Enterprise management facilities for public authorities
A working collaborative platform
Public authorities have long needed the equivalent of the enterprise management system – as used by leading companies around the world – but seldom had the resources to afford it. Now a new collaborative-working platform developed under the ICTE-PAN project may hold the solution.
Starting in the mid-1990s, public authorities began making significant investments into IT infrastructures capable of supporting their need to manage large amounts of relatively unstructured data. However concerns about security, especially when using the Internet, tended to limit the exchange of information with other administrations or the general public. The result has been isolated islands of information within departmental intranets, and the lack of an ability to work collaboratively with colleagues or indeed anyone outside of the immediate administrative environment.
The IST project ICTE-PAN aimed to help solve this problem by developing a secure means of collaborative working; a means which could provide the kind of security and controlled access facilities more commonly associated with advanced enterprise management systems. ICTE-PAN researchers planned to create the methodology and software tools that would enable public sector administrations to use innovative technologies and systems to adapt to rapidly changing work practices.
The outcome was the development of MERMIG, an open-source collaborative-working platform that offers a range of knowledge management applications for modern communities and organisations. MERMIG is an extranet application that provides a number of libraries and management tools that address most of the working requirements of user communities sharing a common workspace, be they public authorities or private companies.
The MERMIG platform was presented to the general Public Administration public on 9 June 2004 at the "Gateway platform to e-Government" workshop in Hanover, Germany, on the premises of the Ministry of the Interior of Lower Saxony. This workshop, attended by a broad range of IT specialists and e-government officers, brought valuable feedback on how the application could be enhanced further.
This feedback prompted the ICTE-PAN partners to develop the platform into a complete application capable of supporting public authorities in a variety of activities. In the short time since then, MERMIG has been taken up by a number of public authorities across Europe. It is already being used by one of the German Lander, by an Italian provincial government, by a government organisation in Belgium and a university in Greece.
Project manager Karel Van Isacker of European Dynamics in Athens believes that such fast take-up is because the platform answers a real need. “We embedded a lot of our business know-how into the platform – know-how gained from our earlier work with commercial organisations. Collaborative workflow is not in itself new – what we did was to develop a system that takes such abilities and tunes them to the needs of public administrations.”
The MERMIG user interface is a standard Web browser. Facilities include modules such as a Web manager, document manager, workgroup membership manager, calendar/chat, email and a forum facility, a search engine and online help. Workgroup members can share information, access and disseminate documents or data, manage a private workspace on the internet, participate in virtual meetings or organise events, all from within the same physical location or from anywhere across the globe.
User feedback on the platform has been extremely helpful, Van Isacker acknowledges. “There are functions that we need to enhance – but in general feedback was very positive. That was why we decided to offer the environment to a wider audience.” Although the ICTE-PAN project finished at the end of February 2005, the partners are continuing to develop the MERMIG platform. One additional function, for example, has been the inclusion of Knowledge Management features, while MERMIG is also supporting an e-Procurement Platform.
Shifting market perceptions
Van Isacker notes a significant shift in perception among public authorities in Europe in favour of more open-source purchasing. They are in general, he believes, positive about open-source. The point at issue, he says, is changing public procurement policy. The question being asked is, “What policies do we have to change to use these tools.”
He sees MERMIG as been launched at a significant moment in market perceptions when judging between open-source or proprietary. “We’re quite confident that we have contributed to this shift towards open-sourcing,” he says. “We have found the right market for our product.”
Tara Morris | alfa