The majority of public services provided to citizens remain the reponsibility of local authorities. But currently they are "hugely fragmented", according to Graham Colclough, Vice President of Global Cities and Regional Government for CAP Gemini, a business consultancy. Colclough was speaking at the 'Government Leaders Forum – Europe' organised by the American giant in Berlin on 22-23 January.
In a recent report commissioned by Microsoft, CAP Gemini highlighted that half of public spending in Europe is delivered locally. At the same time, the online services provided vary considerably among European countries and regions, with a gap of "around 50% among the first and last".
The Commission considers reducing this fragmentation as essential to increasing cooperation between public authorities, with 'interoperability' the keyword. Indeed, Brussels is progressing in this direction with the launch, scheduled for May 2008, of the SEMIC platform aimed at harmonising the format and content of online public services.
Microsoft is also approaching the problem with a new range of software, the Citizen Service Platform (CSP), launched at the Berlin conference. The idea is to facilitate cooperation by offering the same products to everybody, as has already occurred in offices and households worldwide with its Windows operating system.
"This kind of application is very, very easy to build, and so having that as a standard platform for people to start with will mean that you can execute on projects within a matter of months instead of years", Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said yesterday speaking in Berlin at the GLF.
Microsoft insists that the new platform will guarantee interoperability. Indeed, it is designed to be used by public authorities in conjunction with the other software currently at their disposal. But even if smaller operators do not question its interoperability, there may be a new cause for concern for Microsoft's main competitors in this sector, IBM and Oracle.
Last week, the European Commission opened a new probe against Microsoft to assess the interoperability of its Office Suite, several server products and the programming language .NET (see Euractiv 15/01/2008) following a complaint filed by ECIS, whose members include Oracle and IBM.