David vs Goliath: are big ATM system providers always best?

Picture of Vincent Lambercy
Posted by Vincent Lambercy

There’s an old saying in the IT world that ‘nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM’. Size, experience and reputation can be reassuring.

It certainly feels like that in the ATM world. A handful of well-known industry giants like Thales, Indra and Raytheon dominate the market.

But ANSPs have a choice. There are plenty of credible smaller providers, such as ATRiCS, CS SOFT or MEP that may deliver results faster while also being more responsive to customer needs and less expensive.

FoxATM’s Industry Directory lists 75 firms in the ATM Systems category alone.

Small is beautiful

“I’m not saying that [big firms’] solutions are bad solutions,” says Karel Bárta, Chief Commercial Officer at CS SOFT, “But you don’t automatically have to go to the biggest companies. ANSPs need to start with what they need and what they are looking for.”

These requirements might include:

  • Flexibility. Smaller ANSPs might have unique needs and requirements, but a larger system provider might be reluctant to make changes to a well-established system because of the impact it might have on other customers and the cost of implementing and testing changes. Bárta says that even if they get consensus around a requested change, it might take several years to implement. On the other hand, a smaller company can work much more closely with customers to tailor their systems, especially in combination with a more modular approach.
  • Modularity. Instead of gold-plating a specification to cover every eventuality - which can be expensive - smaller providers can take an incremental, modular approach. For example, instead of specifying a system that can send and receive every possible type of message, you can build one today that only sends the messages that your neighbouring ANSPs use and upgrade in a few years when new requirements emerge.
  • Resilience and redundancy. ANSPs often deploy backup systems that are developed by the same company as the primary system. By analogy, if you’re worried about malware, it’s better to have half your PCs run Windows, and half your PCs run Linux. If there’s a problem with one operating system, you can always fall back on another. But if all your PCs run the same operating system, they are all vulnerable. Smaller providers help ANSPs reduce risk in the same way with genuinely independent backup systems.

While the systems meet the same regulatory requirements and get built to the same high-quality standards, the overall result is a different planning and pricing model and faster time to deployment.

Overcoming barriers to change

ANSPs have little to lose by opening the door to smaller providers and inviting their proposals. The best place to start is with the tender process.

Tender documents often include commercial requirements around proof of capability which inadvertently block smaller providers. For example, a requirement that a provider has deployed a similar system to three other ANSPs in the last three years with a certain contractual value could lock out a perfectly competent provider that has only deployed one or two systems with a lower contractual value.

“Sometimes when you are reading the requirements, you wonder why they are written the way they are,” says Bárta, “Everyone wants to be 110% covered so that they don’t miss anything. We’re not saying all those requirements should be omitted, but consider what you really need and what you are actually going to use.”

In conclusion, while it may be tempting to go with the biggest and most well-known system providers, ANSPs should consider the benefits of working with smaller, more agile companies. Smaller providers can offer greater flexibility, a modular approach, and shorter time to deployment. ANSPs should not be afraid to challenge the status quo and open themselves up to new possibilities.