May 27, 2020

January 5, 2023

How to deal with a full inbox of tech offers: A public sector guide

Here are a few quick tips we’ve learned for quickly assessing offers of help from tech companies and finding the solution you need.

If you are a public sector worker, chances are you currently have a very full inbox. Huge numbers of companies and organisations, particularly in the tech sector, are stepping forward to offer solutions and products to support government frontline services. It’s fantastic - but if you are the person fielding the offers of help, it can also be very overwhelming. Answer one email and two more appear - how are you ever meant to cut through the noise and find the solutions that will actually help, let alone do it among all the other challenges COVID-19 has created?

Here at PUBLIC we regularly run innovation challenges with government bodies, sifting through hundreds of applications to find the new technology solutions with the potential to dramatically improve public services. In our most recent programme, TechForce19 delivered in partnership with NHSX, we received over 1600 applications from tech companies and appraised all applications in less than a week. Here are a few quick tips we’ve learned for quickly assessing offers of help from tech companies and finding the solution you need.

Tip #1: Have a clear idea of the challenges you are trying to solve

This might sound obvious, but the fastest way - if not the only way - to sort the solutions that are useful from the solutions that aren’t useful, is to have a clear idea of the problem you are trying to solve. In times of stress or high workloads, it can be really easy to lose sight of the end goal. Don’t let the rush distract you, keep your end goal in mind.

Often a good way to maintain laser-like focus on what is useful versus what is not, is to write down your challenges in really simple questions - for example, how can we check on dementia patients' well-being without visiting them? Phrasing challenges in this way gives a very clear idea of the desired end result, whilst also keeping the means of reaching this end result open enough for new & innovative ideas to provide you with solutions you might not have even thought about.

Tip #2: Create a contact form with your key questions

When comparing two potential solutions, ideally you want to be comparing like for like. This can be tough though when you are receiving inbound offers. Enquirers will be sending you presentations and product demos, all of which will be answering different questions in different ways. A fast way to cut through this noise is to draw up a quick contact form.

A contact form will allow you to set the questions, making it easy to find the information you need in a style that will be quick and easy to assess. Using Tip#1, think of the challenges you want to solve and the questions you will want to ask to be confident that this offer of support can help you. What metrics or data do they have to show they are solving your problem in a way that is faster or easier or cheaper? What technical or commercial standards will they need to meet? Set the questions you want answered and let them to the leg work to tell you how they can help.

(NB: If you are looking for effective contact form tools to use, I would recommend Typeform, Airtable, and SurveyMonkey which are all quick and easy to use).

Tip #3: Categorise prerequisite questions from qualitative questions

Some questions you want answered will be prerequisite ‘yes or no’ questions - ‘Do you have Cyber Essentials qualifications?’ for example. Others will be more qualitative - ‘Describe how you would intend to implement your product or service?’. Whether you are setting up a contact form or just replying to an email, it is important to work out in your mind which questions are which and approach them accordingly.

If you are pressed for time or sifting through lots of enquiries, focus on the prerequisite questions first. Once you have worked out which solutions don’t meet your criteria, you can set them aside as non-immediate and spend more of your time reading and evaluating the solutions that are more likely to fit your needs.

Tip #4: Set aside a period of time to focus

Nothing speeds up a process like repetition. Don’t try and answer the enquiries as they come in. Set aside a time every two days or every week and concentrate solely on reading through inbound offers. Not only will this make it easier to compare similar offerings or solutions, but through the repetition your brain will quickly find ways to hone in on the key information quickly and save time.

For peak productivity: find time slots that work well for you - early mornings are often particularly effective; make sure you have a coffee; and put headphones on to ensure you won’t be disturbed.

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to be honest

Speaking from the point of view of a tech supplier, nothing is worse than being strung along a series of meetings only to find nothing was ever possible in the first place. Be honest with the people who are sending you offers: if their solution either doesn’t fit your needs, tell them that it is not what you are looking for right now. You will be helping them by saving them time. If your priorities or challenges change, you can always return to the correspondence.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to be honest about your timelines. If it is likely that you will not be able to respond to their email or evaluate their solution for a week or two weeks, let them know. It will save them from chasing you and you from being chased.

As the offers to help mount up, don’t drown in correspondence. Get ahead of the curve and put in place some systems that will help you make smart decisions quickly and easily.

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