The right balance: A fresh approach to tech procurement

22 May 2013 | Scott F. Selby, Director, Global Government Affairs, Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs

Representing Microsoft’s Legal and Corporate Affairs team, it’s my pleasure and a privilege to engage with government leaders and department officials around the world. A common theme I hear at all levels, from local agencies up to national ministries, is the challenge they face in finding that elusive balance in technology solutions: operating more efficiently, increasing productivity, enhancing the quality of services to citizens, and making the most of financial resources at the same time.

It’s a tall order. And in a world of expanding options, the best solutions to help governments achieve those goals in many cases aren’t necessarily the cheapest—or provided by the coolest brand, either.

Often, the procurement process arrives at an apparent fork in the road, with one path seeming to lead to open-source software (OSS), the other to proprietary technology. A case can be made for each route, but that’s a false dichotomy. Increasingly, we live in a mixed-source world, with no one right answer that fits every situation.

And in that mixed-source world more and more governments are selecting the best of breed from a variety of vendors by carefully weighing all available options and weaving together the most effective combination of components for the job. A well thought out mixed-source approach can open up new possibilities for problem solving, and yield benefits above and below the line in terms of performance and price.

Even before we get to that stage, though, I see a great opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture. In my conversations with elected and appointed officials, we try to clarify the exact needs for a given project:

  • What is the scope of the project?
  • What are its goals and specifications?
  • What is the public sector problem we are solving?
  • What is the government’s vision we are advancing?

A crisp understanding of the answers to those questions can help simplify the search for the right technology or technologies—whether it turns out to be OSS, licensed software, or a blend of both. With clearly defined project objectives and parameters, and an open-minded approach to potential solutions, officials can evaluate their options guided by three key factors:

Technology neutrality: Tech neutrality means looking at every possible solution based on its own merits, without bias toward one technological solution or another.

Fitness for purpose: Every project has its own specific requirements. Will the software under consideration truly fulfill the project goals as closely as possible?

Total cost of ownership: It’s easy to measure the upfront purchase or licensing fees, but longer-term thinking needs to account for the costs of implementation, migration, maintenance, training, updates, and achieving the benefits of interoperability, among others. These can be harder to quantify—but they present greater opportunities for obtaining the best return on investment or saving money over the lifetime of a project.

I’m seeing more and more governments use this objective decision-making framework with excellent results, and I’ll be sharing more about those examples in the near future.

I know I’ve sketched the ideas above in rather broad strokes. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be following up with a series of posts that explore these cost-saving and ROI-enhancing strategies in greater detail, with recent examples and case studies that demonstrate how other governments around the world are solving many of the same challenges you face today.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Have a question for the author? Please e-mail us at
Scott F. Selby
Director, Global Government Affairs, Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs

About the Author

Scott F. Selby | Director, Global Government Affairs, Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs

Scott F. Selby, Ph.D., works with colleagues and governments around the world on policies that foster innovation and effective procurement frameworks. Read more