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The Cabinet Office is piloting a website intended to be an "interactive forum" to help small businesses communicate with government and find out about ways to sell to the public sector.

Known as Solutions Exchange, the website has been divided into two sections. The first, 'challenges', focuses on emerging opportunities to work with government which have not yet reached a formal procurement stage.

Current 'challenges' include how suppliers could help the Identity and Passport Service to improve its use of facial images in its passport records to detect fraud. Another is helping the Cabinet Office to make better use of the data it collects on its Contracts Finder website.

The second section is titled themes and invites suppliers to forward proposals for innovative or cost savings systems to help government. Ideas about connecting data from different departments to give government a better insight and inform services delivery are among those being sought.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said: "Solutions Exchange offers an easy, informal ways for smaller firms to find out about emerging opportunities and pitch ideas.

"For government, it's a new way to find out what the market has to offer in advance so that we can speed up formal procurement times."

James Thompson, business development manager at Software Europe, told Guardian Government Computing that the Solutions Exchange builds on the work of the Innovation Launch Pad. The latter was a Cabinet Office initiative, launched in early 2011, which invited SMEs to pitch their business proposals for products and services to deliver better value for money for government.

Software Europe, which has just over 40 employees and a £3m turnover, was one of nine SMEs to reach the final group of Innovation Launch Pad.

Thompson said: "We are very positive that the initial concept has been formalised as part of Solution Exchange and hopefully, going forward, it will give more SMEs an opportunity to contribute to services to government."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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