A germane solution for licensing

Cross-border cooperation brings huge benefits when it comes to procurement – and not just in Swiss francs.

Text: Immo Noack, published on 06.09.2016

Students and university staff increasingly need to acquire skills that lie outside the scope of the curriculum. In many cases, for example, they are expected to be familiar with the latest version of Office or have some knowledge of project management. The video learning platform lynda.com is a handy and cost-effective solution that allows users to choose when, where and how often they work on their course.

The example of lynda.com shows why cooperating across national borders makes perfect sense. It encourages people to seek out alternatives.

Thanks to its international network, SWITCHprocure was able to negotiate a framework agreement with lynda.com as of 1 March 2016. The SWITCH team first made contact with lynda.com at a meeting in Germany for licensing managers working in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. A survey of the community subsequently revealed that 15 universities were interested in the platform's online courses. A total of 18 have now signed up to the framework agreement. Some of these are new customers, while others were already using lynda.com but now enjoy improved terms and conditions.

This example shows that cooperating across national borders makes perfect sense with regard to procurement. It encourages people to seek out alternatives to things they already have or close gaps in their offering.

By working together, countries carry more weight with suppliers, so their views are more likely to be heard.

However, the benefits of this kind of cooperation between the German-speaking countries go beyond this, as the case of lynda.com illustrates. One of the main advantages of working together is that countries carry more weight with suppliers, so their views are more likely to be heard. Switzerland can profit here from the size of its neighbour Germany, which places orders many times larger than those of the Swiss or Austrians. For these purposes, in fact, Switzerland is no bigger than a single German state. Cooperating with Germany, which has much more negotiating power with software manufacturers, has brought valuable new contacts for SWITCHprocure that it would otherwise not have. All three German-speaking countries together make up an even more formidable force, and not just because of larger volumes. A carefully worded letter to a major software firm from three nations working in unison simply creates a stronger impression than a complaint from Switzerland on its own, let alone a single Swiss university. The power of three is very effective in making people sit up and take notice because software manufacturers care a lot less about a particular university's reputation than they do about sales.

Standardised contracts mean improved comparability and transparency and a reduced workload.

On top of all this, it is easier for software firms to deal with a European region where everyone speaks the same language as a single unit. It reduces their workload in setting terms and conditions and drafting contracts. Standardised contracts with the same terms and conditions also mean improved comparability and and transparency for the universities. Contracts are becoming ever more complex, and only larger universities tend to have people who are really good at interpreting them. It is thus a very good idea for these people to cooperate with their counterparts in other countries.

Communication between Germany, Austria and Switzerland helps to track trends.

From the software manufacturers' perspective, it is certainly simpler to bundle all the countries in a region together. Pressure on costs is forcing them to cut their staff numbers. As a result, staff are having to deal with ever larger sales regions. Of course, universities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland must first establish some common ground if they want to work together. Germany is organised differently to Switzerland. It is often the case that one German university negotiates with a software supplier on behalf of all the universities that want its products. It Switzerland, meanwhile, SWITCH takes charge of negotiations. Austria is also different. After asking SWITCH to explain how the Swiss system works, it is starting to draw up plans for an organisation along the same lines as SWITCHprocure.

SWITCHprocure, for its part, is in the early stages of discussing a cooperation with SURFmarket, which has been handling ICT procurement for schools in the Netherlands since 1991 (see also Surfing the wave) and therefore has a lot of experience and an extensive network of contacts. SURFmarket has also developed some infrastructures and models that may be of interest to SWITCHprocure. Indeed, it was a source of inspiration for creating SWITCHprocure in the first place.

All in all, then, other countries can learn a lot from the cooperation between universities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They benefit from comparable terms and conditions, transparency, more negotiating power and information on alternatives and trends.

About the author
Immo   Noack

Immo Noack

Immo Noack has been working in the SWITCH Procurement Team since November 2012. Prior to that, he held posts at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and on the Neptun project, among others. He originally graduated in Electrical Engineering.

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