In the early discussions about potential shared services there was some thought given to managed services for administrative computer systems. There were numerous discussions with suppliers to try to encourage them to consider both new licensing models that would facilitate sharing and engaging in a dialogue with their competitors to look establish consortia to deliver services. The discussions failed to make any significant progress – there was little appetite for such a model in the sector and few firm contacts were established between competitor suppliers.
Three years ago there was little outsourcing. Now outsourcing is one of a number of options available to IT Directors to ensure that their services are delivered in a cost effective and efficient manner and is sometimes applied to specific services (such as postgraduate admissions). Further a number of institutions have commissioned bespoke applications for areas of their operation where they consider they may gain competitive advantage. Against this background, the JISC have developed a programme around flexible service delivery to try to ensure that institutions are able to select best of breed at a service level and to increase the options for where those services are delivered from.
The programme needs the suppliers to engage with it in order for it to succeed. Two days of meetings were held last week with a number of suppliers in the sector to establish how well their strategies matched with the aims of the programme. Overall the response was very positive – all the suppliers wanted to engage with the programme and a number have already started to break their larger applications down into service based modules. Some of this is in response to the sector – it isn’t feasible to implement most systems all in one go so a phased implementation almost drives a modular structure. Some is also driven by the market – there was a flurry of procurement activity around the millennium but fewer systems have been bought since 2000 so the only way suppliers will pick up sales is by looking to sell modules in key competitive areas.
That all the suppliers wanted to engage and were so open was something of a surprise. I had gone into the meeting thinking that some would only want to take part on their terms using their standards but found that they all talked about using common and not proprietary standards. Whether this proves to be the case as and when we get to the stage of defining services and the interfaces to and from them remains to be seen.