When the ICT supply side comes to offer solutions to this requirement it needs to understand that this request is more likely to be met by FOSS software than by a proprietary offering and reflect this in their proposal back to the institution.
Since you joined Becta, its main achievement surely must have been to bring order to the ICT procurement chaos that previously existed in schools. This was achieved in great part by the introduction of the Procurement Frameworks. Would you agree with that statement and do you feel now that there is a danger that domination by a few major suppliers will stifle innovation which invariably comes from smaller companies?
SL: We have made good progress in recent years but we have further to go. Framework agreements underpinned by effective functional and technical standards are a major part of our work. They are also a key tool in helping ensure an effective marketplace that works to the advantage of all educational institutions and ultimately of learners. We review our functional and technical standards annually to ensure they are current and reflect the changes taking place in a fast moving environment and make best use of available open standards.
We also need to ensure that our Frameworks identify suppliers who satisfy our defined service standards and are able to provide compliant solutions rather than then just being a list of approved products.
We also review each of our frameworks regularly to ensure that they meet the needs of their users and offer value for money. The UK has one of, if not the most vibrant and dynamic educational ICT marketplaces in the world, so I think that domination by a single supplier or a small group of suppliers is increasingly unlikely.
All our procurements are conducted in strict accordance with EU regulations with all the attendant openness and guarantees of equitable treatment to all bidders. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get accused of being secretive. In fact, we have a website dedicated to explaining how our Frameworks operate and we are more than happy to answer questions put to us.
On the issue of innovation, I do not really think one can automatically argue that innovation “invariably” comes from smaller companies. For example, the Asus PC is an example of an innovative product within education – Asus had a reported turnover in 2007 of $6.9 billion! Now that is not to say we do not value small companies – we do. Latest figures indicate that SMEs form about 99% of UK companies so they are a very important part of the economy and the ICT in education marketplace.
This is reflected by the fact that SMEs form a high proportion of the companies on our Frameworks. In some Frameworks this proportion would be as high as 70%, and overall SMEs make up over 60% of the companies on our Frameworks. But Frameworks are not the only mechanism we can use to ensure effective competition and help SMEs operate in the sector.