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n°22  |  January   2008
Guest contributors
“When information and knowledge cross over borders, openness is essential.”
Interview with ean-Marie Leclerc, General Manager of the CTI (Information Technology Center) at the Republic and State of Geneva, Switzerland

The CTI handles nearly 800 business applications and 600 servers, and provides services to 22,000 users. In 2004 it chose to use Open Source software to rationalize and harmonize its architectures, and ensure interoperability.

Appreciating the close proximity and responsiveness of Bull’s development and service teams, the Center opted for Open Source components including the JOnAS applications server and Bonita workflow engine, along with Bull support.

 

E-government has led to a profound rationalization of public sector information systems. How have you gone about it?
Citizens and businesses have a right to expect high-quality public services that evolve and deliver value for them. To achieve this, our aim has been to equip our part of government with a well-structured, flexible service-oriented architecture. E-government inevitably involves intersecting technologies and a well-structured program for harmonizing procedures in different departments. From financial administration, social services and business registration, to planning permission, the registration of medical practitioners and educational facilities... all of these services will be available on-line. We are gradually introducing standardized components and services, eventually leading to industrialization of procedures that are applicable to every project. For us, there’s no ‘big bang’! It is an illusion to imagine rebuilding an information system (IS) by getting rid of everything that already exists. An IS is updated gradually, and re-organized in a modular way, function by function, so as to avoid paralyzing the whole. You need to start out with a global vision, and then single out the various layers making up the technological platform (servers, PCs, networks, security, legacy…), and start with virtualization of servers, and then of data.

You chose Open Source. Why?
When information and knowledge cross over borders, openness is essential. With the information society, we’re dealing with a new paradigm. We had five main considerations when coming to this decision.

  • The citizen must be at the heart of e-government. With the e-voting project we trialed as early as 2002, we realized the whole process of data creation needed to be secure. This led to the choice of an architecture that had Open Source as its backbone; especially because government has a key role in encouraging the population at large to get involved in the information society.
  • The need for transparency and openness with respect to our citizens. Given that information is effectively a ‘social asset’, the State must guarantee that it is valued, long lasting, secure and independent environment. This naturally leads to appropriate choices in terms of architecture, data exchanges standards and security.
  • Independence and sovereignty. Having control over our own information systems evidently means we are free from any constraints imposed by suppliers.
  • Interoperability and flexibility. Breaking down barriers between different departments, and the cross-functional nature of data and processes has put interoperability at the center of our concerns, at a time when IS are increasingly becoming interconnected: hence the importance of standards. In addition, the notions of components, services and virtualization are now giving us the flexibility we need to adapt the IS to our constantly evolving environment.
  • Costs and skill sharing. Opting for Open Source leads to huge savings on licenses for an organization like ours. But this goes even further with communities and collaborative development, which encourage partnerships of every kind: local, regional, public/private... We are contributing to this approach, and have, for example, made an ‘anti-spam’ solution available to the general public developed by CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).

Have you any good practices you can share with us?
We are halfway across a fast-flowing river, so to speak, but I am convinced that we need to take both a ‘top down’ and a ‘bottom-up’ approach. You need a clear vision to establish your targets, but above all do things that are already mature and well proven in the field. We adopted ITIL, of course, for IS management, and CMMI for development projects, etc. But the key to success is an approach based on consensus, mediation, and exchanges to guarantee consistency and uptake across all the functions involved.
We are entering into a world where: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited... while imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” I find this idea, as expressed by Einstein, particularly relevant when applied to the challenges we are facing today. In the information society, the challenge is not a technical one. The important thing is to put technology at the service of both citizen and society. This involves a more participative approach to government, embracing citizens, enterprises, and a shared, social economy.

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