Imagine that you run a small to medium-sized business and need to network the computers in your office. Where do you turn? Who can you trust?
It seems that there is no way of distinguishing IT expert from IT cowboy and all too often we opt for a big-name company we have heard of rather than taking a 'risk' and using a small local firm.
To tackle this problem Advantage West Midlands is running a three-year regional pilot, which it hopes will eventually be rolled out nationally, to create a quality standard by which IT purchasers can recognise competent suppliers.
The National Computing Centre is leading the project which is jointly funded by the NCC, AWM and the European Regional Development Fund. The name for the standard, Accredit UK, has been unveiled – the official launch will be in early 2007.
During the pilot period it will be limited to two market segments – the first being network design and installation – and run in the West Midlands.
"We are not just creating a standard," said Vaughan Shayler, NCC's project director. "We are creating something that will revolutionise the IT industry.
"Meeting everyone's needs has been a central ethos in the development of Accredit UK." Accredit UK is breaking new ground by adopting a two-sided approach – it recognises that for an IT solution to work, both parties must work together.
The purchasers' code of conduct that is included with the standard lays down guidelines for purchasers of IT to help them specify what they want and therefore brief their supplier better. It also lays down guidelines for ensuring that interaction and communication for both sides is in place, to encourage a partnership approach.
It is hoped it will mean more business for smaller suppliers.
In addition the public sector's commitment to increase the use of SME suppliers will be more easily achievable.
At present, many small businesses are put off from tendering for public sector ICT contracts by the sheer size of pre-qualification questionnaires. The Accredit UK team is working closely with local authorities and government agencies to ensure that the standard will automatically meet their requirements in these areas.
"I see this as the beginning of a watershed in the IT industry," said Mr Shayler. "The use of IT in business, particularly from SME suppliers, will increase due to the ability of purchasers to buy with confidence."
Stuart Webb, head of innovation clusters and ICT policy, said: "Accredit UK is an initiative which is being piloted in the West Midlands which we trust will be adopted nationally.
"It builds on the strong ICT supplier community in the region and enhances the standing and professionalism of the ICT industry in the West Midlands. We are pleased to be working in partnership with the National Computing Centre which is well placed to deliver this groundbreaking initiative."