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Is the VA Embracing Open Source?

The Department of Veterans Affairs Technology Acquisition Center is ready to lower costs, and one way to do that is to get rid of costly Microsoft Office applications and adopt cloud-based or open source solutions instead.

On February 17, 2012, the VA posted a Request for Information (RFI) to explore Microsoft Office alternatives. Currently, the VA uses Microsoft Office 2003, 2007, and 2010 solutions, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The RFI says:

VA Office of Information and Technology intends to solicit proposals for alternative architectures for providing an office productivity suite with similar functions that are offered in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and where available Access, Visio, OneNote and Project. The alternative architecture may be provided through an off-premises cloud system such as Office 365, Google Apps, LotusLive or others. Or it could be provided through an on-premises cloud based terminal server or application virtualization system providing Microsoft Office 2010 as an example. Or it could be provided through a desktop installed version of a lower cost office productivity suite such as OpenOffice as another example.

Obviously security, supportability, and interoperability are among the factors the VA must take into consideration, so the department is only soliciting white papers right now. "The white papers should merely be focused on the per seat cost for services/tools provided, current state of the technology in terms of Office productivity suite benefits, supportability, security, ease of use, and interoperability with Microsoft based products," the announcement says.

The deadline to submit whitepapers is March 15, 2012.

The VA recently released its 2013 budget request for more than US$ 140 billion for veterans programs. In the budget proposal, US$ 3.3 billion is planned for information technology, which is $216 million more than the 2012 budget. The budget announcement explains that the VA operates one of the largest consolidated IT organizations in the world, which supports more than 300,000 VA employees and about 10-million Veterans and family members who use VA programs. "About 80 percent of the IT budget supports the direct delivery of health care and benefits to Veterans and their families," the announcement says.

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