Change management is the key to successfully replacing proprietary software by free and open source alternatives, says Eric Ficheux, IT project manager working for the administration of Nantes. In 2013, France’s sixth largest city began switching to LibreOffice, replacing a proprietary suite of office productivity tools. “Any organisation considering a similar switch should brush up on change management.”
Nantes has now switched half of its 5000 workstations (PCs and laptops) to the LibreOffice open source office suite.
The switch remains a challenge, says project manager Eric Ficheux, adding it was also easier than expected. The support team was not as busy as anticipated, and two out of three civil servants had no major problems using the software.
The IT project manager talked about the migration at the 16th Rencontres Mondiales du Logiciel Libre conference (RMLL), which took place in Beauvais (France) in July.
Justification for the transition was the end of support for the decade-old version of the proprietary office suite in use at the city administration. The city’s IT department considered several options, including purchasing new proprietary licences. “We decided to go to LibreOffice, allowing us to save EUR 1,7 million”, Ficheux said. The IT department’s side-by-side comparison included a budget of EUR 600,000 for change management and for training the city’s 5000 staffers to use LibreOffice. Conversely, training users to use the newest version of the proprietary office suite would cost EUR 400,000, the IT department estimated.
Manage the change
The IT department helped the city’s civil servants become comfortable with the change, by using small-scale pilots and with training, communication and IT support. Key actors in the city administration were involved in assessing the risks and opportunities, and staffers in pilots were encouraged to experiment and report back.
The biggest problems encountered include document interoperability and macros. The IT department found out how to leverage the switch, which risks to consider and what points to communicate. “We knew what to explain, and also how to reassure the users.”
The city staffers can temporarily have both office suites installed at the same time. “One thing we made sure is not to block users, and provide individual support”, Ficheux said. “That greatly smoothed the process.”
Nantes is currently using LibreOffice version 4.2. The IT department is preparing the upgrade to version 4.4.