Monday, 21 February 2011

Your Flat screen is fat

I recently attended an event organised by Chemicals NorthWest on Printable electronics. You may not have heard much about this emerging technology, but it is going to change a lot of the world around us. The sector covers quite a broad range of activities, but the key factor is (as you might expect) electronic components that can be printed on surfaces in a similar way to printing newspapers on paper. Or perhaps slightly closer, printed wallpaper.
There are a myriad of related issues and concepts, such as organic polymer batteries, light sources and the like, but essentially when this technology comes through we can expect to have our televisions as wallpaper in our living rooms – or potentially on the windows. And our energy produced by thin films of photocells on our roof or any other surface (flat or not)

One of the nice things about this is that it is an area where British companies are in with a good chance of establishing a strong position. This is a disruptive technology, so all the companies trying to develop it are pretty much starting from the same position. Ultimately the devices might be assembled in the far east, which is a shame for UK manufacturing, but the real money could be in the design and manufacture of raw materials and components, and the use of design of the end product. In these areas UK businesses are well placed.
Although I was aware of the technology, I was not aware of how advanced it is until this conference. We were shown a Sony OLED TV – which had better colours than most HD TVs, and was at most half the thickness of an IPod. And this dates from about 3 years ago.
The world will look more like Minority Reports than many of us expected, and it will be with us far sooner than I expected. This is expected to be a market worth hundreds of Billions by the end of the decade.
Of course, at the moment it is all quite staggeringly expensive – but that can change over time. And with it will come an even more futuristic world than we can imagine. Of course, when it does arrive we will take it for granted in about six months.
The opportunities for British business are significant. Dr. Chris Drew of Soris compared the state of this industry to that of pharmaceuticals in the 1950s – fast paced, very high specifications, very technical, great potential, still largely undeveloped. The UK was able to take advantage of that – let’s hope we can do the same again.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Contracts Finder

Contracts Finder, which is hosted by Business Link, is the new portal for publicising UK public sector tender opportunities. It replaces Supply2gov, and like that will send e-mail notifications of tender opportunities to registerd users as well as making them available online. The intention is that this will be a national portal, and free to use.

Some information about it came in a recent government press release;
Prime minister David Cameron has promised to open up the government’s supply chain to smaller organisations.
Speaking at the launch of a new online tool, Contracts Finder, Cameron said: “Wherever possible, we’re going to break up large contracts into smaller elements, so that SMEs can make a bid and get involved.
“And where that’s not possible, we’ll also work proactively with our large suppliers to directly increase opportunities for smaller organisations in the supply chain.”
Cameron says he wants 25 per cent of all government contracts are awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises.
At the moment it is estimated that SMEs only win five to ten percent of the billions of pounds of public sector business.
“If we meet this goal it will mean billions of pounds worth of new business opportunities for SMEs,” he said.
The move is part of changes to the way government procures goods and services.
“We need to make the system much more open, competitive and transparent,” said Cameron.

Fine words.

But almost identical to whoever said them when Labour were in power.

I cannot disagree with his intentions – I am just sceptical about the results that can be achieved.
If the system is to be open, competitive and transparent then we cannot set targets to favour one group of potential bidders (i.e. SMEs) even though we all think it is necessary to encourage them.
You cannot break up small contracts for the purpose of getting them below the EU threshold limits.
Also breaking up contracts costs money – more administration, fewer economies of scale etc.
Large suppliers subcontracting down the supply chain cannot be mandated, it can only be encouraged – in practice it usually means sub-contracting to already approved suppliers.
The government can WANT to give 25% of contracts to smes – it just does not have the mechanisms to do so. Of the 5% to 10% actually going to SMEs, what % goes to companies at the top end of the band? My guess is more than goes to those in the bottom half of the band - but I admit I have no proof.

I am totally behind the intentions of this initiative - but I believe it will be very difficult to achieve the desired results. Please feel free to disagree - comments are welcome

Intota Expert Network

I am now listed on the Intota Expert Network, which provides consultants, researchers and expert witnesses. Apparently they now have more than 10 000 experts listed, which gives an indication of the size of the consultancy industry in the UK.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Procurex National 8th/9th March 2011

I am delighted to tell you that I shall be attending the Procurex National Conference on behalf of BIPS. I shall be on their stand both days, apart from when I am presenting a number of short seminars on both days. Topics I shall cover include; Adding Value, Evaluation issues, Sub-contracting, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Supply chain, and Managing Risk.

I know I would say this, but it is an excellent event, and free. It is held at Birmingham NEC.

As part of the build up to the event, BIPS are running a series of Web Seminars on public sector procurement by Eddie Regan. Eddie is a great guy, and his presentations will be informative, provocative and (this time at least) short. Details are here, and the webinars are Tuesday 15th Feb at 10:30am (Award Criteria), Friday 18th at 1:30 (Evaluation) , 24th @ 3pm (debriefing suppliers), and 3 March at 2pm (EU Remedies directive). I'll be logging in (if there is room).
Otherwise I am sure you will be able to catch Eddie at Procurex.

I hope to see you there too.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Dilbert's course in Comparing

Anyone who has attended one of my training courses will know that I think that Scott Adams' Dilbert cartoon is not only very funny, but very imformative. (and used by permission of Scott Adams himself, in case you were worrying).

Scott Adams also has a blog, which is generally more serious than the cartoon (not a high bar), where he often raises sensitive and/or controversial issues and floats some quite radical ideas. I am sure he would be pleased to know that I don't agree with everything he writes (I suspect he would be dissapointed if people did), but one of his recent posts I think is really on the money.

He suggests a course in Comparing alternatives. The aim is to make people better at resolving disagreements, and generally make the world more effective. In particular it would allow us to see through some of the standard rhetorical tricks used by politicians of all stances and (I hope) have more sensible debates on policy.

The agenda he suggests here would also be very useful training for business. In both management as a whole, and for procurement in particular, I think being able to conduct sensible comparisons - and to understand valid and invalid arguments - is absolutely essential.

A good grounding in formal Logic is really rather helpful in negotiations as well. An extremely useful free resource for this is available on Itunes - a 6 part programme called Critical Reasoning for Beginners, from Oxford University. It is also available on the Oxford University website as both audio and video podcasts here. It is delivered by Marianne Talbot.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Progress on PQQs

The coalition government is changing a great many things at the moment, and that means that some initiatives are getting very little attention. One that may have passed you by relates to my old favourite topic of PQQ forms.
The government has mandated all central government departments to use a standard PQQ form, and only attach additional questions if absolutely necessary. Of course this is pretty much what OGC guidance on good practice has suggested for years, but it is good to see it being mandated rather than just suggested.
It may seem insignificant, but the time and effort to fill in PQQs can be a significant blocker for smes and micros in applying for business in the public sector. Even filling in forms requiring the same information but in a different order can discourage businesses from applying. You might say that if that puts them off then they are not the sort of company we want supplying the public sector. I would rather think of it as encouraging completion, and not needlessly discouraging it for no good reason.
A standard PQQ form makes it easy to bid to be considered – and that can only lead to more competition in tendering. Remember all we are doing is establishing whether firms should be invited to put in a formal tender submission. If additional information is really required to establish that, then there is no reason not to ask it – but after the standard portion of the PQQ. It will save each bidder only a few minutes, and each buyer only a few minutes, but the cumulative effect will be much greater.
There are of course much bigger issues in public sector procurement, but this one is so easy to fix it should be mandated across other authorities too. At the moment we are waiting to see whether this will be picked up outside of central government.

In Scotland they have already taken up this issue and are undertaking a consultation on establishing a standard PQQ which will be held on a central database so that it only has to be completed once. Details are here. This is a real step forward, and I look forward to it being implemented. Hopefully it will be taken up by other UK governments.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


I have been lucky enough to spend some time in Egypt over the past few years. The image that many westerners have rooted in the ancient past - pyramids, pharoahs, Cleopatra, and just maybe Indiana Jones. As a country it is often seen as a tourist destination with the historical sites competing with the amazing coast line down at Sharm El Sheikh.

These are all a part of the truth. Other parts are that it is a country of some 80 million people, which makes it the second or third largest African nation (after Nigeria and maybe Ethiopia), with 8% of the population of the entire continent. More than half of the population is under 25 (certainly under 30) and it often feels like the other half drives a taxi in Cairo.

Egypt looks both east to the Middle East, and South to Africa. It is a strong economy on a continent that has few of them. Politically it has been relatively stable if not free and open.
The possible paths for Egypt range from the good (a democracy along the lines of Turkey), the middling (retaining the current structures), and the poor (constant disruption and disorder).

However the current crisis turns out politically, I hope that for the Egyptian people it becomes an event that they can build and develop on rather a cause of ongoing instability. Africa, the Middle East and the world need that.