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PloneGov: Public Sector achieving independence from large IT providers

by Nicolas Bossut last modified 2009-06-30 11:34

PloneGov is an award winning eGovernment open source initiative. The European Commission recently released a detailed case study about this innovative collaborative project. In the weeks to come, we propose to publish excerpts as a serialized novel, this article being the first episode.

Based on a case study by the Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR), an initiative of the European Commission's IDABC project.

plonegovorgThe Belgian branch of PloneGov started with a problem. In 2005 Joel Lambillotte, the IT manager of the town of Sambreville in the French-speaking southern part of Belgium, needed an Intranet solution for his municipal administration which could manage documents, schedule appointments and do a variety of other things.

"We were looking mainly in the direction of proprietary solutions from the big IT providers, such as Microsoft", he recalls. "So we put out a public tender, but all the offers we got were far too expensive and didn't really fit our requirements."

At that time, he started looking at FLOSS (Free, Libre and Open Source) solutions as well. He quickly hit upon Plone. Plone is a layer of software applications that functions on top of the Zope application server. "Plone makes it very easy to quickly build a website. All the functions are there in Zope, but Plone lets you access them in an easy way. Zope, on the other hand, provides a lot of functions such as security", explains Lambillotte. Though most often used as a content management system, Plone is very flexible and can be put to use for a large number of other applications.

An important motivation for Belgian PloneGov members is to become independent from the IT providers for the Walloon public sector that form a local duopoly. "They didn't want to learn to cooperate with us. They even put pressure on the government to stop our project. But we really try to work them. We want to spend money with IT providers, but not in the same manner. We'll pay for services, but we won't buy licenses", explains Joël Lambillotte.

Together with the town of Seneffe, which — like Sambreville — was using Plone for its website, Lambillotte's department started to develop on their own the Intranet solution that they had been looking for. They were still spending their IT budgets, but now in a different way.

In the beginning, the towns in PloneGov worked on two applications. One was a facility to easily let municipalities build their own websites. The other was an application that automates the management of town meetings called PloneMeeting. With this application, participants can submit topics for the agenda before the meeting; the meeting manager can decide whether to accept them. The application also makes it easy to publish meeting reports.