The last of this Socitm (Past) President's reports is here.

Frank Moyer and Mark Bailey of EzGov met me at Newham Dockside, this morning, to explain their "Virtual Government Assistant". This is a natural language search assistant (Avatar) that has just been implemented on Tandridge Council's site. (You need to enable pop-ups.)

They reckon that this technology has been proven to reduce contact (via 'phone, Contact Centre) by 10 to 30%, and will offer a SLA guaranteeing it covers its costs. I was interested on several counts - one of which is whether it could complement Socitm's Customer Access Improvement Service.

Glyn Moody and I had our first meeting to plan our comparison of Newham's Microsoft-centric infrastructure versus the same functionality and capability deliverable with "Open Source"-centric infrastructure. Glyn was accompanied by Mark Taylor, as his technical adviser.

Mark specialises in advising clients on how they can exploit Open Source software in their infrastructure, and is a Socitm member, who was previously active in the Open Source Group that was set-up by Bob Griffith. (This was disbanded some time ago, but the topic remains on the Society's radar, and is likely to be rekindled as and when we are able to prioritise resourcing further research.)

I was supposed to have arranged my own technical adviser, but forgot, and he was at lunch when I needed him!

I overviewed our desktop environment, stressing flexible working, office automation and telepresence requirements, but needed the technical backup to get into the server set-up, where Glyn and Mark say Open Source really makes a difference versus proprietary infrastructure.

I think we agreed that the term "Open Source" isn't particularly helpful, and is misused. The real issues are Open Standards and interoperability.

Today's meeting, at least enabled us to meet and agree our broad goals (as above). Mark took some notes, and will copy them to us with the initial queries he has on our server configuration, and we're arranging a fuller (probably half-day) meeting to develop the detailed specification against which we'll benchmark, as soon as possible.

After lunch, I was at BERR's One Victoria Street offices for an initial ALIP2 partnership meeting following our successful bid to the Technology Strategy Board. I blogged about this last October, when the bid was under preparation, and will provide fuller information in due course. For now, suffice to say that Newham is to lead the first work-package, which is to produce specifications of requirements and target pricing. The project is expected to start on 1st June.

Following which, I sat in BERR's Reception for a Teleconference with other members of the Government Connect Benefits Realisation Fund Ratification Committee (if I correctly remember what we call ourselves!)

We approved circa a dozen further bids, exhausting most of the funding pot. We are content that the bids funded will exploit the GC infrastructure, are replicable/ transferable and cover a lot of ground, with little duplication. There's a possibility of one further, final, review to ensure we've covered all the bases.