The French city of Arles is content with the savings that it made by switching to free and open source enterprise applications. The city's 2006 migration plan, however, proved too optimistic: the switch took not three but six years, and it resulted in savings worth 450,000 euro, instead of the estimated 780,000.
The city now relies on open source especially for its core business applications. It cut by 60 per cent its use of a proprietary relational database management system, replacing it by the open source alternatives Mysql and Postgresql. These run on virtualised Linux servers.
Arles aims to develop in-house most of its business software. It already shares many of its solutions with other mid-sized cities on the OpenMairie software forge. "This works very well", says François Raynaud, the city's IT director. The only two application areas where open source is not yet used, he says, are finance and human resource.
OpenMairie's solutions include for example tax and civil administration tools, software to manage cemetery concessions and applications to manage and present the results of local elections. Over the next two years, the OpenMairie collection will expand greatly, expects Raynoud. OpenMairie will be providing open source enterprise resource management solutions, tools for archiving and software to help use electronic signatures.
Mr Raynaud was one of the speakers at the ten-year anniversary conference of Adullact, the platform for French civil servants working on free software. The conference took place in Montpellier, on 20 and 21 September. Introducing the initial plan, he said: "Our politicians had so much faith in our projected savings, that they immediately wanted to cut the IT budget in half."
Open source is readily used, even on desktops. All civil servants use Zimbra, providing email and calendar groupware. And OpenOffice, a suite of standard office tools, is used on about 80 per cent of the city's 1000 PCs. "We have not bought new proprietary office licences since 2006."
The only thing not pushed much, is Linux on the desktop, says the IT director. "Users don't want it, except those working in the IT department." The city might consider this advance later, he suggests. "The price of proprietary licences shows that there is still something to be gained by moving to virtual Linux desktops, but we're not tackling that at the moment."
The next wave
Arles' IT director says that the next increase of open source software will come with the integration of geographic information systems and the city's enterprise software. Already, both the GIS applications and many of the other enterprise software now rely on the same database system, Postgres. "Using GIS standards and open standards, we will develop a synergy of databases and geographic information. We will start offering geographic services on-line, that are integrated with the OpenMairie municipal applications."
The combination of Postgresql and Postgis will create a lot of value from the city's data and services, expects Raynaud.