Government CTO Liam Maxwell says Microsoft “conversation has changed”

CTO Liam Maxwell says the government's relationship with Microsoft has changed after meeting CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella met government IT officials this week, prompting CTO Liam Maxwell to tweet that the "conversation has changed" between the two organisations.

During his visit to the UK, Nadella met government technology leaders for talks on 10 November 2014, following his first public appearance in the UK since becoming CEO, at Microsoft's Future Decoded event in London that day. After the talks, Maxwell said: “Nice to hear about avoiding lock-in, putting the user first, the importance of design and how competition is the dynamic we all need. 

"The conversation has changed.”

In recent years the government taken steps to avoid locked-in IT contracts, with the Cabinet Office mandating "no more big IT" in government. New contracts have had to remain below a lifetime value of £100m.

One way government has changed how IT is used is by introducing open standards, but there was opposition from Microsoft over government’s decision to implement open standards for documents.

After gathering feedback from users in government, the preferred open standards selected are PDF and HTML for viewing documents and ODF, CSV, TXT and HTML for using and sharing documents.

But the standards proposed did not include Microsoft’s preferred format, Open XML (OOXML). This led the supplier to lobby government to recognise OOXML as one of the approved alternatives.

Minister David Willetts's role in Microsoft standards lobbying

There has been speculation about the role played by senior government minister David Willetts, then minister of state for universities and science in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), but who later left the post in David Cameron’s 2014 summer reshuffle.

An investigation by Computer Weekly revealed Microsoft turned to Willetts to help win its case, with the supplier’s global chief operating officer (COO) Kevin Turner getting involved. But neither BIS nor David Willetts has taken up Computer Weekly's invitation to discuss the role of the minister in Microsoft's attempts to influence government IT policy.

If Willetts had favoured Microsoft over rival companies who stood to gain from the open standards policy, that would represent a breach of duty towards those companies in his capacity as former co-chair of the Information Economy Council.

HP and government IT supply

Microsoft is not the only major IT supplier trying to improve its relationship with government. At the end of September 2014, head of the civil service, Jeremy Heywood, wrote in a blog post how HP’s CEO Meg Whitman and her team had met some of Whitehall’s digital leaders.

HP remains the biggest IT supplier to the UK government by revenue, earning about £1.7bn per year – but moves to end big outsourcing deals and bring in smaller and more agile suppliers have threatened HP's dominance.  

Heywood said HP's discussion with Whitehall technology leaders showed how important the government's agenda was, and the progress it had made.

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