Councils Get Serious About Sharing

Councils Get Serious About Sharing

While many in local government believe the shared services model being enthusiastically explored by other levels of government is unsuited to their needs, Councils are finding new ways to leverage each other’s technology nous and experience.

For instance the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT)) has just completed a trial that has helped it leverage the South Australian LGA’s successful experience in rolling out a content management system for its own Councils.

LOGONS project manager Andrew Koerbin says LGAT initiated its Hosting and Tools project in October of 2000 as a scoping project to examine shared hosting arrangements for Tasmanian Councils because unlike many of the mainland States, relatively little IT in Tasmania is outsourced to large providers.

“That means there’s a lot more systems than you would expect.”

As part of that scoping study LGAT surveyed Tasmanian Councils to explore the possibility of Councils clustering by sharing some back end infrastructure. The study discovered that while this might be possible in the South East, Councils were reluctant to go down that path, preferring to form relationships between each other on a geographical or on a logical basis.

“But what we did start to look at was what might be common that they could use, so that they have individual instances, if you like, that were the same.”

One focus was providing tools that will assist Councils with point and click authoring.

Koerbin says Councils have real need for an easy to use content management system that can help them publish and maintain their services and information online and allow access by a wide variety of staff.

“For instance the gardener might want to publish something like “John’s Green Corner” during springtime. Normally you have to have a fair bit of knowledge to do that.”

But Koerbin says when the LOGONS team investigated what content management systems might be available in the marketplace, it found most systems far too rich for many Council’s budgets.

The exception was the DCW Unity content management system being developed by LGAT’s sister association in South Australia with Networking the Nation (NTN) funds, for use in its own Councils. Koerbin says at around $4000 a year for licensing the product was “very competitive in the marketplace.”

But the co-operation was a two-way street. Earlier, the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGASA) had used a list of services suitable to be offered online by Councils developed by LOGONS to help it build the said same content management system.

Subsequently two Tasmanian Councils, Kingborough and Sorell agreed to be pilot sites to implement the CMS to judge suitability for the Tasmanian environment. Kingborough had already established a 'look and feel' for their Web site and moved this across to the new system. Sorell had a minimal Web site and wanted to move to a higher level of sophistication. Both Councils redeveloped their Web sites were redeveloped and implemented CMS implemented in two months, and are already using distributed authorship – one of the goals of Point and Click Authoring.

The trial was so successful the LGAT applied for further funds from NTN to extend this to other councils. The results of the trial were discussed at three regional forums held in late December 2003 and another on 19 January 2004. As a result six councils have indicated in writing they wish to implement the system with a further 2 having given verbal assurances. A further five councils who could not attend the 19 January session are also considering its adoption.

“There will be at least 11 councils using this system with the potential for a further seven to come on board,” Koerbin says. “This exercise is seen as having been highly successful and an endorsement of the high levels of cooperation between the LGAT and the LGASA throughout the NTN program.

“The interesting thing about this is that they’ve got 55 Councils using this in South Australia; you’ve got at least seven, or nine here if you count the two who have said they want it, and there might be one or two in the Northern Territory yet as well, so as a mass, a very specific thing for local government has been quite a winner.”

Koerbin says LGAT is now moving to identify other common systems suitable for Councils, and is working with various sites such as Yellow Pages and the Tasmanian Communities Online Database for content.

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