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In-depth

Social value: A bid for public sector and partner success

How can the channel benefit from the increased push to deliver social value not only in head office but across supply chains?

With the UK government shifting further towards delivering 'social value' through procurement, the channel should be altering its approach accordingly – seeking to maximise bang-for-buck across the entire supply chain.

In January, the government's new 'social value' measure for driving everything from tackling climate change and enhancing environmental sustainability to corporate social responsibility and 'levelling up' went live.

These considerations will be increasingly critical for the channel’s future public sector involvement – building on the Social Value Act (2012), according to Will Carver, alliances and partnerships director at the IT firm, SCC. This piece of legislation requires departments to consider economic, environmental and social wellbeing goals during any procurement process.

"This is a really complicated area that sellers and buyers now need to respond to, in terms of how you do that," says Carver. "The government has suddenly created this new measure for everyone to comply with. If you want to sell to the government, you have to be ready with answers to a very ambiguous question, with some means for assessing vendors in a measurable way."

How to answer the question

According to TechUK, departments must now look to prioritise contractors that demonstrate concrete benefits for communities, COVID-19 recovery, supply chain resilience, waste reduction, workforce inequality, or environmental sustainability. A minimum weighting of 10% of the total score will be applied for social value. 

Now, bidders need to look at all aspects of delivery – potentially across their entire supply chain as well as strategic solution planning, design and deployment or alignment with assorted guidances, evolving frameworks and qualifying marks or certifications. 

Michael O'Hara, managing director of VAD DataSolutions, says, however, that delivering on social value, and climate change, in particular, is no longer aspirational as it might have been 50 years ago. Attitudes have shifted since the most desirable provider of goods and services was the one that delivered the greatest shareholder return for the least cost. Social value considerations are now essential, whether bidding in the public sector or not, he suggests.

"It's about the full value of an organisation," he says, "as opposed to when the New York Times in 1970 said the sole purpose of business is to maximise profits. If a business diluted that, it was seen to potentially jeopardise the business and make them less competitive."

O'Hara credits a former CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, as key to raising awareness of a more rounded view of corporate value. "About ten years ago he really pushed the sustainability agenda – and the company was very successful overall. He said businesses are not here to serve shareholders, they're here to serve society," he says.

Working together on solutions

O'Hara has since rounded up a posse of tech-oriented companies committed to achieving verifiable sustainability by 2030 – Techies Go Green, whose members have pledged to take eight steps to reach carbon neutrality.

"It kicked off when we went into lockdown; we were enjoying working from home, getting closer to nature," he says. "We realised that sustainability is bigger than environmental, social and governance (ESG); it's an existential issue for us all." 

Employees typically already want to work with companies demonstrating "a good social conscience", he says, acting on everything from reducing single-use coffee cups and packaging to reducing commutes, travel and energy use throughout the business. 

How do channel companies drive and monitor change in partner organisations too, though, beyond asking for and choosing more environmentally friendly products and services? A lot can be done, especially by large partners, through incentives. Microsoft, for example, has suggested paring back offerings to customers and partners they see as "bad players" in the sustainability space, O'Hara says.

"If you're doing good, people will see that. The biggest thing is that organisations often don't know where to start," O'Hara says. "Measuring carbon footprints, for example, isn't an exact science. If you're going in the right direction over time, that's what's important."

Andy Horn, chief executive officer at managed services provider IntraLAN, echoes O'Hara but adds that simply improving productivity – for instance by supporting home working – can help meet social value requirements.

Freeing up resources delivers social value too

A channel company can show, in its bid, how its solutions enhance social value within a government department by freeing up resources. When staff can invest more in value-generating tasks, instead of fighting with their IT systems or addressing other issues, that too delivers social value in a way that tech provision is especially suited for.

"There's clear potential to improve productivity while not burning fossil fuels," Horn notes. An example might be if a family is using domestic-level broadband for work, with all the potential tech bottlenecks and cybersecurity issues that entails. Fixing those problems by installing business-grade routing or better laptops can help deliver social value in the ways that the public sector frameworks demand.

"Those things might not jump into your mind straight away," he adds. "It can be about making sure that your customer experience, your employee experience, is as good as it used to be when they were working in the office."

Whether it's employees, customers or partners, it begins with having those discussions about social responsibility, says Horn; conversations that are really, after all, the channel's key strength.

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