By John Pearce
I heard your interview on BBC’s World at One today Tony. You were saying there may be potential for fleet-of-foot small IT firms to access government contracts. It was music to my ears.
You referred to the NHS and Universal Credit IT disasters and the way contracting has been dominated by a few big beasts and multi-nationals. You killed the myth that “big is beautiful” and praised “new rules” to break up projects into smaller units.
Small can be perfectly formed and powerful. Businesses like ours are quick-reflex mice stuck behind the elephants blocking the doors. Why don’t they just sit out of the way, in the room, like other elephants?
We are an SME in IT. We have great pedigree, an innovative product, a presence in education and are ready to break into the business world and government work more generally. But without the bulk and buying power to advertise, lobby and bid for the current huge projects we have not been able to do much, if anything. We are encountering elephant in the door syndrome.
So we continue doing what we do, scurrying like mad, working unreasonable but happily given hours. It is not in the country’s interest for us to be tired, blocked and trapped. We fear being swallowed up, of losing our identity. I suppose it might be quicker than being slowly squashed under an elephant’s backside.
Dan O’Brien, my business partner, is young, creative, dynamic and rushed off his feet. I am three of those and old. He has run a small successful software company for 15 years. I had a successful senior career in education and in business as consultant, evaluator, writer and publisher. I created a deceptively simple, improvement model for individual, team and organisation. So, Dan and I created an on-line version.
We launched “The iAbacus” in 2012 and were finalists in the BETT2014Awards [hosted by Jo Brand] on 22 January 2014. There were lots of mice competing with us and the usual elephants. But before we announce the winner let’s have a look at the iAbacus focusing on school governance.
We dream of developing this and moving into business generally. We see a huge potential for this “empowering personnel” approach applied to NHS and civil service personnel. Up to now the elephants have blocked the way, or grinned through the windows while they ate ice buns. Can elephants grin?
We didn’t win the Bett2014 Big Cheese but it was a great show – it makes people like us feel good. Yes, coming back to the office was disappointing but we are nibbling away, on-line, working in education but, even in this field I know so well, customers can be sniffy too – “small is ugly and simple is simplistic; let’s go for the big suppliers”.
Will the Cabinet Office’s new rules work?
Not unless there is support for small outfits like ours who, intent on the day to day business, will struggle writing the bids and attending the selections. We’ll keep running and swerving around elephant bottoms but we need muscle power and finance for the advertising and lobbying. We need to elbow past the elephants, get an audience with buyers. Is there anyone out there? Echo…echo….echo…
Or, are there friendly elephants out there who could help us, encourage and include us? Could the regulations persuade them? How about a clause like the one when planning new houses? Every housing project has to include a percentage of affordable homes. How about every IT contract having to include a percentage of SMEs?
I want to one of them. I want to be a Trojan Mouse!
John Pearce is a freelance consultant, working across education, business and community. After a successful career in teaching and headship, he became Deputy Chief Inspector for Nottinghamshire County Council. He was a BETT2014 finalist for The iAbacus which he created with Dan O’Brien.