Britain's most admired software companies

March 2014

Sun in the skySoftware and Computer Services, 1999-2012

Dr Philip Talbot, ACMA, CGMA, MIMIS, Senior Academic in Accounting, Birmingham City Business School and Professor Michael Brown, Professor of Corporate Reputation and Strategy, Birmingham City Business School.

Since 1990 an annual peer review of the UK’s largest companies Britain’s Most Admired Companies (BMAC) has been conducted and published firstly in the Economist magazine and from 1994 in Management Today the journal of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

This process has provided data over a 19-year period producing approximately 3 million observations. The survey has been conducted for the last 20 years in conjunction with Professor Michael Brown of Birmingham City Business School. The survey focuses on the UK’s largest companies in 25 separate business sectors consisting of up to ten companies per sector. 

However, the software and computer services sector (SCS) did not participate in the survey until 1999 and then continued intermittently up to the current period albeit with absences in 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008.

Nonetheless, this provides nine annual observations to identify the trends amongst this SCS sector which can be compared against the rest of all the other business sectors. The SCS was previously examined when the focus was devoted to company intangible values (Talbot and Brown, 2011.) whereas this paper considers the whole spectrum of measurements over the period.

The BMAC survey is completed by senior executives of each participating company who submit their perceptions for other companies within the sector in which they operate (i.e. banking, building materials and merchants, chemicals, construction-heavy, construction-home, engineering-aero and defence, engineering and machinery, food producers and processors, health and household, leisure and hotels, life assurance and insurance, media, oil, gas and extractive, paper and packaging, property, restaurants and breweries, retailers-food and personal, retailers-general / home, retailers-specialist, speciality and other finance, support services, telecommunications and transport and software and computer services) across each of nine characteristics that determine a company’s overall score.

These characteristics comprise; the quality of management (QM); financial soundness (FS); the quality of products (QP); the ability to attract retain and develop top talent (AADRT); value as a long term investment (VLTI); the capacity to innovate (CI); the quality of marketing (QMar); community and environmental responsibility (C&ER); and the use of corporate assets (UCA). 

A company’s characteristics are scored on a Likert scale of 0-10, (0 = poor, 5 = average and 10 = excellent). Bipolar scales in the form of opposite adjectives, poor to excellent, capture the respondents’ attitudes towards each company within the sector, for each of the aforementioned characteristics.

This permits average individual company total scores out of 90 to be calculated for all of the entities involved and these are then ranked within each business sector and into an overall league table.

The latest survey relating to 2012 was published in December 2012 in Management Today. Management Today provides a brief summary of the top SCS performers. Most are distinguished for their financial performance. Telecity is notable for having attained the premier position for the first time having participated in every survey of the sector. 

It is recognised for having achieved strong trading positions as a European data centre operator and by expanding through the acquisition of the Finnish firm Academica for £22.4 million allowing it access to the growing Russian market and also servicing the oil and gas companies in the Nordic area. Similarly Aveva is noted for the demand for its oil and gas technology.

Sage the accounting software company has entered the South American market by acquiring a controlling interest in the Folhamatic Group a leading provider of accounting, tax and payroll and regulatory content software in Brazil for £125 million. Fidessa is a financial trading systems developer that has experienced growth. It secured a contract for supplying software systems to Okasan Securities, an independent Japanese securities company based in Tokyo.

It also announced that it had increased its business links with CIMB Securities to enable regional growth for trading systems to be extended to include Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea and India to provide consolidated pan-Asian trading platforms. Misys is cited for developing mobile finance products for corporate Smartphone customers.

The SCS sector has proved volatile since 1999 with the disappearance and emergence of new companies. 

Most notable recent removals have been Misys and Autonomy both of which had figured prominently in the annual surveys. Misys was acquired by Vista Equity partners for £1.27 billion in June 2012 and has been delisted from the London Stock Exchange but still qualified for the current survey.

Autonomy was taken over by the American Hewlett Packard in 2011 for £7 billion. This takeover has subsequently become acrimonious with Hewlett Packard alleging accounting irregularities by Autonomy over the recognition of its revenues and inflating its reported profits which so far remains unproven and is being contested by the former Autonomy management.

Invensys another long-standing company in the sector sold it railway signalling unit at the end of December 2012 to the German company Siemens for £1.7 billion as it sort to consolidate its activities.

The most prominent company’s overall average scores are presented below which show Aveva Group as the SCS overall premier performer just ahead of Telecity Group with both having clear leads over all the others involved.

Collectively though the sector’s horizontal trend performance analyses which is presented below reveals scores that have only returned to 1999 levels in the last two years.

The annual category trend scores provided below indicate a division into three blocks. The dominant block comprises quality of management, quality of goods and services and financial soundness. This leaves all the rest apart from community and environmental responsibility (C&ER) in a second block but while C&ER was always ranked last (apart from 2006 when quality of marketing fell to unprecedented depths) it has steadily climbed since 2011 and is beginning to join this second block.

This split in sector scores is more apparent from the overall cumulative and average scores presented in descending order the final diagram. It is striking that all scores declined from 2006 onwards because of the impact of the global economic recession. These did not recover until from 2009 onwards but were recorded as declining slightly in the latest survey apart from C&ER.

It must be remembered that SCS constituents represents relatively small but important players in what has become a global market which may explain why these companies do not feature in the higher ranks of the BMAC survey. The acquisitions and disposals mentioned before are witness to the increasing consolidation of the sector.

It is noticeable that joint ventures or overseas acquisitions of IT companies also feature as a strategy in this global expansion to enter new and emerging markets.

The traditional virtues of quality of management, goods and services and financial soundness remain paramount with all the others in a second level of importance. The performance of C&ER has always been the laggard but from 2010 onwards it has steadily increased even in 2012 when all others were falling.

This may reflect UK government sustainability initiatives such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment Efficiency Scheme and league table league launched in 2010/2011 and the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres. 

As an example the winner of the SCS sector Telecity the overall winner integrated corporate responsibility into all aspects of its business operations and the creation in 2011 of the CSR Committee of the Board, which is chaired by the Chief Executive Officer and also comprises the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer.

References

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