Thought for the day:Mind your Bacs!

The Bankers Automated Clearing System is critical to the UK's well being because we all depend on it, argues Colin Beveridge. So...

The Bankers Automated Clearing System is critical to the UK's well being because we all depend on it, argues Colin Beveridge. So is it wise to even consider outsourcing its IT overseas?

The crown jewels of the national technology infrastructure are not safely locked up in the Tower of London - they are all in private hands. And yet, we all depend on their availability to support our lifestyle and we assume, quite reasonably, that they will always be there when we need them.

The Bankers Automated Clearing Service (Bacs) is not just another old tatty gew-gaw among the crown jewels of UK plc - it is the IT equivalent of the Koh-I-Noor diamond: a priceless gem.

The Bacs service is so pervasive that there can scarcely be an individual in the whole country that does not benefit from it, in one way or another, many times each week. As individuals, we use Bacs to pay our regular bills, to receive our salaries and a dozen other ways that we may not recognise immediately.

Even those of us without bank accounts are directly, or indirectly, served by the Bacs network because almost every business and government function relies on Bacs to keep the cash-flow moving smoothly through the economic arteries.

I am not overstating the importance of Bacs, therefore, when I suggest that it is critical to the well being of the country. From a financial point of view, it is close to being the heart and lungs of the economy.

Which is why I was so disturbed by recent reports (see link below) that key aspects of the Bacs service may soon be outsourced to providers in India in an effort to reduce costs.

I understand that such an arrangement may well have important commercial benefits to Bacs by reducing overhead costs while the company transitions its services to new business models.

I probably understand the business case much better than most people. A couple of years ago, I was part of the Bacs IT senior management team and responsible for the communications infrastructure at the heart of Bacs.

That experience gave me tremendous insight into the economy-critical nature of Bacs and the way in which we all depend upon it.

Nevertheless, it is not this privileged perspective that makes me so concerned about the possibility of Bacs using offshore services. My concerns derive entirely from the apparent ease by which a key part of the UK infrastructure might be exported and, therefore, become susceptible to additional geo-political risks.

The prospect of Bacs support and maintenance going abroad - anywhere outside the UK - certainly worries me tremendously, especially given the uncertain times in which we live.

This isn't simply an issue about protectionism - it's far more fundamental than that. Bacs is a key part of our economy and it's the only game in town - there simply is no alternative. We must do everything in our powers to preserve its integrity and I cannot see how that can be secured if any part of it goes offshore.

In real terms Bacs is far more important to the UK than the Koh-I-Noor diamond, which is zealously protected, so why should we be happy to see our infrastructure crown jewels treated with any less regard than a lump of pressurised carbon?

I would very much like to know whether or not the Treasury and the DTI have been involved in the deliberations about the possibility of taking Bacs services offshore, or if the decision rests solely with the Bacs modernisation project team?

Much as I respect my former colleagues, I feel that this burden of responsibility is not theirs to shoulder alone.

Bacs looks to India as IT overrun drives price hike >>

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Would outsourcing key elements of Bacs overseas be a danger? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Colin Beveridge
is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at

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