Microsoft has appointed a National Technology Officer (NTO) in its UK division, charged with developing and promoting the software company's strategy for a more modern and efficient UK public sector.

Jerry Fishenden began his job as Microsoft's advocate to the UK government earlier this month, Microsoft announced on Friday. Before joining Microsoft in 1997, Fishenden worked in the public sector for 20 years in posts including head of networks at the House of Parliament, associate director of IT in the National Health Service (NHS) and as a senior executive at the UK's financial services authority. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Analysts and Programmers.

Microsoft has a number of highly lucrative contracts with the UK government, including a contract to develop a user interface for the massive IT infrastructure upgrade of the NHS. Last week, UK Health Secretary John Reid said that the UK government is Microsoft's third largest customer.

Last year, the UK's Office of Government Commerce (OGC) extended its three-year agreement with Microsoft by an additional three years, despite the OGC's own report citing the advantages of open source software on both the server side and the desktop side. The contract primarily covers software licensing fees but also focuses on services and support.

Microsoft has appointed staff to the NTO role in 15 countries. The job focuses on a variety of issues within the government sector, including security, privacy, interoperability and standards, technical computing and innovation, Microsoft said. For example, last May, the CIO for the state of Washington, Stuart McKee, left his job to take up the NTO position for Microsoft in the US. McKee, who began his job in June, is charged with helping Microsoft develop strategy to serve education and public-sector customers.

In Europe, Jonathan Murray serves as NTO, working from Zurich to improve relationships with governments across the continent. The European NTO job, created in November 2003, was seen within the IT industry as an attempt by Microsoft to counter the growing threat of open source products, which are popular with European governments due in large part to cheaper costs.

Additionally, last September, Greg Stone was made NTO in Microsoft Australia, while Sam Furukawa serves at NTO for Microsoft in Japan.