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Microsoft in new e-government push

At its Government Leaders Forum in Berlin, the company touts tools to help municipalities provide citizen services online.

Microsoft is making a new bid to get governments to go with its technology, rather than open-source alternatives such as Linux and OpenOffice.

At its Government Leaders Forum in Berlin, which kicks off on Tuesday, the company plans to announce what it is calling the Citizen Service Platform. It's not a whole new set of products, but rather templates and architecture that use a range of Microsoft products to provide electronic access for residents.

At its most elaborate, large governments could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on everything from Dynamics CRM to SharePoint to Internet Information Server to provide everything from online permitting to government records access to marriage licenses and name changes over the Web.

But, says Ralph Young, vice president of Microsoft's public sector business, equally important are the tools aimed at helping overburdened small governments that have few IT resources. The whole effort is based on Microsoft's .Net architecture.

At its most basic level, Microsoft has a system based on Office Live and Windows live for $20 a month. The Jamaica system is running at this price, Microsoft said. For a small government that really wanted to get going, but had no existing Microsoft technology, the cost could range between $10,000 and $15,000.

Much of the company's effort has been focused on municipal and regional governments where 80 percent of government services are provided.

"Those governments are closer to citizens and more able to deliver services," Young said. But at the same time, they lack the money and technical know-how that many federal governments possess.

"Local governments aren't necessarily equipped to deliver services in that enhanced way," Young said. "These governments are under a much more significant budget and resource constraint."

The push toward helping governments go online is not new. Microsoft has been at this for about five years already.

Young pointed to Singapore and Canada as leaders in taking their services onto the Internet. In Singapore, Young said, 9 out of 10 citizens who engaged in transactions with the government did so online, while Canada has moved 130 of its most commonly used services online, accounting for about 30 percent of transactions.

The company has already started to push local as well. Young pointed to the Parish of St. Mary's government in Jamaica, which set up a system last hurricane season to send text messages to residents' cell phones in the event of major storms. "Before it was very difficult to ensure that every single citizen had been contacted," he said.