The reasons why Newham Borough Council opted for Microsoft rather than open-source technology have highlighted the cost and complexities of moving to open-source software.
Earlier this week the East London council announced it would be spending approximately £500,000 a year on Microsoft technology in a 10-year agreement with the supplier. The announcement was based largely on the results of a trial held by the council that compared the benefits of using Microsoft software and hardware to open-source systems.
Richard Steel, head of ICT at Newham said, “Our aim is for a 10-year partnership. We want a long-term commitment to work together.”
The council considered open-source technology, and paid for an independent study into the cost of switching and running an open source environment. But the study conducted by professional services firm Capgemini and paid for by Microsoft, proved to Steel that switching to open source would yield a smaller saving than upgrading to a modern Microsoft-based IT infrastructure.
Newham was already using Microsoft technology such as groupware calendaring functions in Exchange. Steel said the IT at Newham comprised 5000 desktops running Microsoft software, Exchange e-mail and about 70 applications along with a number of other databases closely integrated with Microsoft technology.
“[This] would have made a migration to open source significantly harder and more expensive," Steel said.
The study from Capgemini reported that the Microsoft option would save the council £3.2m over five years compared to about £1.6m moving to open source.
Another factor in the decision to stick with Microsoft software was the limited experience of Newham IT staff in open-source technology.
“We have a team of technicians who like to get into things that are new. We did run open-source pilots as part of the work we did with [Netproject] and [we found] we were on a very steep learning curve.”
Steel also had to consider whether open source technology would fit in with the council’s plans to allow an increased number of staff working from home.
“Most of our employees not only use Microsoft Office in the office, they are also likely to be using it as home users,” said Steel.
Steel added that Microsoft had listened to its concerns.
“We actually had a genuine discussion on our relative needs and the areas we needed to improve such as financial model and the development point of view and our approach to more flexible working.”
There has been criticism that because the Capgemini study at Newham was funded by Microsoft it could not have been truly independent. However, Steel said that it had paid for another report on the same issue from IT consultancy Netproject, a vocal advocate of open-source technology.
Eddie Bleasdale, an IT consultant and a director at Netproject, said even with the Microsoft approach, the council would face hefty migration costs long-term.
“Microsoft has admitted that there will be 10 years of constant change. All existing applications will have to be rewritten,” he said.
This was first published in August 2004