Open eGov, a collaborative software ecosystem (Open eGov)

Published on: 20/05/2008

The City of Newport News developed Open eGov, a web software application which is available to any other local government and it is offered free of charge. We are creating a Plone based collaborative software ecosystem, where government organizations, non-profits and the private sector work together to share the cost of enhanced capabilities. The larger the community that shares the application, the more potential benefits derived by each participant. Improvements to the software may be provided or funded by any organization. All participating organizations benefit from any one’s contributions at no additional cost and with no restrictions. The objective is to deliver on-line web services to citizens most effectively and efficiently by reducing or eliminating the duplication of effort between localities through sharing and collaboration.

Policy Context

The City of Newport News has a population of 185,000 and it is part of the Hampton Roads region together with Norfolk, Hampton, Virginia Beach and others. Our highest priority IT initiative is to replace most of our legacy mainframe applications running our mission critical software such as finance, purchasing, police, taxation, utilities, etc… At the same time our web software was in need for replacement as well. With most IT funds applied to legacy replacement initiatives, we needed a less costly replacement of the web software. We aimed for low cost not only through implementation, but throughout the life-cycle. The collaborative ecosystem of Open eGov and PloneGov (a multi-national collaborative using the same technology) will provide the best long term value at least cost. Our City Manager and City Council are fully aware and supportive of our collaborative software implementation strategies. We are pursuing collaborative opportunities on multiple fronts, not limited to open source technologies. We’ve been working with eCityGov Alliance ( to reuse their technology in the Hampton Roads region. We’ve been also working with the Taxation Collaborative in North Carolina (NCPTS) to bring it to Virginia. There are multiple ways to create collaborative ecosystems that benefit everyone and our management is very interested and supportive.

Description of target users and groups

Open eGov is the first eGovernment collaborative software available to local governments in the US. The software is scalable and rich in functionality and a good fit for all organizations. Large organizations may carry the burden for smaller municipalities with fewer resources, while still saving money compared to the alternatives. The collaborative may be of significant importance to smaller localities which could not afford a web Content Management System. All organizations benefit from the growth in functionality provided by the participants. Citizens benefit from more functionality, faster deployment schedules, less cost and more standardization of web access to government.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

We are creating a collaborative open source software ecosystem, where government organizations, non-profits and the private sector work together to share the cost of enhanced capabilities. There are no costs involved in joining the collaborative or acquiring the software or the knowledge base. We rely on expertise from the private sector in multiple ways. Most localities implementing the software do not have the technical skills to manage the implementation process on their own. Vendors are well equipped to serve them. As new features and capabilities are identified which are not already provided as part of the Plone software base, the vendor community is a good source to provide them in an effective manner and with high quality. If a locality contracts with a vendor to implement a given functionality, then the same functionality becomes available to all localities. There is no need for another locality to duplicate the effort and re-create the same functionality. In general, localities will use their funds to create new and additional value for the collaborative. The open source General Public License (GPL) insures that there will not be restrictions imposed on enhancements in terms of copy and distribution.

Technology solution

Open eGov is a web Content Management System. We used open source software Plone/Zope and added specific functionality for local government. The outcome was Open eGov, which is provided in open source format and free of charge. The software is provided with full documentation, training material and related knowledge base. All information, including the software download and knowledge base is available online:

Main results, benefits and impacts

What we believe is most unique about Open eGov is that it is a solution that is available and applicable to all organizations free of charge. The software may also be applicable to other government agencies, non-profits or the private sector. All the benefits we derived from our project could be derived by all other organizations that choose to participate at no additional cost to them, other then the cost of engaging a vendor to meet their particular need (delta cost – pay only for unique requirements). The future benefits that could be derived from this collaboration are even greater since enhancements funded by any one will be available to all at no additional cost and with no restrictions. The local impact is important for us. Service delivery to citizens has been improved by empowering city departments to manage their own content and publish it directly to the web without going through IT. o We also use the same technology for our Intranet, where we experimented with more open source technologies like wiki and blogs and integrated them together with Plone. We developed a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tool which provides full transparency into the status and deliverables of all projects in the organization. It starts with a top level color coded dashboard which allows for flexible filtering of projects with relevancy to the user. Through filtering, the user may see a dashboard of IT projects, or projects managed by a particular Project Manager, or active projects for the Police Department, or tagged “legacy replacement”, etc…. From the dashboard, all projects are available at detail level through drill-down. PPM is provided as a component of Open eGov. The website offers many fully executable online transactions supporting interaction with citizens, businesses and other government agencies including: • Payment of bills, taxes, fees, fines o Water Bills o Personal Property, Real Estate, State Income Taxes o Storm Water Fees o Parking Ticket Fines • Submit employment applications • Register for recreation classes and children’s programs • Renew Library books • Report criminal activity Register as a vendor • Ask-A-Librarian services • Apply for Council boards, commissions and committees • Register for Library programs • Reserve picnic shelters • Submit property maintenance complaints • Submit traffic signal and sign complaints • Submit smoke alarm installation request

Return on investment

Return on investment: €500-999,000

Track record of sharing

On August 24, 2007, Open eGov joined almost 100 other government organizations from Europe, Africa and South America and merged with the PloneGov project. 4 cities and 1 county from USA and Belgium are already using software developed by Open eGov. Many more expected to join over time.

Lessons learnt

Lesson 1 - Be open to collaboration from the start Lesson 2 - Use proven methods of project management and methodology. Lesson 3 - The popular open source methodology of ‘release early, release often’ fits well with the user interaction and uptake. All applications developed within Health Atlas are web-based and directly accessible trough a browser. Lesson 4 - Multidisciplinary team. Health Atlas Ireland project team counts on a vast range of complementary skills from Public Sector organizations, academics and providers with a strong focus on SME. The project team should have strong focus on usability to facilitate the technology uptake, while multidisciplinary expertise for is required to develop such a complex solution.

Scope: Local (city or municipality), Regional (sub-national)