… to allow for a third re-tender for an online office suite to be completed

E-governance: The government has extended its one-year subscription of the online office suite, that ended last week, for another three months.

Following discussions with Google, the government was also able to extend the discounted pricing it acquired for its one-year subscription, at around Nu 158 or USD 2.5 per account per month. The normal cost is around Nu 262.5 or USD 4.2 per account per month.

With 5,000 accounts being subscribed for, this amounts to Nu 2.3 million or USD 37,500 for using Google Apps for another three months.

This brings the total amount the government will spend on its Google Apps subscription to around Nu 11.3 million or USD 187,000.

According to the latest statistics provided by the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT), of 5,000 accounts, 4,565 have been activated. However, of the activated accounts, there are still 221 inactive accounts which means they are not being used. This also means that there are still a total of 656 accounts not being used.

The extension for three months had to be sought as the government was unable to identify a company that will provide it with an online office suite solution following the end of the Google Apps contract.

While the government had initially planned to use Google Apps for a number of years, it also decided to look for external funding to continue its use of an online office suite.

When the Asian Development Bank (ADB) agreed to support the government’s use of an online office suite for the next three years, it also meant that the government would have to abide by its rules and float an international tender.

A tender also meant that the government would not be able to renew its contract with Google.

It first floated a tender for a provider in December, last year.

A DITT official said that many bids had been received but that they were found “non-responsive” during evaluation.

The official added that the application has been made more clear and precise to prevent ambiguities for applicants.

The department has floated the tender for a third time. With a six-week period for accepting bids, evaluation and selection is expected to take up to three months.

While Google has provided the government with the same discount rate for the extension, the issue also raises the question of whether access to Google accounts and government data could have been cut off if a deal had not been reached in time.

However, the DITT official pointed out that there had been no possibility of an “abrupt stoppage”. The official added that “solid contracts” had been signed that do not allow the company to hold a customer ransom, for instance, by increasing rates suddenly. It was also pointed out that the contract with Google does not prevent the customer from moving to another provider if required.

Another issue is if another provider besides Google is chosen under the ADB support, there will be a need for redeploying a new online system, and re-training civil servants. The government spent around Nu 0.9 million on training for Google Apps.

The DITT official said that even if Google is chosen under the ADB support, a redeployment cost would still be there even if it is not as much as deploying a new vendor.

The official pointed out that the largest issue would most likely be the “annoyance” of users.

The government has adopted the use of an online office suite to secure its data and communications and increase efficiency. The move is also to reduce the government’s use of paper, which based on initial reports, seems to be happening to some extent.

By Gyalsten K Dorji