13.06.18

Integrators and consultants discuss navigating public sector projects

European Parliament building in Strasbourg
European parliament in Strasbourg / Shutterstock.com

Government spending often acts a barometer of a country’s economic health. If tax receipts are healthy and inward investment strong, governments respond with the associated infrastructure requirements and often have spare cash to invest in arts and culture projects.

Government spending often acts a barometer of a country’s economic health. If tax receipts are healthy and inward investment strong, governments respond with the associated infrastructure requirements and often have spare cash to invest in arts and culture projects. 

However, when times are tough, public sector spend can sometimes buck the wider trend of reduced investment, providing a much needed revenue stream for contractors struggling for work. Part of that reason is life has to go on: people still catch trains, court rooms hold trials, parliaments meet, children go to school and so on. Furthermore, any investment or loans from global monetary funds or other countries delivered during a time of need is usually managed and distributed by the public sector. And, if a country needs an economic kick start, a government may chose to try and spend its way out of a recession on borrowed money. 

So, for better or for worse, it’s wise to understand the particulars of working on public sector projects and know how to be considered for those contracts. 

In order to gain insight into what it takes, and find out the specifics of working in the sector, I wanted to find out more from companies that have worked on public sector projects in three very different countries across EMEA. 

In addition to its native Russia, integrator Polymedia works in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. CEO Elena Novikova says: “In all the countries, in order to work on governmental projects, one has to go through the bid procedure in accordance with the local public purchasing law. 
“Government change [in the beginning of May in Russia] slowed down the decision- making process in the public sector.”
“The bid has to be well prepared and it is usually preceded by long-term work with a customer, sometimes this could take more than a year. The better a company is prepared for the bid, the more chances of winning there are.” 

For macom – a German consultant that works across Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the UK – the sector is set apart by red tape. 

The company only commented on the public sector in Germany as it hasn’t worked on government projects in the other countries with Jens Schicke, branch manager of macom Berlin, saying: “Germany has a very strong public sector with a huge amount of regulations and limitations, most concerning the field of transparency. 

“As a consultant you have to face with and are a part of the administration and bureaucracy. The working and commissioning processes are complicated and the fee is not adequate.” 

Bureaucracy is a theme that stretches over to Egypt, where I caught up with Mohamed Attia, managing director of Egyptian Engineering Projects (Quality). “It’s more bureaucratic in the public sector and not as organised as the private sector,” he confirms. “Cash flow is not as good and projects tend to take longer.” 

Even if things take a bit longer, the projects that can be picked up in the public sector are often worth the effort. Attia says his company is robust enough to handle “cash flow bottle necks”, but adds that a six month window from project start to commissioning is important to keep the technology installed up to date. 

Public or private sector, the main goal for Attia is to pick up “significant projects” that will be a good addition to the company’s references.  

Macom’s Schicke says his company has concentrated “on state government buildings like the parliament in Hannover or in Schwerin, because they have demands for good signal and audio quality”. 

The other thing for companies working in the public sector to consider is government funded projects can be anything from office buildings for civil servants and politicians to hospitals, schools and universities, cultural projects and court rooms. The list goes on and – depending on the country – can encompass almost every single vertical market. 

“Germany has a very strong public sector with a huge amount of regulations and limitations, most concerning the field of transparency.”

However, government priorities change. So companies that want to benefit from the cash must be able to handle diverse requirements. Attia for example says: “The Egyptian market is mainly concentrated on infrastructure and mega projects, new cities outside the capital to relieve the pressure on the densely populated big cities of Cairo and Alexandria” 

Novikova meanwhile notes that “several years ago in Russia there were federal programmes for education financing and that allowed the implementation of large projects in the education sphere”.

More currently however, she offers insight into the present state of play in Russia where “a crisis is taking place for the third consecutive year. The public sector has less and less money,” she says. “We try and refocus towards the large corporate sector. Besides that, the work with the public sector is related to many risks due to a turnover of public sector staff which may lead to changes in requirements. 

“Government change [in the beginning of May] also slowed down the decision-making process in the public sector. On the other hand, right now Russia prioritises digital economy and digital transformation, therefore opening a perspective for the development of IT and traditional AV industries. 

“Kazakhstan is moving towards the digital economy even more actively: there are discussions of several projects related to implementation of control rooms and situation centres, which would feature not only traditional AV solutions but also analytical systems on the basis of big data.” 

Although Novikova notes a push toward digital, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on particular technology demands in the sector. Again that’s probably down to the diverse range of stakeholders and applications that publically financed projects encompass.  
“The Egyptian market is mainly concentrated on infrastructure and mega projects.”

“Some projects are quite conventional, others especially in the educational sector slightly more progressive. Streaming technologies like AVB are accepted as futureproof technologies,” offers Schicke. 

Whatever their priorities, Attia says it’s still important that the end clients are consulted, despite public sector projects going through layers of contractors and sub-contractors, with AV integrators invariably the latter. 

“The main contractor knows that we are a specialised engineering company, our business is very niche,” he explains. “The main contractor will not have the knowledge that we have to discuss with the client, consultant or architect what exactly it is they need so we can translate that to an up-to-date technology specification. We’ll never bypass any contractual agreement but we are usually asked by the main contractor to have this direct contact.” 

Schicke however, notes a barrier in how much influence macom as a consultant can have on a public sector project. “Big organisations, private or public have so many regulations and only a few possibilities to really try something new that we would advise. The risk of failure is a consideration.” 

When that pressure is relieved – which is often the case in “middle class projects” - he says that people will become more creative. “They follow us, are often open-minded and let us influence them to try new things. 

“This is the case especially in the field of future working and meeting spaces where new collaboration technologies need to be considered.” 

While the public sector seems to offer its own list of frustrations, restrictions and a fair bit of red tape, it’s wise to be able and willing to navigate that. In addition to a diverse portfolio, public sector projects can be good PR. 

“Working in the public sector is usually more significant and prestigious that the private sector, it is more visible and there is a possibility to promote your work,” Novikova confirms.