SOUTH AFRICA ETHEKWINI LAUNCH NEW PORTAL BUILT ON OPEN SOURCE

Digital Content

The movement towards open source software and standards in South Africa has received another boost from a government project, with the eThekwini municipality basing its Intranet and Internet portal (www.durban.gov.za) entirely on open-source tools.

The technical development of the portal was done by Cape Town-based Jam Warehouse, working with Bytes Systems Integration as strategy partner and Durban small business AdaptIT.

“This was an exceptionally complex project with multiple objectives,” says Jam Warehouse’s Denham Trollip. “Apart from improving service delivery and creating a solid technical platform for future growth, the eThekwini council wanted to demonstrate that open source software and standards can work for enterprise-grade applications, and grow small business capacity at the same time.”

Using the Zope Application Server and the Plone content management system, Jam Warehouse has created a stable, highly scalable portal infrastructure that provides a strong platform for future growth.

“A portal is about much more than simple content delivery,” explains Trollip. “A good portal provides a single window onto diverse applications and services, both for employees of the organisation and for outsiders.” At eThekwini, for example, there are plans not only to create web sites for every department of the municipality, but also to link in applications as diverse as payment and electricity supply quality monitoring.

eThekwini web master Angela Spencer says going the open source route was challenging, but has provided many benefits. “The software we were using previously was so expensive that only the wealthier departments could afford to have websites; with open source, we’ve avoided that problem completely.”

More importantly, now that eThekwini has invested in developing and extending the software to suit the needs of a large metropolitan municipality, the new software can be used by other municipalities and government departments at little or no additional cost, not just in South Africa but around the world.

“The biggest issue,” says Spencer, “will be whether other municipalities have the capacity to maintain it. Open source skills are still scarce in South Africa.”

This shortage of skills, says Jam Warehouse’s Trollip, is why the eThekwini project placed such strong emphasis on developing local small business capacity. “The objective is that Jam Warehouse will eventually become redundant and Adapt IT will take over all the support and maintenance of the site,” says Trollip. “We have a full-time employee in Durban doing skills transfer, so AdaptIT is growing its capacity to take on larger and more complex projects.”

 From a technical point of view, says Trollip, the project has been a huge success. “We’ve built a solid, flexible and highly scalable portal using only open source software and open standards,” he says. “This project has proved that it’s feasible to build enterprise-grade platforms using only open source tools. We hope it will be an important demonstration project for other municipalities and government agencies.”