cITySOFT – A Software Sharing Project

Project Summary

The cITySOFT software sharing project was born of necessity in late 2014.  With shrinking budgets and never-ending demands on our own IT staff, we wanted to do something to lessen the demands on IT development shops across Missouri.  While our software development team is solving problems for the City of Columbia, we asked ourselves, why can’t we help solve the same problems for our colleagues in other cities and counties?  This idea inspired us to make a development change to create our software in a way that could be used by other organizations.  All local governments have similar needs, but they may not have the resources to buy or build the software that fits their needs. 

Our objectives were achieved with the release of our first shareable software application and a method to share the software.  The first application available for sharing is used to track individual canine use and training for public safety agencies. 

Contributing to our success was the City’s IT applications division, IT administration, City Manager’s office, City Counselor’s office, Columbia Police and the Bates County Sheriff’s office.  We achieved our goals without added costs. 

Project Description

cITySOFT represents the City of Columbia’s vision to be on the leading edge of software sharing in the public sector.  The project objectives were to develop software that is easily shared with organizations with similar needs and to create a method for sharing applications.

Entities involved included the City’s IT applications division, where the idea was born and managed; IT administration and the City Manager’s office, which provided critical support; Columbia Police, the internal user that helped develop the application and connect with the Bates County Sheriff’s office; and the City Law Department, which drafted the software sharing agreement.

cITySOFT, achieved using existing staff and resources, is a common-sense solution for issues faced by most local government IT shops.

  1. Tax dollars that don’t keep up with increasing costs for software and maintenance.
    Sharing applications can help all organizations by limiting expenses for software and maintenance.  Software developed by the City of Columbia and shared through cITySOFT will be made freely available to other government organizations, allowing them to maximize the value of IT spending. 
  1. Limited time available to meet increasing demands for technology services.
    With common problems consuming most of our collective time and resources, sharing through cITySOFT allows all of us to minimize time spent while gaining insight and solutions from member organizations.  As a software development community, we will be stronger and more innovative.
  1. Knowledge gaps that limit the ability to meet user needs. 
    Open collaboration and knowledge sharing allows member organizations to do together what they might never be able to achieve on their own.  We hope that cITySOFT will encourage members to develop software and share it with other organizations that may not have programming expertise. 

The cITySOFT project group met its objectives by embracing organizational changes.  As the City adopts new enterprise resource planning software, IT application developers are redirecting their time toward helping more internal users with special problems.  Consistent with its new strategic plan, the City is working to increase its capacity to “do good” within its own territory and with other partners across Missouri.  For IT, this means assuming, at the outset, that an application will be shared, unless it really is specific to the City’s software and infrastructure. 

This new mindset allowed IT to “hatch” the cITySOFT idea and get administrative support from internal partners.  While developing a canine performance tracking application with the Columbia Police Department, that agency provided a key connection to the Bates County Sheriff, who had a similar need in his jurisdiction.  Columbia City attorneys drafted a royalty-free licensing agreement to share the application with Bates County.  IT created a vehicle for software sharing on the City’s website .

Early results include a new application to track public safety canine use, a software sharing partner (Bates County), a licensing agreement template, an online sharing access point and a City environment that fosters innovation.

Replication

We believe that any interested city or county government with a technology infrastructure and ability to use software applications can easily replicate the cITySOFT project.  Our own vision is to set up an informal group of collaborators, build trust, share ideas for solving business needs and common problems and learn from each other’s success and challenges.  Benefits include free advice, free software, new resources and the ability to redirect funds from software development to other purposes.

It is helpful if your organization is open to royalty-free sharing.   As you develop applications, think up-front about how they might easily be used by others, including modular approaches that allow you to extract pieces specific to your own needs before sharing.  Talk with your internal users about connecting with other partners who might have similar needs.  Work with an attorney to develop appropriate licensing agreements, and decide how you want to promote your offerings. 

Innovation

We are not aware that any other Missouri municipal or county government has a project similar to cITySOFT.  It is innovative because it reflects a deliberate decision to share, rather than protect, knowledge and capacity…widely and at no cost.  Without that innovative approach, we would likely continue to focus only on our own performance instead of helping build capacity across Missouri.

Project Success

We considered this program a success with the creation of our first publicly shared software application and a process for sharing.  Our Police Department has an application that meets its reporting and compliance needs, and it is available to any other local government.

The extent of measurable benefit for the general community depends on how many organizations are willing to participate.  More participation will create more savings, resolve more problems with less duplicated work and enhance collaboration among cities.

One thing that will remain constant is the cost of software and its associated maintenance.  cITySOFT will help ease some of these costs moving forward with collaborative development.  Our vision is to become a community of shared resources allowing any entity to contribute or consume software that solves common issues.

There were very few obstacles in the way of achieving our goal.  We made simple changes in the way we develop software.  We now approach it with the intention of sharing.  Our legal team helped us quickly address the main challenge of creating the agreement template for sharing software.