Microsoft starts solutions network

The software giant formally introduced its global initiative to make it easier for governments, industry and academia to collaborate on IT projects.

Microsoft officials have gone public with the company's Solutions Sharing Network (SSN), a global initiative nearly two years in the making that aims to make it easier for government, industry and academic officials to collaborate on and share information about information technology projects.

Billed as an online, community-based capability, Microsoft officials said the network would enable global public-sector partners and customers to share their unique IT solutions, best practices, government-owned application source code and other research. Already 13 sites worldwide are tied into the network, said Oliver Bell, a Microsoft worldwide program manager. Another 40 are being developed, he added.

Company officials expect to have a total of about 200 sites on the network within the next 18 months, Bell said. The network came about because Microsoft's customers complained that they always seemed to be reinventing the IT wheel, and the need for a way for them to share tools and solutions, reduce costs and development time, and collaborate on common challenges became apparent, he said.

"Governments traditionally have had a difficult time in sharing these kinds" of ideas and solutions, said Stuart McKee, Microsoft's national technology officer, and former chief technology officer for the Washington state government. "SSN is all about creating knowledge capital they can [jointly] use."

An early focus of SSN government participants has been on deciding their rules and regulations about what information can be shared and who can access it, McKee said. McKee said many small cities nationwide use spreadsheets as their main budgeting tools. Officials at several organizations have developed very powerful budgeting tools based on spreadsheets, he said, and if these can be shared through the SSN, that would be a potential boon to many cities.

The SSN works via a Web portal and uses Microsoft's SharePoint technology for sharing documents, to enable network members to collaborate with one another and register for network access in a controlled way, Bell said. However, he added, the members create communities of interest and decide how to operate them.

In the United States, at least, most of the participation in the SSN has been through associations and groups that already have formal rules on information sharing, such as the National Association of Counties, McKee said, although individual institutions such as the University of Southern California have also joined.

Foreign participants include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; South Africa's Department of Justice and Constitutional Development; Ireland's School of Policy Planning and Development; and the Deutscher Stadte und Gemeindebund, the German association for towns and municipalities.

Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.net.

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