A rearguard action from the Dinosaurs?

Those who grew bloated from grandiose public sector contracts (doomed before they started) have long been unable to comprehend the emerging all-party consensus in favour of following better practice in planning and procurement. Two years ago David Davis gave formal warning over the original plans for a monolithic ID card system. Nearly a year ago the Government, in “Safeguarding Identity“, said federated identities should be the way ahead. Six months ago Stephen Timms welcomed the Information Society Alliance crib sheet for candidates on good procurement. Still the Dinosaurs did not believe the world was changing – or rather they hoped for one last round of “big delivers sales bonus” contracts – including renewals of those agreed in the days before concept viability. 

The members of the Intellect Public Sector Council and Government Group have been asked “urgently” for examples of where members are coming to the end of a complex extensive procurement exercise. The context is said to be the press cover saying the Conservatives have asked the Government not to sign any large ICT contracts over the next few weeks. The aim appears to “act quickly” because of the proximity of the general election.

It is over a year since I was a guest speaker at a political breakfast organised by a leading member of Intellect for their top management on the changes in procurement that were taking place and why most of the big invitations to tender were never likely to happen – or, if they did, no sane Finance Director would sign off a winnable bid.

My credibility was that as Public Corporation  Comptroller for ICL, over 30 years ago, I earned a reputation for helping sucker opponents into over-bidding for contracts that we wanted like a hole in the head, so that we had a clear run on those we did. I was the only manager in the sector not on a bonus related to sales – my task included vetting the likely profit margins on major contracts for the Finance Director 

I discovered that my host at the breakfast had already concluded that all the really big contracts on which they were being urged to bid were doomed – including most of the renewals. He was already playing our game of 30 years earlier, but with a nice twist. They were happily accepting minor roles in joint bids with their competitors (egging them on), while focussing their real efforts on the frameworks and incremental business that the others were ignoring. The only reason I was invited was to reassure those who thought they were missing out on potentially bonus earning, even if unprofitable, lead contractor business.

I suspect we will hear a massive bleat, rather than a heartfelt roar, from the Dinosaurs.

Most of the Intellect members who I know well came to similar conclusions after the Party Conferences last year, if they had not done so earlier.

That was why they supported the work of the EURIM Public Service Delivery Group and wished to see that group working in tandem with Intellect, not duplicating its work but doing the groundwork for after the next election that would be necessary – who-ever wins. They wanted, as we all do, to have their cakes and eat them.  

All the signs are that, behind the scenes, Intellect and its members have been doing a remarkably good job of preparing for the biggest challenge (as opposed to opportunity) to hit the business models of the UK ICT supply industry since Alan Sugar forced down the price of the IBM PC in the UK down by nearly 70% in a year.

He not only caused IBM UK to write off over £40 million in stock values and take a totally unexpected annual loss, he brought about a step change in the economics of the microsystems business at least two years before Apple, let alone IBM, had expected. You could say that he opened the door for Bill Gates.

The business models for hardware and software have had several step changes since, albeit none quite as sudden and unexpected. Now is the time for services. It is not as though it has not been well trailed, by Government as well as opposition, for several years. But after decades of one-way change it is ill-prepared for the kinds of challenge that hardward and software have had over ther years. It appears to believe that “Cloud Computing” will be itsd saviour ratehr than its nemisis. Good luck in Grimpen mire.