Talking tech since 2003

For any business in any industry, landing a government contract is often a major victory in the sense that it provides a steady and reliable line of work and gives the business the ability to expand.  However, in the United States, all government agencies are typically required to bid-out projects before making contracts and agreements, except in cases where the cost of said services are relatively minor.  However, Internet giant Google, Inc. is now making allegations that the United States Department of Interior is not following these important regulations.  Rather, Google claims that the DOI is neglecting to consider non-Microsoft software solutions and is refusing to consider worthy alternatives.

You see, the United States Department of Interior put out a bid for companies to provide cloud-computing services (email and collaboration) for approximatively eighty-eight thousand users within the department.  In this bid request, the DOI specified that the cloud-computing solution had to be based off of Microsoft’s “Business Productivity Online Suite.”  By doing so, the DOI essentially ensured that Microsoft was going to benefit from the deal by providing the software licenses.  More importantly however, by making this requirement the DOI eliminated the number of entities that were able to bid on the project, and ultimately shut their eyes to other solutions that easily could have been more efficient and/or cost-effective.  For this reason, Google has opted to sue the Department of Interior, claiming that their specification of Microsoft’s platform was unfair and showed unjustifiable favor towards the software giant.

I believe that competition is one of the main components of the technology industry, because without competition we would never see new and improved products or services.  Because of this, I feel that organizations (including governments) need to be open-minded when looking for technology solutions.  However, we also have to consider what led up to Microsoft’s “Business Productivity Online Suite” being specified as part of the bid.

Having said this, I believe it’s a fair assumption that the DOI weighed their options before drafting and putting out the request for bids.  When making their considerations, the department likely evaluated their current infrastructure and came to the conclusion that Microsoft’s platform was going to be the most seamless to integrate into their system.  Moreover, I speculate that this is why the DOI explicitly specified BPOS as the required platform.

Working in a non-technological industry myself, I know that local governments often specify the manufacturers of the products that they are requesting bids on.  However, most of these agencies typically allow for a “equivalent”, meaning that a bidder has the option to use another source if they see fit.  For this reason, I can easily see where the DOI should have been more open in their specifications and should have allowed for other alternatives to be brought into play.

But the question still remains: why would Google sue the government? Seeing as how Google is not a political organization, it stands pretty obvious that Google feels that they would have been able to provide a more efficient cloud-computing platform and were ultimately denied the opportunity to participate in the bidding process.  This is especially apparent when you consider that Google recently developed a version of it’s flagship Google Apps product that was specifically tailored to government organizations.

At the end of the day, I can see both sides of this argument.  For this reason, I believe that the DOI might be able to create a justification for their specifications, and will likely be able to get out of the lawsuit.  However, it remains that this is definitely an interesting lawsuit, and only time will tell what the outcome is.  I am eager to hear the results of this case down the road, because it may have implications for how technology contracts are awarded down the road, ultimately leading to more competition, productivity, and likely a new focus on the open-source market.

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