Computer equipment purchasing procedures involving central governments is still apparently a taboo subject, but, according to 01 Informatique, it is now time for everyone to wipe the slate clean and get down to the business of re-building Europe especially France, where it seems government purchasing policy displays an alarming lack of direction. Theoretically, the 1986 […]
Computer equipment purchasing procedures involving central governments is still apparently a taboo subject, but, according to 01 Informatique, it is now time for everyone to wipe the slate clean and get down to the business of re-building Europe especially France, where it seems government purchasing policy displays an alarming lack of direction. Theoretically, the 1986 demise of the Mission a l’informatique, which effectively tied French administrations to national manufacturers in the area of purchasing, should have marked a great turning point. But in practice, this by no means broke the long-standing bond between French manufacturers and the public sector market, where the ins and outs of industrial politics meant that these companies were still able to do very nicely out of a number of ministries and other central services: according to a study by Ciiba, the Inter-ministerial Committee for Computing and the French Civil Service, between January 1986 and January 1 1988, 73% of the equipment installed within the government was still French. True, Bull’s share in this has decreased from 54.4% to 52.7%, but this was accompanied by an increase in the popularity of other French manufacturers, whose share increased from 18.5% to 20.3%. By 1988, IBM had a 12.5% share in the same market, but in general foreign manufacturers were still along way from convincing the civil service to buy their products, despite some very aggressive (not to say shady) business practices such as a deliberate policy of dumping, and what Bull’s Francois Mongin describes as waves of somewhat irrational purchasing on the part of the government, especially in the area of contract renewal. It seems things have calmed down a bit now, much to Bull’s relief – 35% of its sales still come from this area – and although the French administration is superficially more committed to egalitarian tendering policies today, there still exist large practical barriers to entry, simply because, as ICL points out, foreign firms have no real experience in dealing with the French public sector.
No coherent government policy
The whole area appears to be characterised by a complete lack of coherent government policy: Olivetti, for example, is now the number one supplier to the State education system, thanks to a recent contract that now brings the installed base up to 28,000 microcomputers; but in July of this year a document drawn up by the Welfare Services department invited tenders for the supply of MS-DOS machines from everyone except Goupil and Olivetti not only Olivetti, then, is excluded, but also the French manufacturer and networked systems integrator Goupil – in which the French government owns 10%! But these directives seem to work both ways: one such document issued on behalf of the French Navy went as far as to specify that it was after software and peripherals in the Apple Macintosh range. One result of this more indiscriminate than discriminatory situation is that Bull and the other French manufacturers do not know where they stand in relation to their own government, but are still faced with the protectionism of other countries in this market: in the US, over 95% of government market is reserved to the nationals by the Buy America Act, and Taiwan and Japan are similarly exclusive. Bull HN has good reason to feel sorry for itself after losing a contract to AT&T from the US Air Force, even though Bull claims its price was around 8% below that of AT&T. Claude Perdrillat, managing director of Goupil is resigned to the opinion that the market for government contracts is closed where ever you go although this may manifest itself more subtly in places like the UK and West Germany, to the extent that even now, European firms are being discriminated against at governmental level by their European Community cousins. The European Commission is quite naturally up in arms about this, but, as we move into the Single European Market, in this area Brussels appears powerless against national self-interest.