In a nutshell, Community Software Consortium (CSC) and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) are jointly investigating the feasibility and desirability of developing a suite of applications for municipal accounting, collection, treasury, payroll, utility billing and licensing.
To do so, the project would begin by using applications that have been successfully employed for many years in one Massachusetts town of 14,000 residents. CSC, FRCOG and town officials have already agreed that the goal is to share those applications for enhancement and conversion to Internet-based "cloud" versions as long as the resulting programs are available to all communities under open source licensing agreements.
Local officials and staff in small to medium-sized communities across the Commonwealth should be pleased with this initiative. Such a system would provide an invaluable evolving resource to technology-strapped cities and towns. I applaud the decision of FRCOG and CSC to consider joint applications for regionalization grant funding, which may become available through the FY2012 state budget.
In addition, CSC is preparing to move its mass appraisal and tax administration system online as a web-based application, a move that would save cities and towns technology staffing and costly system updates.
In this first step, CSC, FRCOG and DLS, under David's lead, invites communities to indicate their interest in participating in a process to select necessary enhancements and program components. Eventually the plan would be to offer software to anyone at no cost, although training and support for specific versions would-necessarily-involve costs, as would data conversion.
This project is in the early, exploratory stages, and no city or town should think it will be ready tomorrow, next year or even the year after. But it is an important and exciting step to providing meaningful and affordable technology assistance to cities and towns. Already, 40-plus communities have responded with various levels of interest, and the Hampshire Council of Governments has indicated it is a potential project partner.
Davies also recently wrote " The Future of Small Town Computing: A 'Cloud' or a 'Digital Divide'? ," a City and Town article that documented the difficulties many small and medium-sized cities and towns experience in affording and managing information technology. Open source cloud computing is aimed at these overcoming these difficulties.
Local officials interested in learning more should contact David Davies at 617-626-2383.
Robert G. Nunes