A good contractor can help public sector organisations develop their own capabilities while delivering a project successfully, writes Anna Assassa, chief executive officer at Tisski
IR35 is threatening to create long term problems for public sector organisations, increasing their skills deficit for implementing IT projects.
The new regulation from HM Revenue & Customs is reclassifying large numbers of contractors as employees, depriving them of the benefits of self-employment and making many reluctant to undertake more work with government.
For organisations that have long relied on contractors to plug their skills gap, it is raising the prospect of fewer in the market, higher costs and the danger of projects floundering due to lack of expertise. In response, they have to pay fresh attention to building up their in-house capabilities.
The answer to some of their problems is to have better blended teams and to increasingly pick up more of the work themselves. The right choice for support in a short term project could produce positive results into the long term.
An important element of this should be working with contractors who, rather than simply applying their own expertise to the job, are ready to pass on the relevant skills. They should be ready to work with customers and equip them with the ability to pick up as many of their functions as possible.
Much of what contractors do can be done by in-house staff, especially young graduates and apprentices; but it takes time for them to come up to speed as they have not worked with the technology before.
Agile and sprints
At Tisski we take an agile approach, working in sprints to deliver projects. In the first sprint we bring in one of the in-house team specifically to learn from us, then for the second they take on some of the work, gradually developing the necessary expertise. We can take in more in-house staff – generally one for at least four of our people – a ratio we find gives us time to teach them while keeping the project on track.
The most successful projects we have seen is where the customer backfills the business, budgeting a project so that a member of their staff will spend the time with us. If we have a capable representative from the business working alongside our team, they can quickly gain an understanding of what the system does to accompany their knowledge of how the organisation works.
It is possible to do this with staff who are not technology specialists. The beauty of Microsoft technology is that you can learn it very quickly, and the best way to do so is through practical experience.
Also, Microsoft platforms are sufficiently flexible to be configured, without any coding, to meet the demands of many projects. This makes it much easier for staff from different areas of the business to ensure the platform handles the required processes, and to adapt it as demands change; and it reduces the need for specialist development work.
In fact, it is often better that they come from outside the IT team, as long as they have a capacity for logical thinking and an interest in what the technology can do. People like this often prove to be gold dust at the end of a project.
We took this approach in a project with Scottish Enterprise last year, adding new configurations to its Dynamics CRM Online to help users get more from the platform. We aimed at helping the organisation to develop its in-house configuration capabilities so it can adjust the platform to future requirements, even as it carries out a planned move to Dynamics 365 later this year.
We did this by running an initial upgrade in a sandbox – an isolated testing environment for code changes – making it possible to identify key problems such as the existence of multiple identities and issues with postcode data. These were fixed before the full scale implementation, which went without any major issues arising.
As a result, Scottish Enterprise suffered no disruption to its operations while taking on a more efficient and versatile CRM. It now has more control over the system, having hired additional people to beef up its own capability.
It is an approach that works for an SME like Tisski as well as for the customer. While a big systems integrator would have the people to stay on-site on an ongoing basis, we would rather that our consultants deliver a project then move on to the next one.
If an organisation takes this approach it will have a more highly skilled team of its own at the end of the project, the ability to maximise the independence that they can obtain from the Microsoft technology, and a far better solution that will be bought and influenced directly by the users. In addition, they will get a happier team, as people always feel better about their jobs when they have the chance to develop their skills, and a very good supplier relationship, as you only bring them in to do the jobs that need the highly developed skills.
It leads to a situation in which the supplier is happier, the customer’s team is happier and the customer gets a better product. Everybody wins.
To find out more about Tisski's agile approach and how the following innovations can be utilised, click on the webinar registration link below:
- How to use text recognition to improve customer experience.
- Using facial recognition to increase security and combat fraud.
- How speech analysis can streamline access to services.
- Using data analytics to provide a 360 degree view of the service user.
'Engaging users & driving efficiency through Cognitive Services' webinar on 2 June.