In the world of government ICT projects, two elements are essential for success: trust and capability. It’s clear from recent events, such as the PwC tax scandal and subsequent Senate inquiry, that there’s a significant erosion of trust in large consulting firms. At the same time, the Australian public and government are seeking more from businesses and service providers. So, what do they truly need? Expertise and a trustworthiness that stands the test of scrutiny.

The Edelman 2023 Trust Barometer captures this sentiment, revealing a polarised society where business leaders are both the beacon of hope and under immense pressure. In this landscape, the crucial question arises: can larger, familiar names in professional consultancy be entrusted with crucial government ICT projects? Or is there another path, one less prone to the pitfalls of public distrust and more attuned to the ever-changing nuances of technology and government regulations?

Enter the SMEs, the unsung heroes of specialised services. The Australian Small Business Ombudsman’s report underlines this by showing that over half of Australia’s professional, scientific, and technical services come from SMEs. This isn’t just a statistical footnote. It signifies that SMEs possess both the capability and agility required for specialised government projects.

Why is capability so important? Delivering a successful ICT project is no small feat. It demands technical acumen, management expertise, and a precise blend of methodologies. Whether you’re navigating the cascading stages of waterfall or the flexible iterations of agile, the goal is clear: a seamless and effective software solution that addresses unique legislative requirements without getting bogged down in bureaucratic tangles.

This isn’t just about having technical prowess. It’s about understanding the bureaucratic and legislative nuances of government departments and seamlessly weaving this understanding into the ICT solution. When one talks about the blending of waterfall and agile delivery methods, it’s a reflection of this duality. SMEs, with their focused expertise and nimbleness, can integrate both methods effectively.

But why SMEs? The recent mistrust of the ‘big four’ casts a shadow over larger consultancy firms. It’s crucial to distinguish between scale and capability. Larger firms may have the scale, but they also come with bureaucratic inertia. As the demands of ICT projects evolve, this inertia can be a liability. In contrast, SMEs offer agility alongside their expertise. This agility ensures that projects can pivot when needed, without layers of red tape stymieing progress.

Capability is only half of the equation. Trust is the linchpin. In an environment marred by skepticism, the emphasis on outcomes becomes even more pronounced. The government doesn’t just need a vendor. They need a partner—a trusted entity focused on delivering tangible results. SMEs offer this trust. Their size and specialisation mean they’re invested in the project’s success. They’re not just juggling vast portfolios where one project’s failure is just a statistic. For an SME, each project’s success is a testament to their credibility and expertise.

The way SMEs operate – with fixed-price services and outcome-based models – ensures accountability. This is a stark contrast to the riskier, longer-term contracts where larger firms hold governments hostage due to scale and lack of agility.

By procuring services from these trusted SMEs, the government not only gets the desired outcome but also promotes a more equitable business landscape. It helps divert significant contracts from the monopolistic grasp of the ‘big four’, ensuring a competitive market where merit, and not just size, dictates success.

Returning to the insights from the Edelman Trust Barometer, there’s an evident need for collaboration between business and government. When these sectors work together, great things happen. This collaboration, however, requires trust and expertise at its core. SMEs bring the immense value to the table. They don’t just offer a service; they offer reliability, expertise, and a partnership rooted in mutual success.

Australia stands at a crossroads and the choice is clear: continue down the path of traditional, scale-driven decision-making, or pivot towards a more equitable, trust-driven model where SMEs play a pivotal role. The latter doesn’t just promise successful ICT projects; it promises a brighter future for Australian business and governance.