THE LONDON BOROUGH Council of Newham has started negotiating a new megadeal with Microsoft, just four years into the last 10-year agreement.
The negotiations, coupled with revelations made by the INQUIRER in April that the original deal had failed to meet its key objectives, will raise questions about Newham's decision to choose Microsoft software over Open Source alternatives in 2004 on the basis of value for money.
They also reflect a widespread reappraisal of Microsoft megadeals across the entire UK public sector, the Newham deal having formed the blueprint for subsequent government-wide agreements.
"The Council is working on a new Memorandum of Understanding, which we hope will be completed in the next three months," said Ian Gibbs, an information governance officer at Newham, as part of an official statement under Freedom of Information rules.
Richard Steel, Newham's then IT chief, told the INQUIRER in April that the last Microsoft deal had been superseded by a new MOU last year. He refused to publish the second MOU. "Having discussed this with Microsoft colleagues, it's confidential to us both, and I cannot let you have a copy," he said in an email on 21 April.
The first MOU had been published after an FOI request in 2005. The INQUIRER requested a copy of the second MOU under FOI, but was refused last month on the grounds that it was so confidential that Newham couldn't even admit if it had agreed new terms with Microsoft. The Council merely sent another copy of the already published MOU.
Now Newham has admitted that there is no new deal after all. "I can confirm that the Memorandum of Understanding supplied to you has not been superseded," said Gibb's official response to our appeal against Newham's FOI rejection. But it is negotiating a new deal after all.
Steel had claimed the first MOU had been superseded when we put it to him that the original deal had failed to meet its key objectives. He insisted the objectives had been met. After we published evidence that the original MOU had not met its objectives, Steel tried to discredit your humble correspondent in his blog. He also shared confidential reports for publication in an apparently desperate attempt to find ways to show how the Microsoft deal could be justified.
The reports were benchmarks produced by the Society of IT Managers, of which Steel is now president. The MOU had achieved all its objectives bar some spurious commitment to develop with Microsoft a methodology for measuring the performance of the Microsoft deal, said Steel. This done, "We had therefore agreed new actions with Microsoft in a progress review last year," Steel repeated in his blog. But the original agreement had stipulated that the Microsoft deal would propel Newham into the top performing quartile of UK councils and that this would be demonstrated in benchmarks drawn up by the UK's independent Audit Commission. Councillors opted Microsoft over Open Source on this promise in 2004. The deal has failed to meet this objective. We await with interest to see whether the benchmark Newham develops with Microsoft refutes the Audit Commission's findings. µ
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