UnpublishedOttawa.com is built on the Drupal platform for exactly these reasons.
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The IT sub-commitee of the City of Ottawa has helped implement some very good service enhancements for citizens of Ottawa since its inception in 2009. We now have the ability to book ice time online; apply for multiple licenses on line; receive information tweets and emails for residents. Based on answers to a question I posed at last year’s budget consultation meetings at Shenkman Arts Centre, the city has also deployed Drupal, an open source content management framework on some of its servers.
It is an intriguing route to go – using open source software. Dozens of cities around the world of varying sizes have been implementing open source solutions for the better part of a decade. There are many benefits that these jurisdictions are now realizing due to a shift towards open source solutions including: cost savings on proprietary software licensing, developing in-house development expertise which allows for increased cost savings, increased security and resolution of bugs which are found in the software, collaboration with experts from around the world in improving the softwares capabilities. There are great budget saving opportunities for the City of Ottawa in the area of open-source deployment, as well as fundamentally increased citizen engagement possibilities. In defining and implementing best practices from around the world for open-source software deployments we would position Ottawa in the forefront of municipal innovation.
Zac Townsend wrote in a piece on developing an open source municipal suite of tools:
“The goals are to radically reduce information technology costs, to transform public sector services through user- and citizen- centered design and technology, and to allow any city to easily use and implement one system or all the systems.”
A great example of how cities have been able to leverage open-source solutions for service requirements is the “OpenTrip Planner” which was originally developed in Portland, Oregon to help residents plan trips by rail, bike and bus. The cost of development was around $300,000. Since then, instances of OpenTrip have been deployed in cities around the world including in Spain, Poland, Australia and Italy. The savings for these deployments? Well at least $300,000 as they could simply use the open source software which had already been developed. The cost savings for Portland? Significant, because they now have the participation of developers in all jurisdictions where OpenTrip is deployed.
With the abundance of subject matter experts within Ottawa, our municipal IT department could become a leading driver of cost savings and service innovation for citizens across the region. I applaud the work that the sub-committee has so far implemented, and encourage all stake-holders to continue to drive situational best practices within city IT services. There are many models out there at which we could look and from which we could draw experience to further go down the road of innovation. Michael A. Repas of the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) has written a report (pdf format), “Using Free, Open-Source Software in Local Governments: Streamlined Internal Computing for Better Performance and Record Keeping” It is a fascinating read and outlines the different approaches which six jurisdictions across the USA have used when implementing open source solutions.
Council has the responsibility to ensure that city-wide best practices are implemented with regard to providing services to residents and in spending taxpayer money. It is time to look at the open-source opportunities which exist. For a city the size of Ottawa, the cost savings over time would be in the millions! Lets start to really innovate! It is a win-win situation for everyone. You drive down costs, saving all taxpayers money, and you use the incredible knowledge that exists within the Ottawa area to put Ottawa at the forefront of municipal innovation!