Microsoft vs Becta

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (581 Words)

If you’re not familiar, Becta (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) is an arm of the UK government that is dedicated to setting IT strategy for UK schools. Recently, they advised schools in a report not to upgrade to Vista or Office 2007, for several reasons:

  • “…there remains a perceived lack of significant business benefit delivered by the new features in Vista to balance out the costs associated with its deployment…“
  • “…only an estimated 22 per cent of [existing] machines meet the specification necessary to run Vista effectively…“
  • “Our interim report recommended that Microsoft should develop a compelling business case to underpin any rationale for deploying Office 2007 in UK education. We have seen no such business case.”
  • “the move in Office 2007 to a new file format that no other product supported”
  • “We remain concerned about the approach taken to supporting ODF in Office 2007. …. We have discussed with Microsoft on a number of occasions its rationale for not providing effective integrated interoperability with the ODF document standard. We did not find the various explanations we received convincing.”
  • “…de-facto standardisation (using products from a single supplier) can impede competition and choice – thus pushing up costs. Increasingly governments, commercial users and the educational community are not

    prepared to see their information locked into a format controlled by any individual supplier.”

Now, to me these arguments are completely and totally valid. I support them completely, and have in fact made the exact same observations myself on this blog before. Microsoft of course, doesn’t agree  - well, they wouldn’t, would they? 😀

I happen to think that organisations like Becta, which have an explicit mandate to look at the ‘big picture’ and craft independent, long-term strategy are to be strongly encouraged. In my personal opinion, much of the world’s dependence on single-supplier products (not just Microsoft) results from people on the ground making short-sighted, local decisions based on low-level factors which end up being implicitly promoted to a de-facto long-term strategy - I still see this going on all the time with .Net (and it happened with VB before it), in that programmers like the environment because it’s friendly & relatively simple to work, and their increasing reliance on it ends up silently binding their organisations to dependence on Windows for years into the future, with no thought at all given to the strategic consequences of that. So many organisations seem to sleep-walk into a strategy based on what junior technical staff decide is best for them at the time, which is utter madness. Of course it’s exacerbated by the continued chronic dearth of broadly experienced IT people at Board level. I swear I will scream if I see another ‘Finance and IT Director’ job advert, it just shows how much value many businesses put in the strategic significance of IT despite relying on it utterly.

Regardless of whether you consider Microsoft dependence the ‘right’ strategy or not (and I think any single-supplier dependency is like sticking your family jewels on an anvil and whistling for the blacksmith, but you know that already), strategic IT decisions should be treated to more sober consideration than is generally awarded them in my opinion, and therefore organisations like Becta are a good thing, provided they are knowledgeable and thorough (and the report seems to affirm that). More people should listen to advice like this, instead of listening to suppliers with vested interests for their strategic advice, as happens far too often in my experience.