Municipal governments can cut big costs by moving to open-source software and cloud computing.
In the UK, for instance, officials hope that replacing software from Microsoft and other suppliers with open-source programs will "save tens of millions of pounds a year" in software licenses.
In the US, the federal government's move to cloud computing for standard business applications such as email will no doubt spur similar moves at state and city levels.
It is about time these measures took hold. I've been using Windows Office and other Microsoft products for many years and they usually perform well. So I want to be clear that I'm not against Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, nor any other software manufacturer.
But times have changed, and the typical one-user-one-license way to sell software is no longer valid in this new era of the cloud, virtualization, and mobile computing.
Government agencies and municipalities don't need to pay for thousands of licenses for premium software applications every year -- applications that most of their employees rarely use to their full potential. Software such as MS Office has become a de facto standard for documents, presentations, and spreadsheets, but alternative open-source packages are able to open, edit, and write the same files, without the cost.
When it comes to cloud services, some US government federal and state agencies moved their email services to the cloud awhile back, mostly to Google Apps. This has saved millions of dollars in server infrastructure, support, and maintenance.
Google is offering comprehensive packages for government users that include Google Drive for file sharing; QuickOffice to manage documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; and a complete collaboration suite including video-conferencing and shared online storage -- all certified to the highest standards of government security.
Many local governments still use conventional approaches when purchasing new information technology products, to the delight of IT suppliers that still see their end-of-year gross sales numbers climb as departments rush to spend what's left of their budgets. Few cities have enough money to spend this way, though, and many IT departments are now pushing to find cheaper alternatives.
The UK government's CloudStore is a good example to imitate. Since February 2012, UK government agencies have been able to purchase online services from the store, which is offering a range of SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS options designed and approved for government use.
The CloudStore now has more than 1,000 approved suppliers, mostly SMBs, that can compete with incumbents and large IT suppliers for government bids. Also, the UK has implemented Cloud First, a policy for public-sector IT that makes it mandatory for any government agency (local, regional, or national) to consider cloud applications as the first choice for an IT product or service.
The CloudStore has saved millions for agencies, cities, and taxpayers. As one British official -- Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude -- said:
We weren't just missing out on innovation, we were paying top dollar for yesterday's technology. One great example of the potential from small businesses was when we re-tendered a hosting contract. The incumbent big supplier bid £4m; a UK-based small business offered to do it for £60,000. We saved taxpayers a whopping 98.5%.
The US is also implementing a similar policy for federal agencies, but that policy is not required for local governments.
It would behoove those local governments to change that. Moving services to the cloud not only saves money, it helps more SMBs to get government contracts, increases transparency in IT procurement, and makes administration more efficient. It is a win-win solution for smart cities.
— Pablo Valerio, International Business & IT Consultant