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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the prices are not set.
all you have to do is introduce a genuine and feasible (and I mean genuine) alternative to the negotiations and .. bamm... you've got better supplier behaviour
right now you're in the grip of a monopoly supplier market


Our advice is to go G-Cloud as soon as you can. You know it makes sense!


I find MS Office's total grip on the desktop totally incomprehensible, especially at government level. You could do yourselves an enormous favour simply by replacing all Office apps with LibreOffice and licensing Outlook (which still appears to be the sine qua non of enterprise communications, although I am a total loss to understand why). That would cost significantly less. Ah, but then you wouldn't have such easy access to SharePoint etc. Cunning, how they lock you in, no? It really is time to look at SharePoint alternatives such as Alfresco. It's not perfect - what is? - but at least it's using the same protocols, and is also compatible with OpenOffice/LibreOffice variants.

The lemming-like rush to Google Apps is, I think, almost equally incomprehensible. There are all sorts of downstream issues to be examined first - location of storage (US/Europe?), likely price inflation (Google isn't a charity), competence of the apps (has anybody else read the entertaining conclusions on the statistical inaccuracies perpetrated by Google and Zoho's spreadsheet apps? and indeed Excel - although it doesn't make quite as many mistakes).

Imagination and determined negotiation are critical attributes for the modern CIO. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds the "it's all so hard" mentality somewhat depressing. Follow the example of Munich, for goodness' sake!