In 2006 the Norwegian region of Kongsberg launched a portal to coordinate and administrate courses and trainings for municipality staff. The solution was developed with open source tools, as a common effort of all seven municipalities of the Kongsberg region. Once the project was working successfully, other municipalities and organisations became interested and wanted to use the portal as well. The Kongsberg region eventually published FriKomPort, as the portal was called, as a free software application under the GPL. The portal today is used by more than 50 organisations, and practically all users are very confident about the solution. For the future the FriKomPort leaders hope to share the portal with even more municipalities by publishing an English version.
Norway is a country with vast landscapes and long distances in between its 431 municipalities. The municipality plays an important role, since it provides the framework for primary education, unemployment, health, and other social services. As most municipalities are rather small however, budget restraints are evident in most communities. An example of this can be seen in the Kongsberg region, which is one of 19 Norwegian administrative regions, and which includes seven municipalities near the town of Kongsberg. It was in 2005 that Britt Inger Kolset, the region's ICT program coordinator, came up with the idea for a project to solve a problem that all the municipalities shared. They all offer courses for their staff concerning issues such as information about the municipality's ICT system, public law, or public health, which every employee has to attend at some point. To administer and coordinate these courses, Kolset recognised that there was a need for a system that would make it easier for people to register for courses, and for the organisers to inform participants about changes. This was the starting point for the development of the Fri KompentansePortal (Free Competence Portal), FriKomPort. The portal was developed using open source tools, and its code is freely available for reuse under the GPL. After initially being used only by the seven municipalities in the Kongsberg region, the number of organizations and municipalities that use it today has risen to 58.
Description of target users and groups
Generally the users of the FriKomPort system are either those offering courses, and those who register for a course using the system. The municipalities often have courses that train the people working for the municipality in the ICT infrastructure, social or legal issues, and so forth. These courses are very easily put on the system, and registering for them is just as easy.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
Initially the FriKomPort project was only intended to serve the seven municipalities of the Kongsberg region: Flesberg, Kongsberg, Nore and Uvdal, Notodden, Rollag, Tinn and Ã˜vre Eiker. All seven municipalities had the same troubles in the administration of their courses, and sharing this development was going to simplify their internal processes substantially. Although their courses were mostly aimed at one municipality at a time, FriKomPort has also made it much easier to organise courses for staff from several of the municipalities. This helps to save time and money, e.g. by making sure that courses are fully booked, even if a single town does not have enough staff to fill the ranks. After about half a year of successfully running the platform, other municipalities started to hear about FriKomPort and the interest for the project grew all across Norway. Step by step, the number of regions and municipalities increased from the initial seven to 58 public bodies, 50 of which were municipalities and eight other organisations from the educational and the political sector. Among them are the municipality of Arendal, and the University of Agder. Both came across FriKomPort after being in contact with Kolset, the alleged â€œmother of the systemâ€, as described by Brit Maria Marcussen from the municipality of Arendal, which makes use of FriKomPort.
FriKomPort was developed with Java and PHP. This kept the costs to a minimum, while at the same time ensuring functionality and sustainability of software. The content management system behind FriKomPort is eZ Publish, which is also freely available under GPL license. For the database functionalities, Know IT, the company that developed the software, relied on MySQL, which allows multi-user access to all databases on the system. This core element of FriKomPort is also available under the GPL. The development work itself only took about three month until the project was out of its beta phase. At first, Know IT presented a demo of the platform to the ICT department of the Kongsberg region. Then, after discussing the software, additional functions were added and bugs resolved, until the software was fully functional in mid-2006.
Technology choice: Open source software
Main results, benefits and impacts
For the municipalities and organisations that use FriKomPort, the administration and coordination of internal courses and trainings has improved substantially with the platform. As the hosted solution is quite cost effective and requires virtually no maintenance, even municipalities with smaller budgets and fewer resources can employ it in their system. The number of people using FriKomPort on a daily basis probably goes well in the thousands. In the municipality of Arendal alone the number of users is between 1500 and 2000. There, since the start of FriKomPort in early 2007, 421 courses have been registered on the platform. This is a similar picture in most other regions, and, depending on the size, the users are usually in the thousands.
In contrast to many other software solutions, be they proprietary or open source, FriKomPort appears to be working at very low costs and with very little problems. In addition, the fact that hardly any training is required to understand the system equally underlines the success of the portal. The developers were thus making sure that the software may be as easily usable as possible, which contributed to the portal's success tremendously. Another important aspect for the success is the application service provider, which enables even small communities with very limited resources to use the system. As there is no maintenance necessary, and no new hardware required, the solution is ideal for most municipalities. At very low cost any municipality can make use of the services of the application service provider. According to Terje Sagstad, Chief Engineer at the IT Department of the University of Agder, the portal is successful, â€œbecause we are taking FriKomPort beyond the initial free software code and embed it in a chain of value added services in the organizationsâ€. It is thus not only a free piece of software with no support, but instead a growing product with a healthy community that develops the software continuously.