openFWPA: Open Framework for the Public Administration (openFWPA)

Published on: 12/05/2009
Document

The government of the Principality of Asturias, a region in the north of Spain, has been developing since 2004 a platform for creating advanced services in electronic government for citizens and businesses. This has allowed the Principality of Asturias to stand in the leading position regarding the services offered in comparison to the rest of the regions in Spain for the last two consecutive years, measured with the e-Europe methodology.

OpenFWPA was published as Free / Open Source Software last year under both the LGPL and the EUPL licenses, with the goal of trying to create a community around this platform and make it easier for everyone, public or private organization, to develop advanced services by using this technology.

The software is developed in J2EE technology, under a SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) paradigm, and is structured in layers.

Currently all the systems developed for the administration of the Principality of Asturias are developed using this technology, and many applications have been deployed and are being used by the citizens. Of the 26 services analyzed by the Orange Foundation, based on the e-Europe Framework, a coverage of 91% for the 16 services offered for citizens that are analyzed and 93% of the 10 services offered to businesses, which means an increase of 18% and 12% in comparison with last year's, respectively. This could only have been achieved due to the previous development of openFWPA and the electronic government model represented on it. Some other thematic portals are also being integrated into this infrastructure.

The web portal has also been certified by AENOR (Asociación Española de Normalización y Certificación) to have a conformance level Double-A of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, including all Priority 1 and Priority 2 checkpoints defined in the Guidelines.

All this has been achieved due to the design, development and deployment of a uniform and consistent framework, based on Free / Open Source Software components and being Free / Open Source Software itself. The framework, openFWPA, has been developed by different local companies, in a project lead by the Principality of Asturias itself, thus promoting regional ICT businesses at the same time.

Policy Context

In May 2004, the Government of the Principality of Asturias considered launching an ambitious e-government programme that could improve and expand the services it was offering up to the moment, and also allow that the administration, the citizens and the companies contact it without timetables thus avoiding the need for travel and queues.

During the evaluation stage of the project, the need for having a new framework which could serve as a base for all the new developments that were going to be made, started to emerge. At that moment there were more than 800 servers, with almost 500 applications developed in more than 20 different development environments. To maintain this scheme made things even more complicated, as it meant higher costs in different aspects like integration, training, operation, etc.

Instead of contracting a big consulting company to build it, another strategic decision was taken. It was decided that the framework was going to be developed by local companies, thus improving at the same time the local ICT business environment and increasing productivity and the richness of the region. The development was carried out in coordination by different companies, providing at the same time, knowledge transfer.

Description of target users and groups

The Principality of Asturias is an Autonomous community within the kingdom of Spain situated on the Spanish north coast. It has a total of 10,604 km² of surface and a population of 1,076,896 inhabitants (2.4% of Spain), having as such a population density of 101,56 people/km². Asturias has a rough orography, with an extensive coastline, rugged coastal cliffs and a mountainous inland. The regional government of Asturias holds comprehensive competencies in important areas such as health, education and protection of the environment.

Citizens and businesses in Asturias use the electronic services provided by the Public Administration slightly more than the Spanish average. In the last year, 58.20% of the Spanish citizens have used the services to get information, and 22.50% of them to send filled forms back to the Administration, compared with the 55.40% and 21.80% of the Spanish average respectively. 52.60% of the businesses in Asturias that use Internet have interacted with the Administration through this means in 2007, in comparison to 49.00% of the Spanish average.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

We had the idea of creating a common single development environment for all the applications, which was based on a single technology and in which modules, components, and reusable services could be used to create powerful applications and new services by composition. A puzzle where all the pieces were made with the same material and which allowed us to render more and better services through the new communication channels like the Internet or the telephone.

When we started building openFWPA we realized that an important number of pieces were going to be necessary (logging libraries, XML parser, a MVC controller, etc.). After identifying and classifying the needs we went to the world of the open source software, where we found a high number of high quality projects that were backed by powerful communities. We then understood that it was possible to build openFWPA by completely using Free and Open Source Software. The use of this kind of software would be to the benefit of the community, making possible that third parties could use our software like we were doing with the software that the community was putting at our disposal.

As in many other successful projects, openFWPA started as a small project that began growing by means of multiple iterations. Its evolution has been developed thanks to basic requirements which have been increasing with time and usage. The first version of FWPA began in May 2004, and was published in September of the same year. After a month and a half, the two first applications were released.

The leadership and coordination of the project has always been done from the Government of the Principality of Asturias, and the development itself has been carried out by a multi-company group formed from people from different ICT companies in Asturias, working in coordination together. This has allowed us not only to develop a better system, because of the plurality of participants, but has also allowed a knowledge transmission among all the members, improving the efficiency and increasing the knowledge and technology available for the companies in the region, thus making the ICT local business more competitive, promoting the creation of employment and enriching the region.

Nowadays, the current version of openFWPA counts on more than 100,000 lines of code and supports more than 165 applications installed in production in the Administration of the Principality of Asturias. Likewise, there are business organizations that have developed systems for their clients using this technology. It is a mature and ready product to be used by any other public and private organization that might be interested in it.

Technology solution

openFWPA is essentially a development framework for electronic administration and e-government systems based on the J2EE technology that allows facilitating the design, implementation, and maintenance of the applications. It consists of more than 100,000 code lines developed by the Principality of Asturias, with a stability and solidity which are indicators of the tens of production systems that work on it.

The development of applications from a framework has many advantages: reuse, homogenization, better quality and lower cost: in maintenance and training.

This technology has made possible the creation of information systems for public employees and the collaboration with other Administrations and electronic services for citizens through the corporate web portal. FWPA has been a key element in the success of the model of E-Government implemented by the Principality of Asturias, which has allowed it to be a point of reference at national level.

The two main objectives pursued in the design and construction of openFWPA are:

- Simplification and homogenization of the development process of applications: this way openFWPA provides reusable architecture and a series of tools and libraries that implement some of the most usual components in web applications that have a boring writing. All this means a lesser total cost of ownership (TCO) of the solutions developed on openFWPA.

- Definition of standards in development, quality and acceptance: it is a group of compulsory guidelines aimed at demanding and ensuring minimum levels of quality in the applications.

openFWPA has the following characteristics:

- It is based on several Free and Open Source Software components.

- Use of design patterns for the design and construction of the framework as well as the applications developed in it.

- Use of standards. For the design of openFWPA the use and incorporation of standards like XHTML and CSS2 have been fostered. The use of design patterns and standards has important advantages regarding the adaptability and longevity of the applications.

- Corporate appearance. In order that the applications can be integrated into the rest of the web portal at functional level with a suitable appearance, openFWPA includes a series of templates and components with which the presentation layer is built.

- Incorporation of mechanisms to facilitate the integration with other systems.

- Support for the life cycles of the applications that go beyond their development and operation, and that are extended to the configuration, migration, and operation in the different environments in which they have to be used.

Technology choice: Standards-based technology, Accessibility-compliant (minimum WAI AA), Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

Currently, of the 1101 different procedures available on the web portal www.asturias.es, 639 of them are targeted at businesses and 462 at citizens, 582 (53%) are 4th stage procedures, which means a full electronic procedure. Other 141 (13%) are 3rd stage procedures (bidirectional interaction), 295 (27%) 2nd stage (unidirectional interaction) and 66 (6%) are 1st stage ones (only information available). Only 17 (2%) are 0 stage procedures (no information).

Of the different channels available for the tramitation of the procedures, the web portal is being used 56.2% of the times (24676 times), in comparison with in person channel used 43.7% of the times (19187 times). An increase in the usage of the web channel has been clearly shown in the last 3 years.

According to the yearly analysis made by the Orange Foundation, based in the e-Europe Framework, the level of availability of electronic services to the citizens (16 services out of the 26 analyzed) has increased from 73.44% in 2007 to 91% in 2008 (Spanish average has increased from 54.96% to 69%), and the level of availability of the services offered to businesses (the other 10 services out of the 26 analyzed) have increased from 82.5% in 2007 to 93% in 2008 (Spanish average has moved from 47.76% in 2007 to 64% in 2008). This leading position couldn't have been achieved without the foundation established by the development of the openFWPA J2EE Framework.

Accessibility has also been seriously taken into account since the beginning, to grant equal opportunities to all the citizens accessing the digital services, whatever their situation or limitations are. The web portal has been certified to have a conformance level Double-A of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 by AENOR (Asociación Española de Normalización y Certificación).

Additionally, the employment in the ICT sector in Asturias has increased from 3318 people in 2000 to 4900 in 2006, with an increase in the ICT business sector in Asturias from 450.08 millions of euros in 2000 to 702.15 millions of euros in 2006. Even though the involvement of the local ICT businesses in the development of the electronic government system of the Principality of Asturias has not been the only measure taken to increase it, it clearly shows that a positive result has been achieved.

 

The number of businesses in the ICT sector in Asturias in comparison with the whole of Spain has increased from 1,38% in 2006 to 1,68% in 2007, and also if they're compared with the total number of business in Asturias, moving up from 0,732% in 2006 to 0,8% in 2008.

Track record of sharing

We believe that our e-Government model and the knowledge we've gathered through its development can easily be used as a foundation for other administrations to develop their own.

We are in the process of releasing all the code as Free / Open Source Software under both the LGPL and the EUPL licenses, with the goal of trying to create a community around this platform and make it easier for everyone, public or private organizations, to develop advanced services by using this technology. The core of the system has already been released and is publicly available at http://www.asturias.es/openFWPA for anyone who wants it.

We’re liberating it in coordination with the Morfeo Project community, a Free / Open Source community with the purpose of creating and providing an open collaborative framework for businesses from all sizes (ranging from multinational companies to SMEs), universities, research and development centers and the Public Administration. Among Morfeo Project goals are the promotion of open standards and Free Software and the encouragement of cooperation among different organizations.

Lessons learnt

The first and more important lesson learnt from the design and development of openFWPA is that, in fact, a standard and uniform framework is needed for developing and maintaining an integrated e-Government system. Investing some resources in designing a coherent e-Government model and standardizing and developing the foundations of it makes it possible to develop and maintain all the services that both citizens and businesses will need, as well as making it easier for the administration to manage them. The success of the e-Government system of the Principality of Asturias wouldn't have been possible without openFWPA.

An additional important lesson is that involving regional ICT businesses in the development of the system improves the economical development of the region. Involving the technological businesses in a joint effort helps to improve the competitiveness by promoting knowledge transfer and investment in research and development that helps create richness and employment in the region. Using and promoting Free / Open Source Software has helped a lot to achieve this, as the result can be shared and improved in a bazaar style, depending only from closed products when it is needed.

Finally, but not less important, developing an integrated e-Government system is not only a technological issue, but involves managing a big organizational change in all the systems involved. The development of the system must be synchronized with changes in the organization and the setting of proper policies to guarantee a proper coupling between both worlds. A public administration is a big machine in which all its gears and wheels must move at the same pace, and that has a lot of inertia. Thus, it is important to take proper care of managing the changes right.

Scope: Regional (sub-national)