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Google, Microsoft in '2-horse race' for Government cloud contracts

Kenneth Corbin | Sept. 5, 2013
As tech behemoths Google and Microsoft try to win over public-sector CIOs with their cloud-based productivity suites, government agencies eye cost savings and an increase in productivity and collaboration.

Experts caution, however, that it is not a given that the cloud-based productivity suites that Google and Microsoft will automatically translate into cost savings over the lifecycle of the deployment. When government IT buyers begin meeting with vendors to discuss a cloud migration, the process bears a similarity to shopping for a car, according to Austin.

In both cases, the customer is presented with a baseline product whose price tag increases with the addition of extra features. Cloud contracts, like auto financing, may also offer a low introductory rate for a set period of time. Another variable concerns the extent of support the vendor will provide for the migration and afterward, details that are often negotiated on a contract-by-contract basis.

Price is a centerpiece of Google's marketing pitch for its Apps for Government suite, advertised at less than $5 per employee per month. Microsoft's baseline pricing for Office 365 begins at $6 per user per month, though the company has plenty to say about its chief competitor in the government space, offering a one-page PDF and 10-point Word document (both available for download here) taking shots at Google Apps for Government, including a list of "hidden costs" such as help desk and IT support. Google took its own shot at Office 365 two years ago on the eve of the product's launch.

Executives with both companies declined to comment on their rivals, though Austin says the choice often boils down to a tradeoff between price and functionality. A rule of thumb, Austin says, government entities that are looking only for a basic functionality and shopping on a tight budget might be lured to Google Apps for Government, while the "feature seekers," such as data-intensive agencies whose workers more or less live in Excel, would lean toward Office 365.

"It's a cliché, you pay more with Microsoft but you get more," he says.

Wyoming CIO Encounters Resistance in Transition to Google Apps
Waters, Wyoming's CIO, acknowledges that his state's transition to Google Apps met with some protests from employees who were familiar with Microsoft's desktop suite, including its Outlook email client, and have resisted the transition.

In the face of Wyoming's broad push toward a more mobile, collaborative government and the dramatic technology upheaval that has entailed, "we've had a few folks leave state government because that doesn't fit what they signed up for," he says.

For the larger share who remain in Wyoming's government but still struggle with the transition, Waters says his team is conducting ongoing training exercises. At the same time, some pockets of the state government continue to work in Excel and other Microsoft environments, and Waters says he has set no timetable for when they must abandon Office in favor of Google's product.


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