The Dutch municipality of Neerijnen has replaced its proprietary office productivity suite with LibreOffice, a free and open source alternative.
The main advantages of moving to LibreOffice have been:
The biggest hurdles for the change have been:
In 2011, the executive board of the Dutch municipality of Neerijnen dedices to replace its proprietary suite of office productivity tools by the free and open source alternative LibreOffice. The proposal is put forward by the IT department, whose staff is eager to contribute to that year's cost-cutting drive.
The switch is completed within 12 months.
The move to LibreOffice has already saved the municipality EUR 9,000 - 13,500 per year – or “about a euro per citizen”, says Jan Visser, who oversees the IT department. It is the amount of money the public administration would have otherwise spent on proprietary office licences. He expects that over the next few years savings will increase further, thanks to easier IT maintenance and changes in software support contracts.
Using LibreOffice provides additional benefits, says Visser:
For most of the staff at the municipality, the switch is easy. Up until 2011, Neerijnen is using a decade-old suite of office tools, whose graphical user interface closely matched by LibreOffice.
A few of the municipal staff put up resistance, Visser says, especially when told they would have to install LibreOffice on their own PCs if they wanted to work from home. "We made it clear that we would not be fixing problems caused by staffers using the proprietary office suite at home," he says.
“Each organisation has sceptics", Visser explains. "We had long conversations to overcome resistance. We managed to convince a few key users, and that helped to win over the others.”
Visser also told the vendor of the proprietary office suite that the municipality was switching to LibreOffice. "They responded with a letter demanding an audit of our proprietary licences."
The IT department makes light work of the move. LibreOffice works well with most of the other software solutions in use in the municipality. Importantly, there are no problems with importing and exporting data from key spreadsheets.
One of the ICT service providers used by Neerijnen, Decos, almost instantly adapts its document and client relationship management solutions to allow integration with LibreOffice. In stark contrast, a few of the departments of Centric, one of the country’s two dominant providers of municipal ICT solution, refuses to support LibreOffice, says Visser. “Day to day it mostly works, but a few of their solutions require a proprietary spreadsheet."
According to Visser, the costs of moving to LibreOffice were lower than those needed to upgrade to a newer version of the proprietary office suite. Both approached required document templates to be updated, but the move to LibreOffice involved hardly any training costs.
Neerijnen spent EUR 5,000 to train the municipal staff to use LibreOffice.
"Even today, we hardly get any questions on how to use LibreOffice - as if nobody noticed that we changed," Visser says. As always, users are eager to learn new tricks, shortcuts and to use innovative services, he says. "The best thing? We now have an automated way to create PDFs in emails."
The freedoms that come with free and open source software means that Neerijnen is quick to implement other such solutions. For working with images and graphics, staff can use GIMP. For compressing and archiving files, they use 7-Zip and for transferring files across networks FileZilla is available. "We don't invest in actively switching to open source", Visser explains, "but whenever we need to renew a proprietary solution, we begin by searching for free software alternatives."
In its budget, Neerijnen earmarked some EUR 7,000 to develop new software to interface with an IT system for municipal permits. "We planned to make this solution available to others, as open source", says Visser. "However, we recently outsourced the permit services, so the development budget was returned to the municipality."
The overhaul of document templates and office macro's allowed the municipality to reduce complexity and improve consistency. "Finally, our office templates are uniform," says Visser, "and at long last we have common office macros. And on top of that, our electronic files are smaller, so they take up less space on clients and servers."
The highest hurdle has been to achieve document interoperability with other public administrations. As its default document format, Neerijnen has chosen the Open Document Format (ODF), the native format in LibreOffice. Despite the fact that ODF is one of the national document standards, that should be accepted by every public administration in the Netherlands, support is patchy. "At times we accidentally send an ODF document to another municipality or a school. They claim such documents are impossible to open," Visser says.
Worse, he says many Dutch municipalities simply ignore the requirements of the standardisation board. "I've given up calling them to debate this. It takes so much time, and resolves nothing. Our municipal peers are completely locked into proprietary software and formats."
The complications of office suite interoperability are hindering public administrations that use open source. Interoperability is muddled by public administration's use of a confusing mix of outdated and incompatibe proprietary document formats, detailed in the OSOR study 'Complex singularity versus openness; Open source impeded by incompatibilities and inconsistencies in the Office Open XML document format'.
To overcome obstacles of this kind, Neerijnen has a single laptop with a licence for a recent version of a proprietary spreadsheet. It is used once a week, Visser says. In the finance department, one PC has a licence for the proprietary spreadsheet. "Some national government documents require that spreadsheet solution."
The same is true for the human resources department, which is forced to use a proprietary database application. A fourth licence was acquired to allow a projector to beam presentations that come in a proprietary format.
The public administration of Neerijnen uses 80 PCs. These are maintained by the IT department, which employs three system administrators and six application administrators. They manage everything related to ICT, including the municipal address database (in Dutch Basisregistraties Adressen en Gebouwen), its geographic information systems (GIS) and some 40 Linux servers, including 20 running Linux.
Migration to LibreOffice took less than 12 months. The office suite is installed on PCs, and Neerijnen updates LibreOffice every six months.