Software suppliers have local authorities over a barrel, says CIO

Local authorities are faced with a choice of either forking out for costly software licence upgrades or keeping staff, says Geoff Connell, CIO

Local authorities are faced with a choice of either forking out for costly software licence upgrades or keeping staff, Geoff Connell, CIO at Newham Borough Council, has told Computer Weekly.

“We are only seeing the price point increasing, there is no recognition of the financial climate,” Geoff Connell said.

He said the trend was forcing local authorities to go down the Google Apps route or to consider open source.

Microsoft tends to be the biggest single IT spend for local authorities. 

“The choice is to update Microsoft or retain staff,” said Connell.

“Last summer we did an enterprise agreement upgrade with Dynamics and SharePoint – the bits for customer service. We wanted the functionality so moved to the latest version. There was some flexibility with licensing.”

But he said the Office 2010 suite would not be upgraded. “We saw no imperative for the latest version, so we took a holiday on that one. But that restricts our flexibility to use licenses from home.

“It is a complex minefield. There must be a better way of doing it,” he said.

Microsoft 365 did not stack up financially, in-house or in the datacentre environment, he said. 

“It might stack up eventually, but it should be a compelling proposition.”

A move to Google Apps would require a significant organisational change and retraining at a time when the council is going through unprecedented upheaval, he said.

Last year Microsoft's private sector customers faced a price hike of up to 25%, with some charities also facing a fourfold cost increase for Microsoft software due to licensing changes.

However, Connell said the same attitude also applies to other top-tier software suppliers. The council is currently undergoing an Oracle ERP shared services implementation with five other councils.

“We are not looking to upgrade from version 12 for a few years,” he said.  The case to upgrade would normally be considered sooner and included in the planning, but the council felt enough functionality was in version 12 and couldn’t justify the extra money, he said.

“Each time it goes up a version, it costs a lot of money,” he said.  “With the cuts we are having to apply more scrutiny than a while ago,” he said.

London authorities are working together to look at how they can procure best. “We’ve got support from the Government Procurement Service to help us buy collectively and improve the deal that way," said Connell.

“However, with the likes of Oracle and Microsoft the prices are set, so they are not so open to discussion,” he added.



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