Sonneburgh: OpenOffice deployment in Rotterdam

In 2003 there has been a noticable trend of public organisations considering to migrate (or already migrating) to OpenOffice (1) . Large-scale examples include the French Ministry of Interior and the city of Munich, but small cases are also common. This paper looks at such a small-scale application in a residential care centre for ill or elderly people, located in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. We look at what has been done and why it makes sense for them to use OpenOffice



OpenOffice deployment in Rotterdam
Sonneburgh is a foundation that has its roots in the Dutch Reformed Church. When founded in 1949, it was located in an old farm and was able to house and/or nurse 20 people, most of whom were war victims. Today it consists of a professional nursery with daycare for the physically ill and disabled, three care houses and two living complexes. Spread over the city of Rotterdam, these six locations are able to provide health care to 90 patients and residential care to about 700 elderly people. The Sonneburgh foundation employs around 500 people, including doctors, nurses and physicians.

Health care and care for the elderly is all about people. Maybe that is one of the reasons why computers have had such a low uptake. At the Sonneburgh foundation, IT is mainly used for light administration purposes and office automation. The number of PCs is limited to around 45 workspaces, but is growing slowly.

The main application in use at the foundation is the patient administration "GIS" ("gezondheids informatiesysteem"), which contains all the patient information, such as their Electronic Care Record, nutrition history and location in the facility. It effectively only runs on the Microsoft Windows platform.

OpenOffice deployment in Rotterdam1

When it comes to IT spending, the general rule at the Sonneburgh foundation is simple: \'There is no money, period.\' Systems in use are supposed to be used at least for some years to come. When new systems are needed, they are bought second hand from a local computer store.

Traditionally the financial controller of the foundation had IT in his portfolio, but some years ago it became too big to handle next to his other responsibilities. A full-time system administrator was hired, Mr. Johan van Schie.

One of the first things Van Schie did was an inventory of all the hardware and software in use. In this process, he found out that some of the installed software had been copied and installed without valid licenses over time. This practice did not surprise him, but it was clear that this situation could not continue.

Introducing OpenOffice

Van Schie also did a scan of suitable applications to meet the office needs such as writing documents. Having no money to spend, he played around with OpenOffice for a while.

He comments: "I installed it at home and started using it. Immediately I liked the fact that it very much resembles MS Office. Icons, menus and layouts are very recognisable. The word processor [called "Writer"] tends to be more predictable than MS Word, especially when working with images in documents."

One of the things Van Schie tried out was the conversion from MS Office formats to OpenOffice. It turned out to be pretty compatible. 92% of the results were fine and 7% had some layout issues or the conversion of some of the embedded images was flawed. Only 1% of all the documents could not be worked with at all, but he calculated that this would come down to about four or five unusable documents in the initial year.

After discussing the results with his supervisors, they agreed that the foundation should slowly start introducing OpenOffice to the employee\'s desktop systems. That said, Van Schie knew that he had to proceed with care if it was to be successful.

"Most of the users are nurses, who have hardly ever used a PC. They used Wordpad to type letters. On the one hand, this can be beneficial, as they have no previous experience with MS Office. On the other, it can also be time-consuming, as you have to train and guide them to do some of the most basic things."

One-by-one Van Schie installed OpenOffice on the workstations. Every new user was introduced to the application by a short demonstration on the different functions. He was also on stand-by to trouble-shoot, should new users encounter problems. At other times, Van Schie would just appear and show them some small trick on how to do their work faster.


The initial reactions of the users were mostly sceptical. A few had done courses in MS Office and were afraid to have to start learning all over again. Others had seen their children or spouses use MS Office at home and felt the free office suite to be second rate.

\'The cost and benefits were clear. There was no affordable alternative, so it was either OpenOffice or nothing,\' Van Schie said. \'After explaining this a couple of times, most of the users understood this and accepted the choice.\'

The attitude of the users slowly turned around as they were guided and learned more about how to use it. Some of them even got enthusiastic as they found the software to be helpful in performing their own tasks.

What was important in retrospect was that one of the doctors also started using OpenOffice. Pretty quickly he started liking it and went around advocating the software amongst his co-workers. This had the effect that nurses accepted it more quickly and Van Schie could shake off the remains of his \'bad guy\' image.
OpenOffice deployment in Rotterdam2


Presently only one of the locations of the Sonneburgh foundation uses OpenOffice. The others will follow in the near future, where it will become the default on all PCs.

Use of OpenOffice has influenced the image of Open Source Software in general. Currently working on the foundation\'s networking capabilities and internet access, Van Schie intends to start implementing these using Open Source Software, citing security as one of the main advantages of such a solution.

"In the future, we are going to see whether a migration to Linux on the desktop is feasible. By starting to take this possibility into account when making choices on our application portfolio, I suspect that at one point in time this exercise will be fairly trivial."

References homepage

The Sonneburgh foundation is currently working on its internet connectivity and does not have its own website yet. The information presented in this case study was gathered by interviews. For more information, you can contact the webteam of the OSS focal point.


Paper version of this case study
Sonneburgh: OpenOffice deployment in Rotterdam (pdf. 283 Kb)
Image removed.Image removed.[282 Kb]

© European Communities 2005
Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.
The views expressed are not an official position of the European Commission.


Type of document
Open source case study
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