ICT: The government has cancelled the tender that would have seen the Asian Development Bank (ADB) fund its use of an online office suite, like Google Apps, for the next three years.

The tender was first floated in December, last year, followed by two more re-floats this year.

The ADB required that an international tender be floated, which opened the contract to other companies besides Google.

The government’s one-year contract with Google ended in May but was extended by another three months to allow for the tender to be completed. The extended contract ended at the end of last month.

Information and communications secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji, said that the international bid was cancelled by the government because it has chosen to extend its contract with Google.

“The government decided to negotiate directly with Google to extend the contract for another three years,” he said. “And because of that, the RFP (request for proposals) had to be cancelled.”

Asked if this meant the government was not accepting external funding and opting to pay from its own coffers, Dasho Kinley Dorji said that the ADB funding would still remain with the government.

“The ADB fund remains with MoIC,and we’re using it for the DrukRen research project,” he said. The government plans to invest Nu 100 million in DrukRen, a national education and research network that will connect all university level education institutes with research centres in Bhutan.

“So no loss,” Dasho Kinley Dorji said. He said that the government will not be incurring any additional expenditure by cancelling the ADB tender. He said the funds committed by ADB for the online office suite tender had been reallocated from another project in Bhutan anyway, and therefore, if the tender had been successfully carried out, another project would have been losing funds.

However, the secretary did not share what rates the government will be charged under the new deal given a non-disclosure agreement with Google. All he said was that the government was satisfied with the negotiated three-year extension.

“That we were able to negotiate a satisfactory contract with Google, that’s why we decided to continue,” Dasho Kinley Dorji also said, explaining why the government had chosen to remain with Google.

The government’s new Google Apps subscription is for 9,000 accounts and three years.

For its initial one-year, three month subscription to Google Apps, the government was charged Nu 158 or USD 2.5 per account a month. The normal cost is Nu 262.5 or USD 4.2 per account a month.

With 5,000 accounts be subscribed for, the government spent around Nu 11.3 million or USD 187,000.

Currently, of the 5,000 accounts, 4,877 have been activated by the government, and of which 4,757 are being actively used. This means there are 243 accounts, amounting to an expenditure of Nu 38,394/month that are not being used.

However, it has repeatedly been pointed out in earlier interviews that the cost savings to the government, in terms of expenditure on transport and paper, among others, far exceeds the cost of dormant accounts.

Department of Information Technology and Telecom officiating director, Jigme Tenzing, also pointed out that there are a certain number of accounts that need to be kept inactivated for certain situations like transfers and retirements. But the department is yet to work out a number.

“We don’t actually have a fixed number at the moment as this is new to us,” he said. “We are working with the accounts right now and keeping records to determine how many will be adequate as the transfers, superannuations, retirements etc. are not predetermined and we will need to look at the trends to come out with a fixed number.

Even months after Google Apps was adopted by the government as the official e-mail platform, the department faced resistance from agencies and individuals when asked to use the system.

“Due to the regular awareness and trainings conducted by the ICT officers in the agencies, dzongkhags and our own officers the resistance has decreased substantially as can be seen from the number of active users,” Jigme Tenzing said.

But some resistance still exists. “However, there are few officers who still feel more comfortable using their own personal email ids which is not recommended for official use due to the lack of security,” Jigme Tenzing said. “We believe that with constant follow up and awareness this will also decline radically,” he added. “There have been cases of people using personal email IDs who have already been affected badly and have switched over and we believe the remaining officers will also switch over soon.”

With the government now having selected its online office suite, the education sector has been asked to move onto the platform as well. The sector will receive 250,000 Google accounts for free.

“Most of the education based agencies have not yet activated Google apps as they will be provided free educational licenses,” Jigme Tenzing said. “This was halted as we were not aware who would be selected as the email provider for the government,” he said. “We have asked education to start using Google apps and soon they will also start making use of the 250,000 free accounts that have to provided to them.”

The next phase will now include the department having to train more than 4,000 users and also support the education sector in deploying the 250,000 accounts.

The government spent around Nu 0.9 million on training around 300 users including all ICT officers nationwide, who in turn trained users in their respective offices.

Gyalsten K Dorji