Capita CS v Bromcom? ... fighting talk!
I picked up a report in the Guardian last week that Bromcom PLC are crying foul at what it sees as Capita CS' domination of the schools Management Information System (MIS) market.
I remember that the Becta MIS and value for money report (PDF) in 2005 made a number of recommendations after concluding that a dominant supplier in any market is not a good idea. It didn't however take up all of the recommendations.
Bromcom's complaint to the Office of Fair Trading (PDF) centres on what it sees as the anti-competitive practices of Capita CS, claiming schools have overpaid by £75m over ten years. The Capita CS practices cited by Bromcom include costs escalating at above inflation and barriers to choice. The first of these is fairly easy to kick into touch as the scope of school MIS systems has increased considerably and (predictably) so has the cost needed to keep pace. Any supplier would have to address the significant changes to reporting requirements. Complaints about anti-competitive practices, including bundling may be more difficult to shrug off in light of the same issues leading Microsoft to being fined in the EU court for similar
SIMS has developed a school MIS ecosystem that has become embedded in school organisation. Its a bit like Apple and its iTunes / IPod where the solution works better when it works together . Like Apple, commentators suggest that interoperable standards are needed to ensure that competition works to keep the dominant supplier on its toes and bring forward fresh approaches. Unlike Apple, where anyone can creat applications, SIMS is arguably fairly closed to developers. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to re-consider the recommendations of the MIS Value for Money report? There is a huge cost to changing a mission critical system across schools, but care must be taken not to block new and innovative products from other suppliers. I think standards such as Services Interoperabilty Framework (SIF) might be considered a serious contender for allowing greater competition. the alternative is for SIMS to have an open Application Programming Interface (API).
A side-note is that Capita CS has been shortlisted (PDF) as ICT supplier of the year in the 2010 BETT Awards (PDF) for its SIMS product set.