The Queensland government is hoping to pocket savings of $13.7 million over three years by deploying the latest Microsoft software to 149,000 public servants across the state.
The $26.5 million whole-of-government deal covers Microsoft’s Office 365 suite of cloud applications including Yammer, the social enterprise tool often described as “Facebook for business”, which was acquired by the vendor in 2012.
It will be available to all Queensland government agencies, bar the Department of Education, which has its own arrangements.
While the state believes the move will reduce costs and transform service delivery, governments elsewhere are taking the opposite tack in a bid to achieve the same outcomes.
In February, the UK government revealed plans to save money by eschewing Microsoft Office in favour of cheaper open-source alternatives. Local reports suggested it had spent £200 million ($356 million) on Office since 2010. UK Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said the country wanted to move away from the small “oligopoly” of suppliers which had long dominated the market.
Earlier this month, the UK government was forced to pay Microsoft £5.5 million to extend support for an additional year for thousands of government desktops using outmoded Windows XP software.
IBRS analyst Sue Johnston said Queensland needed to ensure it exploited the full functionality of any software purchased. “One of the questions when you do a big deal is what else will the government do to leverage it?” Ms Johnston said. “What’s its capability to implement all the capability of this new Office? … You’d want to see a subsequent announcement on how they will apply it [given] there is not a lot of money in the market.”
One highly placed source said the government would struggle to deploy new software quickly, given ICT services were decentralised.
“Centrally you buy a lot of it because it’s a good buy but you’re at the mercy of the agencies to go and install it and make it work,” the source said. “That is the real challenge because agencies have a lot of other things on their plates.”
Queensland IT Minister Ian Walker said it was not mandatory for agencies to adopt the software, nor did the government have a desired time frame in which they might do it. “We won’t be dictating to them,” he said.
Some departments would struggle to run latest version software on their ageing PCs and were likely to hold off until new hardware was acquired, the source predicted. However, making a case to replace machines while they were still operational was challenging in the current climate of cost cutting, he added.
Mr Walker said the deal represented a significant step forward for the government, which has claimed to be on a mission to modernise the state’s aging ICT infrastructure since coming to power in 2012. An ICT audit published last year revealed 997 software and hardware flaws across the government and put the replacement bill for moribund systems as high as $6 billion.
“It sees us move from a government owned and operated model to one that leverages world class solutions to deliver flexibility and economies of scale that drive innovation and transformation,” he said.
Mr Walker has previously made clear his commitment to buying off-the-shelf systems, outsourcing services to the private sector and disposing of the government ICT services bureau CITEC.
Director of the Australian Information Industry Association and managing director of Queensland-based listed services company Data#3, John Grant, said the deal was expected to generate work for local ICT businesses, as agencies used their services to help deploy the software.
Data#3 is an entrenched supplier of Microsoft solutions to state and federal governments but is not a party of this deal.
Between 2008 and 2012 it held an exclusive deal with the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) to supply Microsoft licences to federal agencies.
Maree Adshead, chair of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland’s technology council, said the deal gave heart to local suppliers and provided them with a wonderful opportunity to work with the government to solve its business challenges.