Jane Roberts - "Make sure you understand the culture and politics of how a big organisation operates and the internal challenges your sponsor faces"

Job Title: Strategy Director and Founder

Company: Toplevel


Jane's Linkedin profilehttps://www.linkedin.com/in/janerobertstoplevel

Toplevel provides solutions to help the public sector work more easily with each other, making public services simpler and better by replacing paper, telephone and face to face services with digital/online alternatives.

Our solutions put a big focus on technology ease of use, security of data and integration with complex IT environments, in particular for central government.

There has been a huge drive to put digital services online since about 2000, the current directive being 'Digital by Default'. For us this means developing open standards technology that the public sector can use to develop simpler, quicker, better services for employees and citizens, that they will want to use again and again, hopefully saving departments money at the same time.

Toplevel has more than a decade of experience and expertise with over 50 public sector clients.

We are lucky in bordering both the Bristol and Malvern technology clusters; it means we get the opportunity to hire some great developers.

We take a 'best-of-breed' approach' to technology and invest a lot in software development. For example, we invested heavily in securing a Pan Government Security GCloud Accreditation.

We also have our own software product Outreach, which delivers a set of 'out of the box' configurable modules that support online and staff facing applications including self-service appointment booking, online service or form presentation and data collection, service eligibility, case management and application processing. The product also allows non-programmers to manage and develop services freeing up developers' time and/or reducing the cost of external consultants. https://www.toplev.com/technology/

I started as a techie developer in the IT industry where I worked on systems for banks and the more I saw in terms of how solutions were written and used, I thought I could do it better and deliver solutions more efficiently than the companies I was working with.

When Toplevel first started we didn't really specialise or have a niche. Fairly early on we saw that the government were beginning the mammoth task of putting more emphasis on digital services and with our skills we knew that what we had to offer would be very suited to the public sector. The moment we realised we had something special was when the directive came out about putting services online.

We now work for lots of public sector clients including the Home Office, Ofsted and DVSA. 

Working with government used to be very, very slow, so a lot of SME's did not have either the patience or the infrastructure to be able to work with them. Things have improved over the past few years but the process is not right for everyone.

Advice to other SMEs - How long have you got :)

It took us a long time to understand what was needed to write a successful bid. We taught ourselves – it was slow and we learnt that writing bids is sometimes about giving 'text book' answers. One of the things we learnt (the hard way) was that to win you need to be very good at written bid responses.

Make sure you understand the culture and politics of how a big organisation operates and the internal challenges your sponsor faces.

Don't work in a silo and just do your bit on a large project - work closely with other suppliers and make sure that you are working towards the end goals of the project.

Managing expectations - Make sure that the customer has a very clear understanding of the parameters of what you will deliver and especially the support they can expect post project completion. This can avoid a lot of problems.

I think the most helpful advice we have been given was from our customers. In the early days we were told to sharpen up our act in writing tender documents. We took this seriously and over the years have become quite good at it. Customers also continue to provide feedback on our services, which helps us to keep on improving what we offer.

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Toplevel Computing Limited

Toplevel delivers digital case management solutions that help Government organisations meet Digital by Default Service Standards and achieve channel shift quickly, securely and cost effectively.