Microsoft Offers Government Free Tools For Information Sharing And Collaborative Development - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Offers Government Free Tools For Information Sharing And Collaborative Development

Solutions Sharing Network provides public-sector groups with database repository and portal front end, hosted in single IT environment.

Microsoft may take issue with the exchange of intellectual-property inspired by the open-source programmer community, but the company is moving to embrace open source's collaborative-development model. Microsoft Tuesday introduced its Solutions Sharing Network, a knowledge-sharing and collaborative-development environment designed for government and other public-sector users.

A Solutions Sharing Network, already in use worldwide by 13 organizations, includes an SQL server database that serves as a code and file repository accessible via a SharePoint portal front end. Unlike the open-source community, a Solutions Sharing Network is hosted inside an organization's IT environment rather than spread throughout a number of disparate sites. Since the network's content is inside the firewall, users can include any content they see fit.

Like the open-source model, one of Solutions Sharing Network's goals is to let companies share code and information as a way to build upon existing application-development work. But Microsoft says SSN is designed to go beyond code development to provide a repository for additional content that helps with training or to improve organizational processes.

"It's an ongoing set of programs that our government customers have been asking for over the past 10 years," says Oliver Bell, Microsoft's SSN worldwide program manager. A significant impetus for SSN has been government's search for ways to develop applications despite depleted budgets, Bell says.

The SSN platform can be customized using Microsoft's .Net application framework. "It helps users create a consistent development methodology," says Stephen Cranford, CEO of Kanalytics Inc., a service provider partnering with Microsoft to help users with SSN implementations.

SSN is already being used by the French municipality of Parthenay, the German Association for Towns and Municipalities, United Nations Development Programmes Information Communication Technologies for Development in Arab Region, and the U.S. National Association of Counties, Microsoft says.

The University of Southern California's E-Governance Lab for the School of Policy Planning and Development has been testing SSN for the past year as a way to create a hub of academic knowledge sharing, says E-Governance Lab director Gregory Curtin. The school also is letting 26 local governments in California use SSN as a test bed for developing E-government initiatives. "One of the biggest obstacles out there for government technology sharing is getting these kinds of initiatives off the ground," Curtin says. "It's rarely about the technology itself."

Some open-source advocates in the public sector have been working for most of the past year to create a repository through which they can share common applications. Modeled after the open-source repositories such as SourceForge.net and Freshmeat.net, the Government Open Code Collaborative provides state and local IT organizations with building blocks for the types of applications they all use, including financials, human-resources, and payment-processing apps.

The collaborative, launched in June, permits any organization to download code from the site. Collaborative members must sign an operating agreement that acknowledges any code they contribute to the repository is properly licensed. Members have the authorization to download and contribute code to the repository.

In addition to Massachusetts, the collaborative's members include the Texas Department of Information Resources; Utah Information Technology Services; West Virginia Auditor's Office; Wisconsin Department of Administration; Gloucester and Worcester, Mass.; the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Albany County, N.Y., Airport Authority; and Newport News, Va.

"I look at how you create a regulatory framework that will allow E-government to flourish," Curtin says. It's less about the technology, whether it's open source like the Government Open Code Collaborative or available through Microsoft, as with SSN, he adds. "Moving E-government forward benefits everybody: businesses, government agencies, and citizens."

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