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Microsoft encourages app-swapping councils

The Newham effect

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Microsoft has lifted a few tricks from the open source community to help it lock UK councils into its software ahead of the government's 2005 deadline for e-enabling local government services.

Six months on from its landmark deal with Newham council, Redmond's finest is back, touting the completion of Newham's Open Application Sharing Portal (OAS). The portal will host applications developed on .NET by local authorities, where they will be accessible to any public sector organisation for downloading and further developing.

The Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames has just completed one such project, with the help of funding from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) as part of the national e-payments project. Working with Microsoft partner CIBER UK, it developed an e-payment application for Microsoft's Commerce Server. This enables residents to make all their payments to the council through its website, council tax, parking tickets and so on, by treating each council service as a catalogue item.

It has also set it up so that community groups can sell tickets through the site, without having to pay commission to a third party agent. The application has been piloted over the last six months, and the council has sold over £2,000 worth of tickets to local events, including 500 tickets to last November's firework display.

Robin Noble, IT manager at Royal Borough of Kingston, said that the implementation has been so successful that Basingstoke and Deane (another local authority) has downloaded the solution and is using it to develop a booking system for its football pitches. "We'll have that one back, when they've finished it," he added.

It is a cunning marketing plan. The local authorities develop and share solutions and applications with each other, in a kind of closed-open-source community. This means cash-strapped authorities worried about meeting e-government deadlines should have a raft of off-the-peg and customisable solutions to chose from.

It doesn't matter what back end system they are running, but if your council wants to use the applications on its website, it needs Microsoft Server 2003, Microsoft's Internet Information Server, and (you guessed it) Microsoft Content Manager 2002. Clever, indeed.

The Royal Borough of Kingston's e-payment solution is hosted on its own site here, and on the Newham portal here. ®

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