Government buyers are taking an optimistic look at onesizefitsall software buys
Government buyers, always on the lookout for new ways to reduce the time
and cost of managing desktop computers, are taking an optimistic look at
one-size-fits-all software buys.
States such as Maine, South Dakota and Wisconsin have set government-wide
software standards. In Pennsylvania, 48 state agencies, under the jurisdiction
of Gov. Tom Ridge, are being standardized on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating
system, Office and Exchange software.
It's an assembly-line approach to systems management: The fewer the
differences from computer to computer, the easier it is to maintain those
systems and the cheaper it is to buy software.
The argument for purchasing in volume from a single supplier is particularly
strong because of the substantial savings that will likely result compared
to smaller, per-department or per-agency purchases from multiple vendors.
And by equipping all users with the same set of software tools for common
tasks such as sending and receiving e-mail messages, tracking appointments,
and using word processing and spreadsheet programs, IT shops can trim the
costs of deploying and configuring multiple applications and training and
supporting users on a variety of software platforms.
But while the "hard" savings of volume buying are generally easy to
quantify, the problem of how to calculate the long-term cost savings of
maintaining a uniform software environment is often the most difficult part
of the decision to standardize on a single software application or suite.
To help assess such "soft" savings, Pennsylvania commissioned a comprehensive
total cost of ownership (TCO) study to compare the cost of maintaining its
previous multi-vendor software setup with the cost of an Enterprise Exchange
"When we completed our stan-dard-ization agreement with Microsoft in
June of 1998, we knew we would have hard dollar savings of $9.2 million
over the three-year life of the Enterprise Agreement," said Scott Elliott,
a spokesman for the governor's Office of Administration. "We needed the
TCO study to evaluate the additional savings."
The study, conducted by Xerox Corp. Connect, focused on a cross- section
of agencies of various sizes and levels of desktop computing deployment.
The results indicated that the standardization effort would save the state
an additional $8 million a year by reducing its total cost of ownership
for desktop software.
Long-term TCO savings are particularly important in Pennsylvania's case,
as the Commonwealth Connect plan calls for state agencies to double the
total number of PCs they owned at the outset of the project. When the standardization
agreement was first announced in 1998, 20,000 PCs were distributed among
the 48 agencies under the governor's jurisdiction. By June, the state will
have 40,000 PCs in those agencies, Elliott said.
Funds for the additional computers were derived from savings the state
realized from its Data Power House Project, in which it consolidated and
outsourced the operations and technical support functions of 17 data centers
that were formerly operated by 14 state agencies, Elliott said.
Agency acceptance of the decision to standardize the state's desktop
software was made easier by the fact that a majority of users were already
moving toward the exclusive use of Microsoft products at the time the standardization
agreement was reached.
"About 15,000 state agency PCs were already running Microsoft Office
when we completed the agreement," Elliott said.
By December 2000, more than 20,000 PC users were using the new e-mail
network, and all 40,000 agency PCs will be standardized on Microsoft software
for e-mail and office productivity by June 30.
It was not the company's popularity with its users, however, that led
the state to choose Microsoft's software as its enterprise standard.
"The decision to go with Microsoft was a policy decision, not a procurement
decision," Elliott said. "We requested world-class software companies to
partner with us on this project, and the best proposal came from Microsoft.
We also received proposals from Corel, Netscape and Lotus, and we looked
at the total package that each company could provide as a partner," he said.
The strategic partnership arrangement is the first of its kind, with
the state receiving economic development and educational benefits from the
software company as part of its agreement to standardize on Microsoft products.
One key value-added item that helped clinch the deal for Microsoft was the
company's willingness to invest nearly $13 million in software and training
projects in Pennsylvania schools and communities.
Walsh is a freelance writer based in Peekskill, N.Y.
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