Florida gives multi-million dollar contract to Tallahassee company instead of Microsoft

Jul 7, 2011

The following article was published in The Florida Current on July 7, 2011:

Floirda gives multi-million dollar contract to Tallahassee company instead of Microsoft

By Gary Fineout

Florida will award a nearly $24 million contract to a Tallahassee-based company that challenged the state’s initial decision to give the work to Microsoft.

Interim Education Commissioner John Winn on Thursday agreed to hire Infinity Software Development to develop a new web-based system intended to help students, parents and teachers master new standards.

Jon Taylor, the president of Infinity Software, called the decision “great news” and said awarding the decision to his company would mean the creation of 30 jobs in Florida.

“We have worked with the DOE on successful projects for more than twelve years, and we know the people at the department work hard and care deeply about education in Florida,’’ Taylor said. “We’re thrilled to partner with them again on this initiative.” 

The department initially had planned to award the contract to Microsoft, the well-known company behind the Windows operating systems.

But Infinity challenged the decision and company attorneys contended that Microsoft should have been disqualified because the software company refused to hand over complete ownership of the equipment and software to the state for the system.

In its initial invitation to companies, DOE said that it wanted ownership. Since the project is being funded initially with Race to the Top federal funds the idea was the state could sell rights to other states once the federal funding was gone.

Microsoft officials, however, made it clear that they were unwilling to do that.

Instead Microsoft — and its subcontractor Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt — agreed to provide the state a perpetual license.

DOE officials had tried to assert that the ownership provision was not a major component of the contract but an administrative judge last month sided with Infinity and called the state’s arguments “disingenuous.”

Judge Susan Harrell ruled that since DOE had included the ownership provision in its initial invitation to companies it had no right to drop the ownership requirement during negotiations with Microsoft. She called such a move by DOE officials “contrary to competition.’’

The entire dispute over the contract has delayed development of the web-based system, which is supposed to help teachers and students with Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Math and Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in civics and science. The idea is that students could eventually take mini-assessments on the website, which could then be shared with parents and teachers.

Winn, who became interim commissioner last month, could have rebid the entire project, but instead his two-page order directs the department to award the contract to Infinity.