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February 4, 2014

Microsoft will ‘bend far’ to ensure UK government still uses its software

Dominance of Microsoft Office is like ‘a super-tanker that will be hard to turn’, says government IT advisor.

By Ben Sullivan

Following Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s comments last week on plans to move government IT away from Microsoft Office software, an IT consulting expert has told CBR that "a switch to open source alternatives would consume both the already-stretched IT service resources and the time (and probably more importantly the patience) of users."

Mark Foden of Foden Grealy, a change management consultancy who support IT change programs in the UK government, said: "I don’t know what the licensing situation is but I should think that Microsoft will bend far to ensure that their software continues to be used.

"It would take will to make the change. I guess we will see new types of licensing deals – perhaps with Office software bundled differently with other products – and probably a reduction in cost but I don’t envisage a rapid, widespread switch."

Foden did point out, however, that it may not necessarily be a total shift away from Microsoft Office, but rather a refinement of document standards.

"I’d say the important thing is that it is document standards that are being specified not the software. Presuming that Microsoft update their software to make it easy to use the open formats then I imagine that departments won’t need to do anything until existing licensing deals expire."

Maude said that he wanted to break the ‘oligopoly’ of IT suppliers, and that my abandoning Microsoft software, ministers could save tens of millions of pounds a year on licensing costs.

It has been reported that £200m has been spent since 2010 on Microsoft Office alone by the public sector.

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Maude, speaking at a cross-government event that was showcasing new online services, said: "The software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies. A tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace.

"I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software.

Foden went on to say how the government should start thinking differently about the way it manages text documents as a whole.

"This is a broader point but I believe that government should be thinking very differently about how it manages both text and the way that people work together to create it. I do wonder whether we need documents at all.

"There are better ways to collaborate on text. As tools like wikis become mainstream, the day of sending round a document for others to revise or comment on must surely be done. Having seen a wiki make a significant difference to ways of working in one government department, I am convinced that the benefits of having a text with all of its versions and all of the conversation about it in one place are huge.

"As I write, I am conscious that thousands of government folk, in offices across the nation, are firing up Word ready for another day of document production. This is a super-tanker that will be hard to turn. We must take every opportunity to change the mindset and – the point of this post – there is a good one now…"

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