Government panels a critical gateway to growth for small and medium-sized businesses
Gaining access to government panels can be a key source of growth for small and medium enterprises (SME) and therefore the Australian economy, according to Kylie Burnett, managing partner of Canberra consulting firm Parbery.
A panel is a procurement mechanism used by government departments and agencies and their prime contractors (Primes) to secure services from pre-vetted organisations to deliver government projects.
With extensive knowledge of the public sector, Kylie explains that without them, SME growth can be “a bit of a catch 22”.
“As an SME you need to build your portfolio of experiences to get the gig, but you need the gig to gain the experience,” she says.
“Panels give the little guy a chance to grow and mature – accessing them gives you a foot in the door to get those experiences.
“If used in the right way, it’s an excellent growth strategy for an SME.”
Panel memberships unlock potential for a share in hugely valuable government contracts – but for SMEs, there’s one hitch.
“The issue is that panels are in place for three to five years, which means SMEs are locked out of the work that goes through those panels if they come into the market after they are established,” Kylie explains.
This is where networks such as SME Gateway come in.
As a member of multiple Commonwealth and state government panels, SME Gateway does what its name suggests. It grows and connects skilled SMEs with the government, Defence and industry clients that require their capabilities.
Each panel membership is the result of an exhaustive pre-qualification process assessing its financial stability, experience and capability.
For SME Gateway, the collective capabilities of its 440-plus members equate to more than 160 skillsets in its supply chain, making it a highly attractive panel member, in turn yielding excellent results for its SME members.
“We’ve been successful with SME Gateway in a number of ways,” Kylie says.
“All the work we’ve done under SME Gateway as a sub-contractor/member has built a case for us to be able to get on that government panel when it’s refreshed, as well as new panels.
“Aside from the panels, we have been able to leverage some of their long-standing client relationships to create networking avenues.
“They also respect the expertise you bring to the table. We operate quite independently as a sub-contractor/member and they understand that we’re the technical experts and they are the vehicle. They don’t overstep in trying to manage you, but instead see you as an equal.”
Each of SME Gateway’s members has its own portal in which it selects the skillsets it has and types of contracts it wants to be alerted to.
When the client wants a limited number of applications, SME Gateway conducts an internal evaluation to determine the best response.
“We do that quite transparently,” SME Gateway CEO Stuart Althaus says.
“Where a member misses out, we conduct a debrief, providing that feedback to them so they can improve their responses.”
Stuart says while panels were designed to give its members a ”ticket to the dance”, the arrangement was equally beneficial to its clients by offering a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to numerous open-market tender processes.
“Clients are able to engage with panel members without having to go through the difficult and potentially convoluted process of a tender,” he explains.
“The cost and imposition a tender places on an organisation, both financially and from a probity perspective, is onerous. Panels offer capability providers that are ready to go.
“On the flip side for members, it’s very difficult to deal directly with government, Defence and Primes – there are many hoops to jump through. We’re able to smooth that out and present that market channel to SMEs in a form where all they need to worry about is responding to the evaluation criteria.
“It essentially means SMEs can access the opportunities they need to grow and mature, and the client benefits from the vast capabilities of a massive pool of SMEs, and neither has to deal with the administrative burden.”