Statistics NZ stays Microsoft for census

'Outdated thinking', says NZOSS president; RFP open to all with right skills: Microsoft

Open source bidders – or anyone else from outside the Microsoft world – looking at opportunites in regards to the two-year postponement of the national census may be disappointed.

Statistics NZ has issued a request for proposal for consultancy services on the infrastructure for Census 2013, but it is intended merely to update and “future-proof” the Microsoft-based infrastructure conceived for the cancelled 2011 census, says Statistics IT operations and services manager, Samantha Bell.

“We don’t want anyone who is going to come in and radically redesign the system,” she says.

Accordingly, the RFP proceeds from the basis of the 2011 census project, cancelled after the February Christchurch earthquake. This was to have been built on a Microsoft framework, with most of the work done by Datacom.

The RFP begins in a neutral way, asking external organisations to provide “information on their skills, services and experience in providing experienced and knowledgeable census infrastructure services”.

However, it goes on to ask for “in-depth knowledge and experience of common Microsoft platforms such as Active Directory Services, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7 and Office 2010 … experience implementing and configuring desktop encryption services utilising the Microsoft Bitlocker solution … [and] experience implementing, configuring and deployment of Windows 7 based image preparation using Windows SysPrep.”

NZ Open Source Society president Dave Lane is disappointed by this, if not surprised. “Just once,” he says “I wish government agencies would base a tender like this on the specification, not a particular implementation of it.

“My impression, based on a presentation at the recent Government Open Data Day in Wellington, is that Statistics NZ is a self-confessed ‘Microsoft shop’, focused primarily on using Microsoft technologies, investing heavily in in-house Microsoft .Net development,” he adds in an email.

“This commitment, in my opinion, is unfortunate. I would say it is poor business practice for any government department [or business] to align themselves with one vendor, particularly a foreign proprietary vendor, who has a history of building interdependent technologies which integrate well only with their own other technologies. And, with a few exceptions, does not interoperate well with independent open standard protocols, data, and file formats with non-Microsoft technologies.

“With this RFP, Statistics NZ seems to be stating it has decided, on behalf of the local taxpayer, that it is committed to using exclusively Microsoft software into the foreseeable future. From my point of view, simple market economics suggests that this move will provide a poor value for the taxpayer here, and it will minimise the benefit to the domestic IT industry of government spending. From our [NZOSS’s] point of view, the RFP is an unfortunate continuation of outdated thinking.

“We’re pleased, however, with the emerging trend in recent government RFPs that state a preference for open source solutions, which can interoperate via open standards. These projects go almost entirely to domestic software developers and IT suppliers, and have been demonstrating superior value for the taxpayers money on completion - both with regard to the resulting solution and with the profit and expertise staying in NZ,’ he says.

“Based on the mounting evidence that open source solutions - which comply with open standards - offer superior value, I expect that it will be increasingly difficult to make a business case justifying RFPs like this.”

Microsoft NZ corporate affairs manager Waldo Kuipers replies: “Customers choose products on merit. We’re in a competitive market and it is their choice to make. RFPs for consultancy services relating to any given implementation would typically be open to anyone with the necessary skills,” he says.

“In terms of interoperability, customers tell us they want our products to be interoperable with multiple other products and numerous standards. We work very hard to achieve that and the Microsoft Openness website explains this work.”

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