For their e-government services and their websites, public administrations in Belgium's Walloon region should prefer to use standards and open source software solutions, recommends André Blavier, an ICT expert working for the Agence Wallonie de Télécommunications (AWT), a government agency. Yet an even bigger priority for the Walloon government is making its data publicly available. "Open data will help development digital public services, and create a more transparent government."
André Blavier also calls on the region's schools to start teaching ICT technologies. "We need more geek citizens."
On Monday, the ICT expert was one of the speakers at the Open Data Days, taking place in the city of Gent, Belgium. He said that many of the region's public administrations still hesitate to share their data publicly. "They don't yet understand why citizens would be interested, or how it could be useful."
"Many public administrations are puzzled. They feel it is their prerogative to offer public services, they don't see how citizens could use open data to offer alternative or additional services. Yet citizens are less interested in services for the masses, but are looking for ways to serve themselves."
The use of open source for online services should not taken as an obligation, Blavier said, pointing out that the agency is using proprietary technology for some parts of its own site. "The technology is not the goal. If the services provided are good and open, the job is done." AWT is naturally using open source solutions, Blavier added. An example is the use of the open source CKAN solution for managing AWT's collection of open data. One of the sets available is data used for AWT's ICT barometer, listing ICT use in the region's administrations and schools and ICT used in companies based in Wallonia.
Another example is the Walloon geoportal. For this, it uses operating system Linux, webserver Nginx and Java application server Jboss.
Modern open source
The agency also recently overhauled its Bspace website, promoting business ventures in the region. AWT replaced outdated proprietary multi-media software by modern open source solutions. "Naturally, the site is running Linux, Apache and MySQL, offering content in XHTML, HTML5, AJAX and other open standards."
On Monday, Blavier announced the next hackaton organised by Walloon government, involving open data. It will take place on 4 and 5 April in the city of Namur.