Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, BfS) is taking steps to rid itself of IT vendor lock-in. Over the next few years, it plans to replace its legacy proprietary analysis and reporting tools with modern, open source-based tools. Moreover, the new system, which is being tested, will improve geographic information capabilities, and will lower costs significantly.
The radiation protection agency was in set up in 1989, three years after the catastrophic nuclear accident in Chernobyl. Its main task is to protect population and environment from exposure to radiation.
To help with decision-making and with generating reports, the BfS’ crisis unit has for years been using a customised, proprietary software solution. This ‘Integrated Measuring and Information System’ (IMIS) lets BfS make sense of the data generated by some 1800 radiation measuring stations across the country. IMIS continuously monitors the environment and is able to detect small changes in radioactivity. Its results are merged, evaluated, refined and presented in well-arranged documents.
However, IMIS has locked-in the BfS, with management and development proving to be increasingly costly. For each and every change, the agency is forced to contract the proprietary IT vendor, says Dr Marco Lechner, a member of BfS’ emergency systems team: “The licence does not allow us to change even a single line of code.” The crisis team also wants the reports to use better geographic visuals, and it wants to share its data with its European neighbours, in open data formats that conform to the Inspire directive. Most of all, the agency wants to get a handle on software development and costs.
The new decision-making and reporting system combines common open source components, including PostgreSQL, PostGIS, GeoServer, and OpenLayers.
The agency is also training its staff to help with development. “We want to be able to do our own code sprint, with or without external contractors”, says Dr Lechner, helping to introduce modern software development methods to the agency. “It should be possible to do future development ourselves - we need to know how the code works.”
A year and a half into development, the new system is proving to be much cheaper, says Dr Lechner. The agency is also making the code publicly available, sharing components on GitHub. “We hope this will result in a community, agencies in Germany or elsewhere, that contribute to the software.”
24 October 2016 - For the next few weeks, OSOR will be testing the effects of providing its headlines in other languages than English. This is one of the selected news items.
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