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PloneGov looks for support as it prepares for Irish launch

by Nicolas Bossut last modified 2007-07-16 16:48

The Plone and Zope Community have joined forces in Europe to develop an open source e-government project called PloneGov, which is being presented to the EU e-Gov awards, the largest e-Gov event in the EU. According to Xavier Heymans, CEO of Zea Partners, the community is looking to make PloneGov an international project and is calling for EU funding. ZEA is working with Irish member OpenApp to launch a similar project in Ireland. (Golden C., PloneGov looks for support as it prepares for Irish launch, in IT's Monday, Ireland, July 07)

PloneGov depends primarily on Zope and Plone, two open source tools that provided the initial foundation for the close collaboration between small and mid-sized businesses, the open source community and the public sector. The PloneGov project has developed a module for ordering administrative docs online, a town council management tool that is already in use by 16 local governments according to Heymans, a business directory, and local government websites.

Plone is a content management system which allows people with no or limited technical knowledge to provide with content a tool interfaced in web mode, enabling them, for instance, to update the content of a website. Zope, the application server, includes basic modules such as access management and security, as well as a workflow system, a web server and a database.

According to Heymans, PloneGov fills a niche in the public sector, where its methods of working and delivery are not best served by proprietary software. ‘The most obvious benefit is a greater independence from IT service providers and cheaper costs,’ said Heymans in an interview with ITs Monday.‘But for local government, it is also a far more ‘user friendly’way to work with it. For instance, instead of being alone and dealing with proprietary software, they can pool their resources. Local government and other public sector bodies frequently only have one person working in IT. The PloneGov scheme can also offer economy of scale. When a town joins a project they can re-use the tools that have been developed by earlier participants. New entrants can use the development infrastructure of other towns for EUR 500 when developing their own sites and software tools, avoiding license fees. Any new software developed within the project is published with -General Public License (GPL).’

So far, PloneGov has garnered support in 27 countries, according to Heymans, from expressions of interest to full blown implementation. ZEA Partners is working with OpenApp in Ireland to kick start similar initiatives. While OpenApp could not go into detail about the specifics of the project, Mel McIntyre, MD of OpenApp, did say that OpenApp has developed a Geographic Information and Analysis System, based on open source components, for a public sector client. The system is built on CPS/Plone and the core components are being packaged as a component for PloneGov, which OpenApp will support in Ireland.

While the grass roots support is encouraging, what Heymans is really looking for is international collaboration, to create a Plone network that spans Europe. ‘Towns in Belgium and Switzerland are already collaborating on PloneGov as they found what it takes to manage a town in either country is the same,’ he said. ‘Such collaboration would be possible between the public sector and SMEs all over Europe. However, funding is a problem and we are hoping that the publicity from the awards will make us more attractive for EU funding. At the moment the towns involved have to find the money themselves and while each participant pools their resources, PloneGov desperately needs structural funding for tasks not related to development such as administration. Politicians are wary of spending public money on new projects but PloneGov is very different from other projects and the EU needs to support it.