Katowice Municipality: saving public money with OpenOffice.org

The administration of the Polish city of Katowice is successfully introducing OpenOffice.org on its desktop computers, replacing the previously used proprietary office suite. Compatibility issues are minimal, and the move is freeing up budget to be used for other investments, such as more powerful hardware.

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Introduction

Katowice, a city in southern Poland, is one of the most rapidly developing Polish metropolis with an estimated population of around 320,000 people in the core urban area alone. Such a large and growing settlement requires an effective and efficient public administration, with a large number of civil servants working in the city municipality and using computers.

Taking under consideration the life-spam of hardware and the need to not only spend public money on new computers but also on standard software (of which license from old computers often cannot be used on new ones), the process of upgrading computers can have negative influence on the budgetary balance of the municipality.

Having to upgrade both hard- and software of large numbers of computers are a significant budget item of any large administration. Licenses for proprietary software contribute significantly to IT costs, especially since software licensed for old computers often cannot be transferred to new ones.

Therefore, Katowice Municipality decided in 2005 to start implementing and using OpenOffice.org on almost all the computers in the city administration. Since then, Katowice\'s IT department installs OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office on all newly bought computers. The financial analysis, in this respect, has shown many drawbacks of buying and upgrading proprietary software in the municipality. Firstly, as it has already been mentioned, computers have to be replaced frequently due to their heavy utilization by the civil servants. This means that for every new computer, a new software license has to be bought. Secondly, the need for updating old software on already existing hardware creates a budgetary burden, especially when updating all of the 850 computers in the Municipality. Finally, the need for creating training sessions for civil servants on the updated versions was another point favoring the use of the free OpenOffice.org.

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Organisation and project implementation

Jerzy Borys, the Head of the IT Department of the Katowice Municipality, says the strategy of implementing OpenOffice.org was fairly simple and consisted of mainly two elements. In the first one, the civil servants were presented with a clear choice: "If you want to work on a new computer, you have to change your working habits and accept OpenOffice.org in place of your previous office system". In the second step, those workers who were using more advanced features of Microsoft Office were given a possibility to attend training sessions organised by the IT Department of the Katowice Municipality, where they were shown how to use similar advanced functions in OpenOffice.org.

Quick Facts
Project name Katowice Municipality (PL)
Sector Public
Start date 2005
End date N/A
Objectives Implement OpenOffice.org in Katowice Municipality on 850 workstations
Target group Civil Servants
Scope Regional
Budget N/A
Funding N/A
Achievements Successful deployment of OpenOffice.org on 450 computers with substantial savings of EUR 100,000 on licensing fees

There are around 850 computer in the Municipality in the third quarter of 2008, out of which 450 run both OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office and 350 use OpenOffice.org as the only office software. Borys says that eventually OpenOffice.org will substitute Microsoft Office on all workstation where for objective reasons there is no need to have the software from Redmond.

Jerzy Borys sees five such objective reasons for using Microsoft Office. The first one concerns the usage of databases. The problem with OpenOffice.org Base is that it is not well developed yet to be compatible with files created under Microsoft Access.Secondly, the files send by other public institutions that make extensive use of macros can cause problems, especially in .doc and .xls files. The third reasons for still using proprietary software are applications that rely on Excel files, which are also not always read in an appropriate way by OpenOffice.org. However, the municipality\'s IT Department has noticed that the new versions of OpenOffice.org released for the past two years (2.x) are very well compatible with Microsoft office. Fourth, some users operate with advanced functions in Microsoft Office which are still unavailable in its open source equivalent software. Finally, many work processes are tied to Microsoft Outlook and its calendar function, which workers use to organise their tasks and daily work-program. In such cases, the municipality is forced to use and install Microsoft Outlook on workstations where the employes use advanced feature of the calendar system.

The procedure for acquiring OpenOffice.org when the Municipality publishes tenders for new computers is quite simple. Each tender requires the contractor to deliver computers with pre-installed OpenOffice.org in a stable Polish version. After computers are received by the city, the IT department configures the software so the files are saved by default in Microsoft Office extensions. In addition, the technicians in some cases organise short demonstration for the public servants to introduce them to the main differences between the software from Redmond and its free software equivalent. As Michal Siedlaczek, IT Senior Specialist in the Katowice Municipality, points out, OpenOffice.org is also installed on some older computers for compatibility reasons.

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Budget and funding

The implementation of OpenOffice.org has clearly brought positive results in the Katowice Municipality. By replacing Microsoft Office with its free equivalent, the city is saving 1000 zl (EUR 295) per workstation. By using the open source software exclusively on 350 computers, the city has so far saved more than EUR 100,000 on licensing fees. As more computers with OpenOffice are deployed, this number is set to grow.

As the only funding source is the city\'s IT budget, these saving can not only be spend on new hardware and servers but can also be used by the Management to show the public that the Municipality cares about the public money.

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Technical and non-technical issues

OpenSource LogoThere are three main problems concerning the implementation of OpenOffice.org in the Katowice Municipality. The first one concerns the formatting problems when exchanging files between the proprietary and the open source office suites. When documents are saved as .doc files under Microsoft Office , the formatting can look different when the same document is opened with OpenOffice.org. In such cases, the municipality employees have to correct formatting issues by hand.

The second problems concerns the auto-update function in OpenOffice.org. Although it works fairly well on private or home computers, it stumbles Municipality\'s network. That network has been constructed in such a way as to provide maximum security and prevent hackers from accessing the internal network, and is largely separated from the \'external internet\'. This set-up prevents the auto-update function from working properly, since it cannot contact the update servers. As a result, most of the workstations\' software has to be updated manually by the IT Department.

The third main problem with the implementation and usage of OpenOffice.org pointed out by Siedlaczek is not of technical nature but has to do with the general belief and prejudice among civil servants concerning open source software. It is very hard to convince the workers that open source software is not worse than its proprietary equivalent. He says that employees of the Municipality sometimes do not recognise that switching from Microsoft Office \'97 to OpenOffice.org requires much the same learning effort as switching from Microsoft Office \'97 to Microsoft Office 2003. Siedlaczek says that since there are substantial differences between different versions of the proprietary office suite, switching to the free OpenOffice.org presents workers with much the same difficulties as an update to a new version of Microsoft Office.

As a consequence, most of the workload of the IT Department does not lie in setting up OpenOffice.org, but in convincing the workers that OpenOffice.org can be as good as Microsoft Office, especially in case of those employees who do not use the programs\' advanced functions. As mentioned before, the employees are not left with much of an option; they either accept OpenOffice.org as their primary office software on new computers or they are forced to work on old hardware. Experience shows that the desire for a faster computer tends to win out over prejudice towards OpenOffice.org.

In addition, Borys points out that OpenOffice.org makes it possible to save large amount of disk storage space, since files saved in OpenOffice.org are much smaller than those generated by Microsoft Office. Since public institutions store huge numbers of files and documents on their computers, this quickly translates to real hardware savings. In addition, there is no need to use additional software to save files in a .pdf format since OpenOffice.org has a built-in function for that.

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Effect on government services

Siedlaczek also hopes the case of the Katowice Municipality will be an example for other public institutions, showing that it is possible to substitute Microsoft Office with its open source equivalent that the process “doesn\'t hurt”. He also points out that the money saved on OpenOffice.org has enabled the IT Department to invest in better and more efficient hardware.

At the same time Siedlaczek regrets that the financial aspects are the only reasons for the Municipality\'s management to be in favour for OpenOffice.org. Borys argues along the same lines, saying that savings through the use of open source can be used by the city as an argument that it handles taxpayers\' money carefully, and that it promotes open standards by enabling the citizens to submit documents in open file formats such as ODF.

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Cooperation with other public bodies

In case of Katowice Municipality, the cooperation with other public bodies is relatively limited, given the limited progress in implementing IT solutions in the Polish public sector. As Siedlaczek points out, the electronic exchange of documents between the Municipality and other public bodies has become fully operational only couple of years ago. Before that time, public organisation were requesting printed documents from Katowice.

After tough lobbying, they started accepting documents send on floppy disks. At the moment, although there is an electronic exchange of documents between the Katowice and higher public bodies, the latter still require a printed versions and copies of documents on top of the electronic ones. Considering this situation, a cooperation on implementing OpenOffice.org or other open source software is out of question at the moment. However, both Borys and Siedlaczek hope that the situation will change soon, especially in face of the developments in the rest of Europe.

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Lessons learned

Overall, the successful implementation and usage of OpenOffice.org in the Katowice Municipality shows that open source software can be used for professional and governmental usage providing substantial savings of the public money. The only technical problems at the current stage of development of OpenOffice.org are some compatibility issues with Microsoft Office; and the lock-in caused by the city\'s reliance on the Microsoft Outlook personal information manager and its proprietary interface, which makes it very hard for free software developers to build programs that work in a mixed environment.

Though OpenOffice.org is not very complicated from the user\'s point of view, Siedlaczek says that it requires substantial effort to get to know the software well enough to be able to promptly answer users\' questions. He says that it would be very helpful for the Municipality\'s IT department to be able to dedicate one staff member more or less exclusively to OpenOffice. This person would support users, maintain the installed software and keep track of new developments and updates.

IT staff have also realised when implementing OpenOffice.org, the greatest problems or resistance can occur from the user side. People are usually hesitant when they have to work with new software, and doubly so if the program is open source. They sometimes tend to see such software as somehow less valuable and more difficult to use, even when the reality in their offices clearly shows that this is not the case.

In addition, the case of OpenOffice.org in Katowice is a signal for the Municipality Management that open source software can save large amounts of money without sacrificing functionality. Siedlaczek hopes that as the city\'s management absorbs this lesson, it will become possible to deploy more free software there in the future.

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Conclusions

The case of Katowice Municipality is a good example how public administration can save a substantial amount of money by deploying free software. It also shows that OpenOffice.org can easily substitute proprietary software without much special preparation on the technical level. Given the growing availability of high-quality open source programs for desktops and servers, Katowice clearly stands poised to lead the way towards much greater usage of this type of software in the Polish public sector.

The case of Katowice shows that substantial savings can already be achieved by very simple means. Except for a certain learning effort, both for IT staff and users, all that was necessary was to start demanding that OpenOffice is pre-installed on new computers that bought by the city.

What both interviews with Borys and Siedlaczek have indicated, however, is a relatively high resistance among civil servants on using OpenOffice.org and open source in general. The image of open source software among public employees as unreliable software is still widespread. However, the case of Katowice also shows that employees change their opinion after getting acquainted with OpenOffice.org and working with it for few months. This issue could be dealt with by presenting the new software not as a cheap substitute for the product that people have gotten used to, but rather as a new solution with a number of advantages such as specific features, compliance with recognised open standards and adaptability to the users\' needs.

In the light of this, it is interesting that the \'take it or leave it\'-approach towards the employees has had rather positive results. Civil servants clearly prefer to a chance and try new software on newly bought computers rather than to be forced to use old hardware with Microsoft Office.

Some of the technical problems occuring in Katowice could be solved by the IT department itself. As an example, the update function may be adjusted to use a proxy server on the city\'s intranet, rather than trying to fetch updates from the OpenOffice.org project server. To deal with compatibility issues regarding documents sent from outside in proprietary file formats, other public administrations such as that of Munich have decided to convert files centrally on a few machines, rather than retaining a large number of installations of proprietary software.

Generally, Katowice stands to gain from building contacts with other public administrations in Europe that are facing similar issues regarding the use of free software. Since administrative structures and workflows are often similar, solutions can frequently be re-used with very little effort.

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Links

 

This case study is brought to you by the Open Source Observatory and Repository (OSOR), a project of the European Commission\'s IDABC project.

Author: Konrad Dwojak, UNU-MERIT.

This study is based on interviews with Jerzy Borys, the Head of the IT Department of the Katowice Municipality, and Michal Siedlaczek, IT Senior Specialist in the Katowice Municipality.

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