Local Government considers open source software strategy

15 Feb 2011

The Local Government Computer Services Board is evaluating a strategic move to open source software now that its long-standing agreement to use Microsoft technology has come to an end.

Several years ago, the local government sector signed up to a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement. That contract came to an end in December 2009. Now the LGMA has set up a division to look into open data and open source solutions in its sector.

LGMA is a merger between the Local Government Computer Services Board and the Local Government Management Services Board. Yesterday, the organisation has issued a request for information aimed at checking the potential supply of software and services from providers in Ireland.

To date, almost all of the local government infrastructure and business applications run on Microsoft server platforms. “While it is not our intention to ‘rip and replace’ existing working solutions, we have a number of potential requirements for new solutions and are interested in more open applications,” the RFI document said.

The notice comes just as it emerged that Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, has implemented SugarCRM, the open source customer relationship management package. Last year, a report from Accenture found many organisations in both the public and private sectors are now putting strategies in place for open source, having been convinced of its benefits.

This wouldn’t be local government’s first go at open source. To save money, it moved some of the infrastructure for its ill-fated Mobhaile citizens’ information website onto OSS. The site was ultimately shut down after five years.

In the RFI document, the LGMA said it sees potential in several areas from adopting an open source and open data strategy. According to the RFI document, the benefits include:

  • Innovation and integration of new capabilities and collaboration with the local open source community;
  • Agility and open standards from an adoption of loosely coupled architectures with a resultant improvement in capabilities, quality, reliability, and robustness;
  • Broader proliferation of government data with the resultant improvement in quality and usability.

LGMA recognises the inherent challenges with changing its software strategy, in terms of learning curve, management, intellectual property rights, governance and licensing. It is also important to note that as a result of the most recent strategy, Local Government has had a largely stable, secure and robust technical environment and wishes this would remain, regardless of future technical platform.

The agency has earmarked five areas where it thinks OSS could be used. These are: desktop office tools, like a word processor and spreadsheet; content management systems; document management, case management and CRM; back-office systems, including database, operating system, email and firewall; and lastly, geographic information systems.

The closing date for interested providers is 11 March. LGMA said it intends to hold workshops in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland with interested parties in each of the five category areas and with Local Government bodies also committed to those areas.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic