U.K. may resell Microsoft's portal...then again, maybe not

UK's Government Gateway Portal represents the largest sale to date for Microsoft's BizTalk server. What's more, the British government is considering helping to sell the portal architecture.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates unveiled the U.K. government portal during a keynote speech at the Government Leaders Conference Tuesday

Microsoft said the new UK Government Gateway Portal is seen as ultimately enabling the UK's 60 million citizens and 3 million businesses to perform transactions with 200 central government agencies, 482 local government offices, and many other "quasi-government" facilities.

The UK Government Gateway Portal also represents the largest sale to date for BizTalk Server, Microsoft's .NET XML server. The first phase of the project focuses on government services for businesses.

Is Microsoft too big to be helped this way? YES

In the teleconference held just before the keynote address, officials said as the government deadline loomed, Microsoft nailed the deal after negotiations fell through between the UK and another competing IT supplier.

Andrew Pinder, e-envoy for the U.K. government, noted that like many other governments worldwide, the government of U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to place all government functions online by 2005. The administration wants to "use government as an exemplar," according to Pinder.

Over a 15-week period, Microsoft and its partners placed farmer subsidy, sales tax, and withholding tax functions online, on a .NET architecture revolving around a 256-processor Application Center 2000 configuration, the officials said. Other system elements include several other .NET servers from Microsoft: BizTalk, SQL Server 2000; Commerce Server 2000; and Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000.

Chris Atkinson of Microsoft U.K. said he "can't think of anything that has the complexity" of the U.K. government. "We have literally thousands of applications we want to place online."

The officials touted the scalability, security, XML integration, and rapid development aspects of the .NET architecture.

"We've gone beyond enterprise-level scalability to country-level (scalability)," Atkinson asserted. Atkinson added that although Microsoft "has no intentions of becoming an IBM Global Services," the company will "absolutely" provide "appropriate levels of support."

Most partners in the U.K. portal are British-based. However, also at the conference in Seattle today, the government practice of Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) is rolling out a "quick-start" solution that it co-developed with Microsoft, known as the Accenture eGovernment Accelerator.

"To do transactions involving money, we needed something more secure," Pinder remarked, citing .NET features that included "digital certificates for privacy" and single sign-on for "one route into all government Web sites, (with) a single password."

Although the U.K. government is considering helping Microsoft resell its new portal architecture to other nations, a final decision has not yet been made. In the first phase of the mammoth government portal project, the U.K. has spent about 15 million British pounds to make three government functions available online over Microsoft's .NET architecture, involving integration work from both Microsoft Consulting Services and outside partners, officials said.

Officials said that a report in the Financial Times stating that the British government will work with Microsoft to sell the portal solution to other countries is "not entirely correct." But, they added, the U.K. government is thinking about "how they might take this particular assembly" and help resell it to other nations.

Microsoft's Pinder said he foresees "a tremendous opportunity for our partners to engage" in government portal solutions worldwide.

Other government agencies now using Microsoft's .NET architecture include the Swiss Federal Statistics Office, and, in the United States, the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Oklahoma Supreme Court.