A step in the right direction

The sector-wide software deals signed last week mark a turning point in government procurement

The sector-wide software deals signed last week mark a turning point in government procurement

The Government's efforts to negotiate a software licensing deal with Microsoft have been well documented but who could have expected that IBM/Lotus and Sun Microsystems would also be present at last week's long-awaited launch?

By arranging simultaneous software deals with three of the world's major IT suppliers, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) has pulled off something of a coup for the UK public sector.

Fear of being trapped in a long-term software deal with a single supplier is an ongoing concern for IT directors desperate to protect scarce budgets. The innovative agreements announced last week should go some way towards giving them the degree of choice they have been demanding.

Local authority IT managers have already expressed an interest in seeing what the sector-wide deal may hold for them, although the real test will come over the next few months as organisations start to sign up for the software agreements.

The background to the deal also sets a healthy precedent for public sector procurement in general. The negotiating team comprised representatives of both public sector user group the Society of IT Management and the OGC, as well as the head of procurement at the Inland Revenue. This all suggests that the Government now realises the importance of collaboration when signing complex technology deals.

OGC chief executive Peter Gershon and his department are obviously not afraid of changing the way in which the public sector does business. The former chief operating officer of BAe Systems has brought a fresh approach to procurement, which has often played a major part in the government IT disasters of recent years.

And the estimated £100m saving in the cost of software licences over the next three years could be just the beginning. The real significance of this deal is that it has broken the mould for public sector software procurement.

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