fluctuation than in the United States, prompt payment of contractors and sharing best practices among agencies, O'Hagan said.

Among the disadvantages are the wide use of security clearances, a complex decision making process, and operational issues and constraints on support delivery that can make it difficult to finish work in a timely manner, she said. For example, O'Hagan said she frequently encountered delays gaining access to the prisons where her company was deploying solutions.

Wilf Charlton, attaché for defense equipment with the British Embassy, said that U.K. procurement laws are less restrictive than U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulation and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation. For that reason, U.K. contracts allow customers and contractors ample room for compromise and negotiation in the contract award process, he said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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