If you can't win on cost, how do you sell to the public sector?

How to set yourself apart from the crowd? It's a tough question to answer

I had an interesting meeting this week with Fujitsu.

The company has a problem - one faced by all of the large suppliers who have already done a lot of work with various public sector bodies and now find themselves competing in the cloud space.

The launch of CloudStore has meant that vendors have had to rethink how they offer their services. Are they going to do it on price? If they do, they're going to find themselves up agains smaller and nimbler competitors who can undercut the competition 

Are they going to do it on the level of services and consultancy that they offer? That's going to the response of many of the entrenched players in the market - they'll have spent years working their ways in government contracts and they know their way round Whitehall. 

The problem with this approach is that this level of consultancy and the additional service that this entails runs counter to this ethos of the cloud, which is to pick a service and run with it. No lengthy consultancy, no lengthy contracts, no complicated setup - just do it.

Fujitsu is doing a couple of things differently. Firstly, it doesn't allow customers to buy cloud services through a credit card. That sounds counter-intuitive given that many industy observers define cloud as something that can be bought by using a credit card - on the face of it, this is a step backwards.

The company's argument is that this provides a level of security. Accounts are verified very quickly so, it argues, there's little difference in setup time. The bonus for customers is that they're going to be a bit happier about the integrity of Fujitsu's customers, no hackers buying cloud time with stolen credit cards for example. 

It sounds extreme but this is the sort of thing that will precisely appeal to many CIOs - there's still some nervousness out there.

Fujitsu has also done some other neat things. Its cloud setup process defines applications by business process rather than by type of server - it's certainly the way that companies think. And, as Fujitsu holds a telecoms licence, it can make connectivity a lot easier - another potential headache for customers.

Another thing the company has done has been to launch its Business Solutions Store in the UK. This allows independent software vendors to meet customer demand by extending their existing software to the cloud. This allows many more software vendors to sell SaaS-based software.

I still think that the CloudStore is going to completely transform public procurement and the some of the larger suppliers are going to have their work cut out it keep hold of business. But at least Fujitsu is looking for new ways to sell its cloud offerings. 

The company has some way to go to convince that it's going to be a successful cloud player but it's looking to get on the right track at least. If it's not going to win on cost, then differentiated services is going to be the name of the game. It's a lesson a lot of vendors are going to learn in the next year or so.

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