As part of its wooing of the public sector, Microsoft has begun giving governments tools for collaborating and sharing technology information with other organisations so that they can cut development costs.
Under the Solutions Sharing Network programme, Microsoft is providing public sector clients with a community-based portal for sharing best practice, application source code and other development information. While public sector customers will get the tools for free, the client organisations are in charge of the content, maintenance and procuring of any necessary hardware.
Microsoft public sector vice-president Pete Hayes said the company had been working on the idea for the past 18 months and done several pilots, but was now opening the door to all interested parties, offering applications developed with partner Kanalytics.
Hayes said the idea for the network had come after a government customer in South Africa had an application it wanted to share and provide to other countries. "We thought maybe we could provide a technology solution on top of a solution that many customers already had in the works, so we tried it," he said.
The Solutions Sharing Network works on top of Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server software. It provides users with a community forum for posting ideas, code, white papers and screenshots and sharing them with organisations that have common technology needs.
Microsoft cited the UK example of Newham Council and the Local Authority Software Consortium collaborating with Belfast Council to help implement a customer relationship management system in more than a dozen local authorities.
Hayes said the model was not trying to compete with open-source rivals. "I see this as a way for Microsoft to do a better job at listening to what customers want and responding."
He did not rule out the possibility that the tools might be commercialised to allow enterprises to collaborate on common technology needs.
Microsoft government programme manager David Rowe said the tools were definitely headed in the direction of commercialisation. They are already available in nine languages and a second version of the applications is in the pipeline.
Since the content of the portal is run and hosted by the client, there are no limits to what technology information they can share. If the tools do enter the enterprise market, they could change the way businesses collaborate on technology questions, allowing companies in vertical markets to more easily replicate each other's systems, for instance.
Government customers who already have SharePoint can download the tools and play around with them if they choose, or contact Microsoft for installation.
Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service