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Why buy software when you can share and reuse?

One of the greatest benefits of using free and open source software is that it can be shared with others and reused by them. In these cash-strapped, austere times this is one aspect which public sector IT departments are discovering – in some places anyway.

One hundred and fifty local authorities in the Walloon (French-speaking) region of Belgium are currently sharing and reusing the open source code that they use to build their e-government services. They now no longer need to turn to procurement from proprietary suppliers, but are instead sharing software development and maintenance costs, according to a piece on Joinup, the EU’s open source news site.

The e-government services are built on top of the Zope open source application server and run on the closely related Plone content management system. A network of small and medium-sized enterprises can be tapped for support.

The local authorities have become members of the Intercommunal Mutualisation of Computing and Organisation. IMIO, which was founded on 1 January 2012 by the Walloon Ministry of Local Authorities, is a merger of two projects involving many of Wallonia’s local authorities. One of these, CommunesPlone, concentrated on Zope and Plone-based open source solution, whilst the other, GIE Qualicité, worked on pooling the procurement of solutions based on legacy proprietary software.

IMIO Director Joël Lambillotte said: “Previously, local authorities spent a lot of energy procuring IT solutions, but municipalities have similar needs and they easily trust each other, allowing for the pooling of the software development.”

IMIO is working with a pool of open source SMEs who offer support on everything from tailoring Linux to training in the OpenOffice productivity suite.

The new organisation is also trying to develop business applications across national borders. “It is difficult to build solutions that work across different legal systems. But we’re currently building an application for the Belgian local authorities that borrows a lot of code from an application used by French local authorities. The costs savings are significant”, said Lambillotte.