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Bill Bennett

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Let them (NZ government workers) use Chromebooks

Writing in the National Business Review, Chris Keall reports Clare Curran’s comment that 40,000 government computers are still running Windows XP (no longer online).

If true, and give or take a few machines it is, it is a ridiculous state of affairs.

Put aside for a moment the security risks and the NZ$2 million paid to Microsoft for extra support. Government employees simply can’t be fully productive if they rely on a 13-year-old operating system.

One solution would be to write off all the existing computers and replace them with Chromebooks.

You can pick up a decent Chromebook for NZ$400. No doubt a government buying 40,000 at once could get a discount on that price. Even at full price that would only be NZ$16 million. Or $14 million after cancelling Microsoft’s next support cheque. The old kit could be recycled or distributed to low-income families to reduce the digital divide.

There would be immediate savings. Chromebooks can’t run Microsoft Office. Government departments can shift to Google Apps.

Although the list price is US$50 per user per year, Google would sharpen its pencil to win 40,000 customers and go further to have the NZ government as a feather in its cap. A government with 40,000 seats to equip could also nail Google to floor over terms concerning data security or even building a node here as a condition of the deal.

And if Google doesn’t bite, there’s always Microsoft’s excellent Office 365 which works just as nicely on Chromebooks. That would have the advantage of being familiar and not frightening staff or requiring extra training.

Moving to wi-fi equipped Chromebooks would free up kilometres of cable from government offices. With copper trading at US$7000 a tonne it could raise a little extra cash too. And think of how tidy those desks would look.

There are other potential savings. Chromebooks require little management compared to everyday PCs. Which means:

In an ideal world government bosses could put all those IT geeks to work solving problems and being more creative than telling workers “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” In the real world, that’s likely to mean further cost saving and recycling the IT workers into private industry where they’ll be able to boost company productivity. There are other advantages. As Rod Drury points out:

He is right about that.

While we’re on the subject of Rod Drury, there’s another point. Moving to Chromebooks forces everything to cloud computing. This means massive infrastructure savings. Getting all government employees and applications into the cloud means there will never again be a situation like 40,000 computers using out of date software.

It also creates economies of scale that will make it worthwhile building onshore data centres to deal with the workload. It may be enough to encourage Amazon or Microsoft Azure to set up here — which would be good news for other local users. I’d love to see those two companies in a competitive pitch to win the contract.

Most of all, there are the productivity gains to be had from moving to the cloud and the wider cultural change that will bring about. Drury is right about collaboration and services like one-click hangouts, but that’s just the start. As Drury’s Xero business has proved, you can do everything in the cloud.

Presumably some people are going to pick holes in this argument. Well, that’s what the comments are for. Fire away…

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