Sunday, October 18, 2009

Behaviour of big broadcasters with small SI contractors

There are four big independent broadcast SI contractors in the UK - aside from Sony, Thompson and Ascent's in-house departments the big broadcasters tend to put their studios, OB trucks and transmission-centre builds out to TSL, ATG, Megahertz and Gearhouse. Smaller contractors (like root6) live in the shadow of these guys.
Those broadcasters (and large broadcast facility providers) tend to have in-house procurement departments that are very close to their favorite SIs. They've worked with those guys in the past and know them well - they probably had a few years together at the Beeb in P&ID (planning and installations dept).

Anyway - there have been several instances where we've been asked to quote for a good size job (>£200k) with these customers. Because it's someone of substance you make sure you've got all your ducks in a row - all documentation is complete and the tender (by request) tends to carry diagrams, schedules etc - the kind of stuff that smaller customers would assume comes after they've placed an order with you. Inevitably they wind up placing the job with one of their favoured pals (even when, in the case of one job we were £80k cheaper - but not enough for the in-house project manager to want to use someone he'd not worked with before). In the case of that job I got a call from one of the freelance wiremen who was taken on (who we use as well) with the question "..why have you specified that for the mains supply in bay 2?" - I was astonished - they'd passed on all the pre-sales work we'd done to the contractor they (probably) knew they were going to use all along. They hadn't even removed my name from the AutoCAD diagrams.

In a sense it's all legal - tender conditions specify that everything you turn in becomes the property of the client but if they always want to only have the choice of the previous two contractors this is exactly the way to go. If they want smaller contractors to be viable alternatives and/or keep the big guys honest this is not the way to behave. It's disproportionately hard on smaller contractors and (no doubt) saves the larger guys because they benefit from the pre-sales planning we've had to do. If you don't think your existing systems integration contractor is providing value then let someone else have a crack rather than just using their quote as a stick to beat the guy who sees your work as his by right.

There are other people (aside from the four mentioned) who have built and run systems that have many hundreds of hours of terrestrial television delivery under their belts!

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