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PloneGov: Distributing costs between Public Organizations

by xavier last modified 2009-06-30 10:58

PloneGov applications are easily transferable to similar foreign authorities and their potentials for replication are enormous. This project open the way to international software collaboration. The development of such software sharing initiatives helps underpin the sustainability of public services and save public money.

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


Convincing the accountants

While many IT people find working together in PloneGov productive and inspirational, their employers sometimes struggle to understand the concept. Joel Lambillotte, IT manager of the town of Sambreville,  recalls that at the start of the project, it was not easy to convince his superiors to let him work on CommunesPlone. "They have a short-term view. We could only do it because we didn't have to spend money in the beginning", he says.

This problem of justifying a way of working that is unusual in the public sector exists in all municipalities. CommunesPlone deals with this by frequently releasing small pieces of software, rather than spending a long time working on a big program. "We have to come up with concrete results every three months", says Lambillotte.

With CommunesPlone, Lambillotte now spends his IT budget differently than before. "My boss sometimes thinks I'm doing nothing, because I have no public procurements for software licenses running", he jokes. Now, his resources go into personnel for programming applications. He also contracts firms, usually SMEs as BubbleNet or Affinitic, to coach the developers both in working with Plone, and in open collaboration with the community.

Lambillotte emphasises that it is not the goal of CommunesPlone to develop software with public sector developers. "We believe that the goal is to set up rules for the development of public sector applications, and to let SMEs and IT providers apply those rules. We've asked the Walloon region (Belgium) to finance the hiring of more services from SMEs."

Distributing the cost between the members

Since it is not a legal entity, CommunesPlone doesn't have a budget for itself. Individual members finance its developments. Lambillotte explains: "If a certain town wants a functionality, they pay to develop it, and share it with the rest of PloneGov." At the frequent meetings, more complex developments are coordinated: "If you pay to develop this functionality, we'll do the other one — that's how it works", says Lambillotte. "We'll then together write the papers for the public procurement."

According to Lambillotte, 1.3 million € (2 millions $) were spent within CommunesPlone since 2005. Most of the money pays for the time of developers employed by the municipalities. Another large chunk goes to SMEs that provide coaching for CommunesPlone developers. The rest has been spent on meetings and related travel.

Local money spent locally

The early members of CommunesPlone have borne much of the cost, but still saved money compared with proprietary solutions. Lambillotte says: "If I had bought licenses for proprietary software for our Intranet, they would have cost me 100.000 € (155.000 $). Instead, we spent 70.000 on developing the solution in Plone — 30.000 for staff time, and 40.000 to a local SME for coaching." Newer members of CommunesPlone have far greater savings. "Where they would have spent 100.000 € on a proprietary Intranet solution, they now only need 10.000 Euro to customise the application."

Although the FLOSS-based approach costs the municipalities far less than licenses for proprietary software, Lambillotte is quick to point out that saving money is not the idea behind PloneGov. The towns in CommunesPlone now spend their IT budgets on staff effort and on services, rather than on software licenses.

This means that a much larger share than before goes to local SMEs. They either work on adapting applications for a certain municipality and develop new functionalities, or on training developers and users. "We recently had a meeting with a representative of OSOSS / ICTU from the Netherlands. He was interested by PloneGov, and they asked us, 'so if the City of Amsterdam decide to use your software, will you come to Amsterdam and help them install it?” he recounts. "And I said, 'of course not!' That's a job for a local company. We would help them to find an SME in the Netherlands as Infrae that could provide what they need."

 

More PloneGov cases studies: www.plonegov.org/cases

Source

http://www.zeapartners.org/articles/osor005