Its one-year contract with Google Apps ends next month

E-Governance: The government is currently in the process of evaluating bids for an online office suite.

Its one-year subscription with Google for its online office suite, Google Apps, ends at the end of next month.

The government decided to seek external funding to continue its use of an online office suite, last year and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) agreed to provide the funds. The government paid Nu 9 million or USD 250,000 for its one year subscription of Google Apps.

The Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) floated an international tender in December last year as required by the bank’s regulations.

“The government wanted to look for ADB (Asian Development Bank) funding and because it’s ADB funding we had to go for international tender, it’s ADB’s regulation,” information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji said.

“We’re in the process of evaluating the tender for a secure and reliable online collaborative tool that would initiate the government’s move towards a paper-less government,” DITT director Phuntsho Tobgay said.

“The successful bidder would provide their solution on three years contract funded by ADB,” he added. The selected company will also be responsible for deploying the online collaborative suite.

Google Apps was deployed by DITT despite Google usually requiring a company that it has certified to take up such a task. DITT faced major hurdles, such as a six-month delay before deployment even began as a result of procurement issues and lack of budget to conduct trainings.

Eventually, the government spent about Nu 0.9 million on training ICT personnel whom in turn trained staff at their own offices. But Phuntsho Tobgay said lack of budget and a certified deployment partner still affected usage rate.

While the government will be saving significantly with ADB funding, if there is change from Google Apps to another suite, this could mean civil servants would have to be retrained and other challenges could emerge.

One that may have to be tackled again is user reluctance and resistance to change among some civil servants. Of the 5,000 Google accounts the government subscribed for there were still 923 dormant accounts as of March 24.

Of all government agencies, three still use the free version of the Google Apps that is, among others, subject to Google mining the information for advertising purposes. “Since there’s no dedicated long term budget for the system, these agencies are wary of adopting the licensed version, since it might mean losing the free enterprise version, which actually serves their purpose,” Phuntsho Tobgay said, adding that this had been an unforeseen challenge that no one could be blamed for.

The director also pointed out that it is still a concern that some heads of agencies had resisted the move to Google Apps.

Another problem that affected adoption of Google Apps was that the optical fibre link to some dzongkhags had been damaged and had taken significant time to repair, explained the director.

Phuntsho Tobgay said that DITT has been ensuring that it responds instantly to connectivity issues at regional offices.

While the total cost of the 923 dormant accounts comes to around Nu 1.7M or USD 27,690, the director said that the cost savings from those accounts that are being used more than make up for it.

“Given the changes the usage of Google Apps has brought to the civil service, we feel we can live with that figure,” Phuntsho Tobgay said.

It was pointed out that, by using Google Apps, the need for every agency to invest in servers, which would otherwise cost millions of ngultrums, had been minimised. “But the effort has to be sustained for the long term and not abandoned after the first year,” Phuntsho Tobgay said.

Another area of cost saving is that more ICT personnel do not have to be hired to maintain autonomous email systems. Agencies that maintained their own email system, often found the systems unreliable, which required recruitment of at least one ICT officer to manage it.

It was also pointed out that the subscription of an online suite for 5,000 civil servants, compared to procuring an office productivity suite that would have been stored on local servers, would have been significantly more expensive than Nu 9 million.

However, the director said that the most important benefit of using Google Apps had been security. “There has also been no incidence of security breech up to date after the introduction of the online suite,” he said. “Whereas this used to be a frequent issue in the past.”

The director also claimed that a World Bank study showed that up to 70 percent of ICT projects fail. “By the same token, we can easily say that the project is a success and also given the huge management change involved, which was government wide,” Phuntsho Tobgay said.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said a date could not be provided on when the bidding and evaluating process would be completed.

By Gyalsten K Dorji