Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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ICL

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International Computers Ltd. (ICL) was a large British computer hardware company that operated from 1968 until 2002, when it was renamed Fujitsu Services Limited. The company's most successful product line was the ICL 2900 Series range of mainframe computers. ICL represented the last step in a series of mergers that had taken place in the British computer industry since the late 1950s.

In 1963, English Electric (EE) and J. Lyons and Co formed a jointly-owned company, the English Electric LEO Co, to manufacture the LEO Computer which had been developed by Lyons. English Electric had taken over the Marconi Company in 1946, as a means of entering the UK consumer electronics market and so, when it bought out Lyons' share of English Electric LEO Company in 1964, it merged the company with Marconi's computer interests to form English Electric Leo Marconi (EELM).

As a result of the Industrial Expansion Act of 1968, EELM was merged with Elliott Automation which was then taken over by International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) to form International Computers Limited (ICL) in 1968. By this initiative, the Ministry of Technology aimed to create a British computer industry that could compete with major world manufacturers such as IBM.

On its formation the company inherited two main product lines: the ICT 1900 series of mainframe computers and, from English Electric, a range of IBM-compatible mainframe computers, System 4. In later years ICL attempted to diversify its product lines but the bulk of its profits always depended on the mainframe customer base. New ventures included marketing a range of powerful IBM clones made by Fujitsu, various mini-computer and personal computer ranges, and (more successfully) a range of retail point-of-sale equipment and back-office software.

ICL tended to rely on large contracts from the UK public sector. Significant customers included Post Office Ltd., the Inland Revenue, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Ministry of Defence.

By 1981, ICL needed a cheaper source of technology to develop lower-end machines in the 2900 range to compete with the IBM 4300 series but it ran into a financial crisis, leading to a takeover bid from Univac. The British Government stepped in with a loan guarantee for ICL, enabling the company to stay independent, and introduced Robb Wilmot as Chief Executive. Wilmot cancelled the in-house development of large-scale integrated circuit (LSI) technology and, instead, negotiated an agreement that gave access to Fujitsu's LSI and packaging technologies. Combined with ICL's in-house CAD capability, this enabled ICL to design and manufacture the Series 39 level 30 and 80 computers. Initially, the collaboration with Fujitsu was presented as being an arm's length one, to avoid diluting ICL's credentials as a European and British company.

In 1984 Standard Telephones and Cables (STC) took over ICL. The rationale for this was said to be the expected convergence of computers and telecommunications. Wilmot remained at the company along with Peter Bonfield as marketing director. The merger was soon followed by a financial crisis at STC, leading to Arthur Walsh becoming chief executive of STC and Bonfield being appointed as chairman and managing director of ICL. Within a few years ICL was contributing 60% of the profits and turnover of the combined group.

Fujitsu's involvement with ICL steadily increased; in 1990 Fujitsu acquired 80% of ICL plc from STC. Following the acquisition of Nokia Data in 1991, personal computers and servers were marketed under the ICL brand. Eventually Fujitsu acquired full ownership of ICL and subsequently fully integrated it, dropping the ICL brand.

In 1999, a joint venture between Fujitsu and Siemens absorbed all ICL's hardware business, with the exception of VME mainframes, and the whole of Siemens Nixdorf business except for banking and retail systems.

Fujitsu Siemens in turn was merged into Fujitsu in 2009.


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Sources of Information

[[1]] Wikipedia