Gironde (Bordeaux) to develop an online shared archiving service based on open source

Published on: 07/12/2016
Last update: 15/10/2017

Launched four years ago, the SAEM project in France is supported by the Departmental Council of Gironde, the City of Bordeaux and the Urban Community of Bordeaux. It aims to provide an electronic archiving service for all documents that require storage for either the short or the long term. The project is based on an open partnership between administrations to pool financial and development resources.

The SAEM archive system explained

Policy Context

  • French public archives are subject to rules set out in Book II of the Code du Patrimoine (Heritage Code), which is designed to guarantee the protection, authenticity and quality of archives.
  • Each administration is responsible for maintaining its own archive repository. The General Code of Regional Administrations (CGCT – Code General des Collectivités Territoriales) specifies that local administrations have a legal obligation to set up their own local archives and bear the related costs.
  • Official documents in digital form are now legally considered to be administrative documents and must be archived accordingly. Under French law, a public document enters the archive as soon as it is created.
  • The Interministerial Committee for Archives (Comité Interministériel aux Archives de France) has designed a general framework to manage public archives (Référentiel Général de Gestion des Archives - PDF). This document is a compilation of all the rules and recommendations administrations need to build and maintain their archives.
  • The law of 26 June 2014 on electronic invoicing requires local and regional administrations to digitise all invoices relating to public suppliers from 1 January 2017. From this date, they will be legally obliged to use Chorus Pro, a public portal which centralises all the processes related to public invoicing.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The Departmental Council of Gironde, working with the city of Bordeaux and the Urban Community of Bordeaux, has developed an online electronic archiving system that can be used by all administrations. The SAEM (Système d’Archivage Électronique Mutualisé) project, documented at, aims to provide a technical foundation for public archives that will suit the business needs of both local and regional administrations. It includes an in-house service for operators of local archives, and a system that can be deployed in other IT infrastructures under an open source licence.

The project was prototyped between 2012 and 2014. In 2015, the partners decided to add further features. Final release and global implementation are scheduled to take place between the end of 2016 and 2018.

The system provides archiving functions through three modules which respectively:

  • Manage the master archiving data. The open source software CubicWeb (Logilab) was selected for this task. To guarantee the system’s long-term suitability, CubicWeb builds a framework for data and metadata that is independent and standardised. It is harvestable through the OAI-PMH protocol as well as a RESTful API.
  • Manage exchanges between the stakeholders. Alfresco Community Edition was used here, with a specific archival module developed on top.
  • Manage and secure data conservation and sustainability. The Addulact software As@lae was chosen for this job. Adullact develops and maintains free software for the public sector in France.

A shared service built on an open partnership

This project is based on the principle of an open partnership between administrations. Any public institution can join the programme. Commitments are defined in a dedicated contract.

To become a partner, an administration needs to:

  • Share its human resources. Local or regional administrations that join the programme must provide one project manager in charge of archiving and one IT project manager. These people must give one day a week to the project.
  • Share its financial resources to support the development platform. The partner contribute EUR 70,000 a year to finance the development, updating and maintenance of the project.

Open source, a foundation for the open partnership

Cost, usually cited as a key argument for open source, was not a primary motivation for Pascal Romain, the product owner at the Departmental Council of Gironde, who was in charge of the project. Instead, he says, the main reasons for choosing open source software were:

  • Breaking new ground, since there were no existing open source solutions tailored to the particular needs of the project;
  • Providing an agile and open framework, and allowing partners to participate in the development process, as the project is based on an open partnership;
  • Giving access to the source code and being able to give it back if partners decide to leave the project. they can then deploy it internally or build their own shared system ; 
  • Taking advantage of the efficient support available from the open source community;
  •  Managing testing and software safety. Open source simplifies code audits to assess security and conformity with standards. This in turn allows IT experts to certify the software.
  • Building applications based on a linked data model (RDF) to promote interoperability and sustainability.

But selecting open source components also raised some questions. Pascal Romain cited a lack of transparency in the governance model of the Adullact open source group, and in the roadmap for the community edition of Alfresco. He also noted the poor usability of CubicWeb: “It suits advanced users, but the user interface is not so attractive, which makes adoption difficult for people with less experience.”

Hosted by the department of Gironde

Provided as system as-a-service, the new archiving system is hosted on the infrastructure of the department of Gironde, on two 30 terabyte servers. The Bordeaux Métropole provides a tape backup service.

The archiving service will be used to archive photos, text and videos, Pascal Romain said.

Technology solution

Technology choice: Standards-based technology, Open source software

Return on investment

The project is currently funded by just three administrations, who each have to pay an annual contribution of EUR 70,000. Building an open partnership would decrease both the investment and the maintenance costs for each user, and would also improve the project’s roadmap.

According to Pascal Romain, the total cost of the project across all the partners is EUR 200,000 per year. Over four years, the global budget was EUR 800,000, including the prototype phase.

Lessons learnt

Local administrations still need encouragement to pool resources

“Many administrations are struggling to pool resources and develop collaborative structures,” Romain said. As a result, the portfolio of open source software for administrations is sparse. “While some projects are really successful, globally the open source portfolio addresses only a small part of the business needs. We cannot find open source business applications for all our needs.”

The effectiveness of pooling is also reduced because each administration has its own requirements and business needs, and therefore typically tries to solve problems on its own. “To get around this issue, giving priority is crucial,” says Romain. “Administrations do not need to have all the options from the start. But CIOs are still too focused on their own business needs.”

Open source brings agility

Open source is a means to implement agile methodology when developing software for local and regional administrations. In this project, using short iterations has allowed the administrations to:

  • Stay focused on business needs and develop primary functions and features; and
  • Get a clearer view of costs, since components are developed only when they are needed.

Scope: Regional (sub-national)


Type of document
Open source case study