Already 150 municipalities in the Walloon region in Belgium are sharing and reusing the open source code that they use to build their e-government services. The municipalities now no longer need to turn to procurement, individually or in groups, but instead share the costs for maintenance and the development of new solutions.
The solutions are built on top of Zope, an open source application server and run on the closely related Plone content management system. A network of small and medium-sized enterprises can be tapped for support.
The municipalities have become members of the Intercommunal Mutualisation of Computing and Organisation. IMIO, founded on 1 January this year by the Walloon Ministry of Local Authorities, is a merger of two projects involving many municipalities in the Walloon Region. One of these, CommunesPlone, focused on open source solutions built on top of Zope and Plone. The other project, GIE Qualicité, worked on pooling the procurement of solutions based on legacy proprietary software.
IMIO started with fourteen staff members, seven from each project. The organisation is not simply continuing the work of its two predecessors, says Joël Lambillotte, the director of IMIO. "We are taking advantage of the merger, to use the pooling procurement mecanism to finance open source software development, and by only admitting open standard compliant proprietary software in our central purchasing. In IMIO's first year, he says, most of the investments are devoted on open source.
"Previously, the municipalities spent a lot of energy procuring IT solutions", says Joël Lambillotte, the director of IMIO. "But municipalities have similar needs and they easily trust each other, allowing for the pooling of the software development."
Lambillotte presented IMIO at the OpenForum Europe Summit, which took place in Brussels earlier this week.
"IMIO works with a network of open source SMEs. They offer support on everything, from tailoring Linux to training users in the use of OpenOffice."
The new organisation is also trying to develop business applications across national borders. "It is difficult to build solutions that work across different legal systems. But we're currently building an application for the Belgian municipalities that borrows a lot of code from an application used by French municipalities. The costs savings are significant."
Lambillotte is a co-founder of PloneGov, an open source community based on Plone. The foundation has some three hundred members, municipalities and other public administrations, sharing and reusing their software solutions.