Desktop standardization adds up to savings

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

deployment.

"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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