The South Australian Government has committed $10.5 million to a Microsoft licensing agreement covering 14,600 desktops.
Part of the money is also destined for the establishment of an "innovations centre", designed to provide facilities for developers designing applications for government contracts. The deal is part of a concerted effort by Dr Michael Armitage, South Australian Minister for the Information Economy, to put his department "at the forefront of IT development in South Australia".
"We began to look for development opportunities in the South Australian region, and in the department itself," Armitage said.
The Government has also agreed to implement a standard Microsoft platform across all government departments. "The implementation of a standard platform across different government agencies will significantly improve inter, and intra-departmental communication," Brian Holder, Microsoft's South Australia branch manager, said. "Applications developed for this environment can now be used across different departments, saving money and improving efficiency."
Holder also indicated that the interdepartmental platform would facilitate contact with the Government. "It will be significantly easier to transfer information between Government departments," Holder said.
The implementation of the operating platform will be supported by the Adelaide-based "innovations centre". According to Holder, the new centre will be staffed by a mixture of Government employees Microsoft representatives, and private sector developers working on Government projects.
The innovations centre will develop government line of business applications to run on the Microsoft platform. A current example is the "e-courier" software developed by local distributor Dean Rosenhain, which has cut the reply time on ministerial enquires by 50 per cent.
"In March or April there was a Microsoft government leaders Forum in Seattle," Armitage said. "When they [Microsoft] heard about the e-courier project, they came out with a film crew and made a mini documentary which they distributed throughout the world and presented to the government forum. They used it to open the second day of the conference."
The set-up costs of the innovations centre will be jointly funded by Microsoft and the South Australian Government, although at this stage it is not clear the extent of each group's investment.
"The $10.5 million pays for the innovations centre as part of the deal and a Government-wide licence," said Armitage.
"All we have to worry about is training our personnel to use the software more efficiently. We already had a good precedent set with Microsoft but when it came to renewing licences on Government desktops we had to do them all individually. It seemed to make more sense to do them all together.
"We were looking to renegotiate our arrangement with Microsoft I was keen to extend the relationship with the company and it seemed to make sense to grow the relationship in the development of business applications as well."
While Holder believes the across-government platform will aid in the provision of services via the Internet, he confirmed there was no plan at this stage to restrict government services to the Internet.
"Although there are productivity gains to be made by providing these services via the Internet, over the counter services will be provided as long as there is a need for them," Holder said.
At this stage the innovations centre will provide facilities and support for projects relating to specific Government departments and Holder is confident the centre will play an increasingly important role in the private sector.
"At this point this is primarily a Government solutions centre," Holder said. "Conversationally, however, we are exploring different options. We are certainly not ruling out making the centre available to South Australian developers working on non-government contracts at some stage in the future."
"Local developers that work on the projects will have to share rights to the software with Microsoft," said Armitage.
"They can work that out as a corporate relationship."
Armitage said Bill Gates expressed a keen interest in the SA project when he visited Australia during the Olympics. The innovation centre and the new agreement between the Government and Microsoft will be presented at next year's Government forum.