Dear HP, Microsoft (and others) - stop bleating, start competing

There’s an interesting story in The Independent today that highlights the issue I wrote about on this blog last week – about the Cabinet Office policy of trying to make the old “oligopoly” of big IT suppliers change their behaviour by breaking contracts into smaller chunks and forcing them to compete with smaller rivals.

The Indie claims that HP has written to the Treasury to complain about the cap on contract sizes – the Cabinet Office “red lines” policy that rejects any IT contract worth more than £100m unless there is an exceptional reason to do so.

The story claims that HP is effectively threatening to pull out of bidding for government deals if it is no longer worth bidding for them, due to the apparent preference for smaller IT suppliers.

The Independent also remarks – without any revelations or new facts – about Microsoft’s ongoing attempts to prevent the government from adopting its proposed policy for open document formats – one that does not include Microsoft’s mostly proprietary formats for Word and Excel.

Microsoft has continued to heavily lobby government about that policy since the consultation closed, and you can only assume that the delays in confirming that policy may be linked to a consideration of what legal means Microsoft might be willing to resort to if the policy does not change in its favour.

If some of the things I’ve heard privately about the extent of that lobbying are true (I’m trying to confirm!) you would be shocked at the lengths Microsoft is going to.

Both these examples are further evidence that the old oligopoly simply does not get what is going on in government IT.

The Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service are not trying to deliberately exclude them from winning IT contracts – they just want them to change their ways so they compete on a level-playing field, one where their sheer size and scale is not a factor in winning, but where their capability, flexibility and competitiveness is.

Government CTO Liam Maxwell is right when he says that public sector IT does not have to be big or unique. Those old perceptions were what caused the bloated, over-costly, over-complex IT estate that holds back change in Whitehall today.

Whitehall still needs HP and Microsoft, and the other Big IT firms, but it wants them to compete on the buyer’s terms, not the supplier’s. Big IT’s continued bleating about their cosy status quo being removed only serves to reinforce the reasons why that status quo had to be broken down in the first place.

If those suppliers want to continue to play a major role in government IT, the answer is simple – stop bleating, start competing.

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