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FLOSS Market: When Government is a buyer

A friend of mine, a web developer, doing business with government once told me ‘business is slow but I can not complain.’ incongruous as it may sound, it is a very typical response among business people around here. ‘Sometime I only have one job in three months but when I do, I am paid in advance and a lot more than what others pay me’ he added. Well, wow! This is the market. But does Government really pay that well?

Indeed anyone doing business in Zambia would tell you Government is the largest client for virtually any services or products. Indeed most Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) survive through direct or indirect dealings with Government. Part of the reasons for this is that often Government policies towards SMEs include much favorable business considerations. In most cases incentives may include subsidies, discounts, credit facility, bulk orders, and negotiated prices. In return Government benefits from relative low costs and much long-term claim in job creation. So why would government be willing to pay my web developer friend more than the market price? Why would government be unwilling to negotiate low prices for web services yet it wouldn’t pay a stationery supplier a dime more than the prevailing market price.

If you have ever spent as much time as I have in ICT development programmes, especially the much touted ICT4D the answer is almost obvious; Government although a principal beneficiary, is not often the direct buyer of ICTs. In fact, in spite of all the knowledge on ICTs, Governments generally do not necessarily share the same enthusiasm many have about the potential of ICTs particularly FLOSS solutions. And this is not surprising at all. Government obsession for control alienates any initiative and efforts towards citizen empowerment. Yet, funny or oddly enough, Government is still the largest consumer of ICTs and so for FLOSS Businesses wishing to persuade Government, knowing when and how a Government becomes a buyer might just give you better insight into the business potential, who to contact and perhaps more crucially help you present a more competitive bid.

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Thanks for sharing this very informative post.

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