Government Department goes for Open-Source Tech
4 October 2006
Government Department future proofs website
The Companies Office, a unit of the Ministry of Economic Development, has launched a new website. What is special about the new website is that it is based on ‘Open Source’ software. It is only the third government department to do so but the first one of the “top five” Government sites in NZ (by number of visitors).
The product being used by the Ministry is “Plone”, which is one of the most commonly used Open Source systems for managing website content. Igniter was enlisted by the Ministry to evaluate strategic implications of using an open source content management system for the department.
Stefan Korn of Igniter said today: “The beauty of Plone is that it provides an easy, attractive installation that gives you a professional system without the numerous downsides of commercial packages. The community that have developed and supported it have been passionate about the user experience, and much time has gone into refining and finishing the product.”
“This complete system for managing information competes head to head with major proprietary content management systems. For large organisations, such as government departments, the use of mature open source systems such as Plone provides a real alternative to achieve shorter implementation cycles and a much higher degree of end-user customisation,” Mr Korn said.
Notable users of Plone internationally include NASA, Government of Hawaii, Lufthansa, and University College London.
Justin Hygate, Group Manager Business Registries, of the Companies Office, said: “It would be naïve to think that Plone is free. However the money we saved on software licenses was spent on shaping Plone the way we want it. Going forward we will not be spending money every year on licensing, but we will spend that money on enhancing the system. In this start-up phase Igniter helped us fill in the gaps and made recommendations on how we could best use the system.”
“What sold us on Plone was the user experience and versatility – open standards meant that integrating existing software modules was relatively easy. Plone, rather than the proprietary systems available meant we could have a seamless user experience without the need for using several windows and pop-ups. Under the other systems we found we couldn’t apply transactions and web management in the same window. Plone also fully complies with Government access requirements as set by the States Services Commission.”
“We have been on the Internet for 10 years and have a huge amount of experience in the way users interact with our sites. The Ministry of Economic Development manages 27 sites and the lion’s share of these are in the Business Services branch and are all interfacing with the customers. The savings and learnings using Plone can be repeated over at least 10 more sites,” Mr Hygate said.
Currently the Companies Office is utilising a standard version of Plone but the capability is there to add blogs, wikis and other interactive mechanisms like podcasts. Mr Hygate said the office is very keen to introduce interaction between not only itself and its customers but also customer-to-customer interaction. “It will aid enormously in clearing up any misconceptions people have and misinformation they have about doing business in New Zealand. The Ministry has a role to create an environment which encourages business creativity within New Zealand and the use of Plone is living proof of this.”
“The Companies Office is keen to ensure that we keep in touch with the trends that occur within the use of the Internet as a business enabler. Igniter has been invaluable in providing exposure to these trends, such as Web 2 and the technologies that support them,” Mr Hygate said.
Stefan Korn adds, “I fully expect open source systems to become much more common in the public and private sectors going forward as decision-makers are increasingly tired of vendor lock-in, proprietary interfaces, and ongoing licence or upgrade costs. In a number of application areas such as content management we firmly believe that open source systems provide the best implementation option at present”.
The other government departments and agencies currently using Plone are: The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the E-Government Unit, and the Electricity Commission. More are expected to follow, given that the State Services Commission has written a favourable report on the use of Open Source and Plone.