I often read in tenders that organisations are “seeking a strategic partnership” – but unfortunately, once the contracts are signed, the relationship often reverts back to one of a supplier and purchaser and the ambitions are forgotten.
I am Sopra Steria’s Head of Public Sector Consulting Scotland. Back in December 2019, we became the strategic partner of the Scottish Government Digital Transformation Directorate, working as a core part of the Digital Transformation Service (DTS). It was very clear from the original tender process and the first kick-off meeting that both parties wanted this contract to be different. Both parties recognised that by combining our respective organisations’ expertise, knowledge and skills we could make a real difference to the organisations who approached DTS seeking help to implement citizen-centred services.
In December 2020, we renewed our contract for another year having successfully formed a strategic partnership during a turbulent time of lockdowns, remote working and constantly changing project priorities.
From the start of the partnership, we agreed that Sopra Steria and DTS would work together as one team. During our kick-off meeting, we explored what we both wanted to achieve so we could understand each other’s points of view. We agreed that we wanted to develop a true partnership culture – where we worked together to deliver DTS’s objectives, spoke with one voice, and could openly share our knowledge, experience, and methods to help improve the end service.
Forming a public/private sector partnership can lead to concerns over competing objectives. The private sector partner has to make a profit whilst the public sector partner has to deliver value-for-money services. During our kick-off meeting, we agreed that our joint focus was on delivering value-for-money services and making a tangible, measurable and positive change for the people who use them while recognising that Sopra Steria has to deliver profitable business.
It’s important that we work together as one team and that our end clients are unable to distinguish whether they’re working with a Scottish Government (SG) or a Sopra Steria employee. That’s why we all use Scottish Government laptops, have SG email accounts, use SG systems and all of our work is produced in DTS branding and templates. DTS has one set of rates, which it charges for its services regardless of whether the resources come from Sopra Steria or DTS. The team has worked together to refine and iterate the templates we use and our approaches and methods, learning the lessons from each assignment we have undertaken.
The fastest way to create trust and respect in teams is by building personal relationships. Normally we would co-locate, and we did this at the beginning with our Sopra Steria team members working in an SG office side-by-side with the DTS team. This enabled the whole team to join stand-ups, work together on joint projects and begin to get to know each other. We started attending our respective community of practice events and we had plans for the SG team to join Sopra Steria’s quarterly events.
Coronavirus hit and in March 2020 everyone was transitioning to working from home using Skype. The team started three new Discovery projects during lockdown in March, where none of us had met each other face-to-face and we had to learn how to use online white boarding tools and conduct user research remotely. It became a running joke that we would recognise people’s voices but would walk past them in the street as we had never seen them or met them face to face.
Covid brought other challenges, with SG team members being re-allocated to vital Covid-related projects and work being re-prioritised. We had to work hard to share our insights with SG staff, making sure that the whole team was invited to project retrospectives and show and tell sessions, as we began to explore how we could build a virtual partnership team. We now host joint virtual knowledge-sharing events and we’ve been working to improve our services, methods and approaches.
Together the DTS team has successfully delivered over 12 Discovery projects, one Digital Strategy, two Alphas and one Beta, whilst supporting vital coronavirus-related projects and core SG platform projects including Cloud and Digital Identity Scotland. The team has focused on designing citizen-led services, helped develop digital skills and capabilities, and have ensured that agencies are sharing common components and only spending money on new technology when absolutely necessary.
It has been a long year for everyone but the partnership has come together and shared its lessons learned on the way. I am looking forward to what we can achieve together in 2021.
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