Pheonix Software, Deloitte and Computeam are among the 17 winners sticking their snouts into a £100m pork barrel framework for outsourcing in the UK’s education sector.
The outsourcing deal was organised by the Crescent Purchasing Consortium and other public sector buyers including Education Authority Northern Ireland and North Western Universities Purchasing Consortium.
It is split into two lots, the first of which covers outsourcing of IT services including remote and on-site service provision for proactive and reactive support. This includes monitoring, incident managing, testing, fault fixing, backup and disaster recovery and so on. Also included are asset management and IT procurement, service integration and management, project management and IT strategy.
The second lot involves the provision of consultancy and design services “where a solution is yet to be defined.”
The tender document added: “The purpose of this lot is to attract independent consultants who can utilise expertise from a technical standpoint, offering objective recommendations to support a tendering process for an outsourced ICT service by working in conjunction with an institutions’ procurement staff.”
With £100m on the table, it seems the buyers have the attention of the market. See below for a full list of winners.
Computeam, Stone Technologies, XMA, Computer Systems in Education, CSE, Dataspire Solutions, RM Education, BCN Group, Sweethaven Computers, European Electronique, Adept Technology Group, Deloitte, PTS Consulting, Evr Consulting, New Networks, Phoenix Software and Novatia Services
Alongside the outsourcing arrangement, a group of public sector buyers have separately been awarded a £40m framework contract for networking equipment, storage hardware and cloud-based storage, again set up by the Crescent Purchasing Consortium, owned by buyers in the UK’s further education sector.
This framework will be split into three areas: on-premises, cloud and hybrid cloud, and consultancy services. The framework will also be open education institutions in Northern Ireland and the wider public sector. The on-prem hardware includes everything from switches, structured cabling, network security, network-attached storage devices and storage area network solutions right down to power systems and air conditioning systems, according to the award notice.
See below for the full list of suppliers vying for a slice of £40m.
Stone Technologies, CCS Media, Virtue Technologie,s Dell Computer Corporation, CDW, European Electronique, CAE Technology Services, ITGL, BCN Group, Phoenix Software, Ergo Computing, Novatech, Insight Direct, DTP Group, 3E Associates, Computeam, Softcat.
A team from Trinity and Queen’s took the top prize at the annual competition for third-level students organised by Enterprise Ireland.
Students who developed a handheld haptic device to help people feel the energy of sports matches have received the top prize at this year’s Student Entrepreneur Awards.
Field of Vision was created by Trinity College Dublin students Tim Farrelly and David Deneher, along with Omar Salem from Queen’s University Belfast.
The device aims to enable people with blindness or visual impairment to better experience sports games. It uses artificial intelligence to analyse live video feeds of games, translating what’s happening on screen to tablet devices through haptic feedback.
Field of Vision was one of 10 finalists in the competition, which is organised annually by Enterprise Ireland. The student team has won a €10,000 prize and will receive mentoring from Enterprise Ireland to develop the commercial viability of the device.
But there were several other winners at the awards ceremony, which took place virtually today (11 June).
Marion Cantillon of University College Cork won a €5,000 high-achieving merit award for her biofilm that eliminates the need for farmers to use plastic or tyres to seal pits and reduces methane emissions.
Dublin City University’s Peter Timlin and University of Limerick’s Richard Grimes also won a high-achieving merit award for their socially responsible clothing brand, Pure Clothing.
Diglot, a language learning book company founded by Trinity College Dublin students Cian Mcnally and Evan Mcgloughlin, took home a €5,000 prize. This company, which has achieved sales in 19 countries to date, weaves foreign words into English sentences in classic novels, allowing the reader to absorb new vocabulary gradually.
Ivan McPhillips, a lecturer in entrepreneurship, innovation and rural development at GMIT, won the Enterprise Ireland Academic Award.
Along with the prize money, the winners will also share a €30,000 consultancy fund to help them to turn their ideas into a commercial reality. Merit awards were given to the remaining six finalists, along with €1,500 per team.
‘Springboard for tomorrow’s business leaders’
This is the 40th year of Enterprise Ireland’s Student Entrepreneur Awards, a competition that is open to students from all third-level institutions across the country.
The winner of last year’s competition was Mark O’Sullivan of University College Cork, who developed a device to help detect brain injuries in newborns.
Leo Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, said the competition provides a platform for students to showcase their business ideas and acts as a “springboard for tomorrow’s business leaders”.
“Previous winners and finalists have gone on to achieve success both nationally and internationally,” he added.
“We’ve had over 250 entries for this year’s awards, with applicants demonstrating ingenuity in their approach to solving real-world problems across a range of sectors.”
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, congratulated the winners. “I’m really impressed by the calibre and ingenuity of the ideas put forward, especially given the significant challenges that came with this unprecedented year,” he said.
It was a week in which two space-faring billionaires tussled again in their futuristic game of cosmic oneupmanship. And this time, for once, Elon Musk was not at the party.
The declaration that Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and world’s richest man, was heading into space next month on the first crewed launch of his Blue Origin New Shepard rocket was followed quickly by an apparent leak from within Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic empire that the British tycoon might look to upstage him with a Fourth of July Independence Day spectacular of his own.
Branson’s team was quick to downplay the possibility, insisting a date for his first spaceflight had yet to be determined. But beyond what some might see as vain billionaires using real-life rockets as playthings, the episode underscores how close the lucrative yet still fledgling commercial space industry has come to routinely launching paying passengers into outer space and achieving a goal two decades in the making.
On Saturday, the winner of an auction for a seat to accompany Bezos and his brother Mark on next month’s big space adventure will be announced on the Blue Origin website. On Thursday, the bidding reached $4.2m for the 11-minute round trip.
“Many congratulations to Jeff Bezos & his brother Mark on announcing spaceflight plans,” Branson said in a tweet directed at his rival. “Jeff started building @blueorigin in 2000, we started building @virgingalactic in 2004 & now both are opening up access to Space – how extraordinary! Watch this space … ”
Absent from Branson’s tweet was any mention of Musk, whose nonconformist Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – better known as SpaceX – has grown from a shaky start in 2002 to become the dominant player in the commercial space sector, and a key partner of the US space agency, Nasa. The company is already regularly flying astronauts to the international space station, and is renting out its Dragon space capsule this fall for its first private spaceflight, taking a crew of four on a three-day orbital odyssey.
With differing longer-term ambitions and goals, the three billionaires have collectively upended the traditional government-funded and directed model for human spaceflight and are shaping a thriving new commercial space era, according to Matthew Weinzierl, a Harvard Business School professor and an expert in the economics of space.
“SpaceX’s recent achievements, as well as upcoming efforts by Boeing, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic to put people in space sustainably and at scale, mark the opening of a new chapter of spaceflight led by private firms,” he said.
“They have both the intention and capability to bring private citizens to space as passengers, tourists and eventually settlers, opening the door for businesses to start meeting the demand those people create over the next several decades.”
Weinzierl expects there to be a gradual shift from money spent in space to benefit Earth, such as investments in telecommunications and internet satellites and infrastructure, to the so-called space-for-space economy, including mining asteroids or the moon for materials that will be necessary to support human habitat and fuel deeper-space missions to Mars or beyond.
Bezos and Musk always had loftier goals in mind, even as they were taking their first tentative steps in the space industry, experts say. But their visions diverge beyond flying humans in low Earth orbit, or even suborbital flight, as Bezos’s brief July venture will be.
“Musk is totally about Mars. His passion is to get people to Mars as a backup plan to Earth, and to make humanity a multi-planet species,” said Marcia Smith, founder and senior analyst of spacepolicyonline.com.
“Bezos is interested in the moon, and in the space between Earth and the moon. He wants to move all of the heavy industry off Earth and into cislunar space. He talks about rezoning Earth for light industry and habitation.
“So they both are interested in trying to save Earth because of all the problems Earth is having, but they have very different visions as to how that’s going to happen.”
Nasa has embraced both billionaires as it pursues its own exploration programs. In April, the agency chose SpaceX to build the spacecraft to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972, a decision Blue Origin has challenged. The enigmatic Musk reacted in typically bellicose fashion, tweeting: “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol” in reference to Bezos’s so far unsuccessful efforts to launch a crew into space.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, is developing a separate, reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle, New Glenn, under a Nasa contract to supply satellite delivery capability, although the project has stalled.
The operations of both companies have the potential to attract billions of dollars of investment to the US through commercial clients, and Weinzierl sees space as the “ultimate industry of the future”, though he says it may take longer than this century to reach its potential.
“The sector has changed a great deal over the last two decades, largely in that there are new competitors seeking to serve private customers in addition to governments,” he said.
“At the same time, Nasa and other public agencies are still the dominant sources of funding and specific plans for space beyond low Earth orbit, where the private satellite market has long been active. Even SpaceX, for all its success, wouldn’t be where it is without Nasa’s partnership.”
Smith argues that Musk has created his own luck to position SpaceX as the leading pioneer in the new private space market.
“Musk has really transformed the business, and brought commercial business back to the United States, by lower prices and reusability. He has really made a change,” she said.
“Bezos is trying to build this New Glenn rocket and is having setbacks with the engine.”
John Logsdon, the respected professor emeritus at George Washington University and founder of the Space Policy Institute, phrased the differences between the two tycoons another way, in a 2018 interview with the Guardian.
“Musk’s style is to brag about things and then do them. Bezos’s style is to do things and then brag about them,” he said.
“I’d call it competition, and competition is the American way of life.”
As for Branson, the Virgin founder scored a major success last month when his SpaceShipTwo rocketplane reached an altitude of 55.4 miles, either in space or at the edge of it, depending on which calculation of the Karman Line, the perceived boundary of outer space, is being used. It brings his long-awaited but much-delayed aspiration of a profitable space tourism business a significant step closer to realization.
How relevant the Bezos brothers’ flight aboard New Shepard, his rocket named as a tribute to Alan Shepard, the first American in space, will be to Blue Origin’s wider ambitions is open to question, although Weinzierl, the Harvard professor, sees it as more than a publicity stunt.
“It’s about demonstrating in the most powerful way he can that he trusts in the technology,” he said.
The US Federal Trade Commission on Friday announced the approval a consent order against Amazon that requires the company to pay $61.7m to resolve charges that for two and a half years it took tips intended for Amazon Flex drivers and concealed the diversion of funds.
The deal was proposed in February but required sign-off from the US trade watchdog. It arises from FTC charges that Amazon misrepresented both to Amazon Flex drivers and to the public what the company would pay for delivery work.
The tech giant launched its Flex service in 2015, promising drivers – which it classified as independent contractors and referred to as “delivery partners” – that it would pay $18-25 per hour for the delivery of goods from Amazon.com, Prime Now (household goods), Amazon Fresh (groceries), and Amazon Restaurant (takeout).
Amazon’s ads made promises like, “You will receive 100 per cent of the tips you earn while delivering with Amazon Flex.”
However, during the period from late 2016 through August 2019, drivers – who, as independent contractors, paid for their own car, fuel, maintenance, and insurance – saw only a portion of the promised gratuity when customers opted to tip.
That’s because Amazon allegedly, without telling its drivers, shifted to a “variable base pay” rate, which varied by location, wasn’t disclosed to drivers, and was frequently lower than the promised hourly range.
“Under the variable base pay approach, for over two and a half years, Amazon secretly reduced its own contribution to drivers’ pay to an algorithmically set, internal ‘base rate’ using data it collected about average tips in the area,” the FTC complaint [PDF] explains.
“The base rate varied by location and sometimes varied within the same market. But this algorithmically set ‘base rate’ often was below the $18-$25 per hour range that Amazon had promised at the time of drivers’ enrollment and in specific block offers.”
To make up any difference between the base rate and the advertised minimum, Amazon is said to have used some or all of any tip left by customers to meet its payment commitment. For example, if Amazon set a base rate for a region at $12 and the customer left a tip of $6 via Amazon’s electronic tip collection system, then the company paid the driver only $12 and augmented the payment with the $6 tip, instead of paying the $18.
To conceal this calculation, Amazon displayed driver earnings in its driver app as the combination of its base rate and any tip rather than listing the two amounts separately. As described in the FTC complaint, Amazon did so deliberately and adopted a strategy to avoid communicating to drivers that their earnings had been affected by its pay rate change.
“Amazon employees also acknowledged internally that Amazon was using customer tips to subsidize its minimum payments to drivers, and that these subsidies were saving Amazon millions of dollars at the drivers’ expense,” the complaint explains. “In August 2018 emails, Amazon employees referred to the issue as ‘a huge PR risk for Amazon’ and warned of ‘an Amazon reputation tinderbox.'”
When questioned by a reporter about its Flex pay practices in February 2019, Amazon offered a response that ducked the question, the complaint says. In May 2019, the FTC told Amazon it was investigating the company’s Flex payment practices. Then in August 2019, Amazon announced an “Updated Earnings Experience,” offering terms similar to its initial unfulfilled commitment – to let drivers keep 100 per cent of any tips.
The $61.7m settlement represents the amount of tips that Amazon allegedly withheld from drivers and it forbids Amazon from misrepresenting the likely income of drivers and from changing how tips are used as compensation without prior driver consent. Those requirements will last 20 years and be subject to civil penalties of $43,792 per violation.
The FTC says it will disburse the funds to affected Flex drivers within six months of receiving payment and driver information from Amazon.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. ®