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Paris uses open source to get closer to the citizen

Paris wants to share its Lutece platform with other cities to boost agility, cost savings and shared benefits.

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Nejia Lanouar, CIO, City of Paris
Nejia Lanouar, CIO, City of Paris

Nejia Lanouar, CIO, City of Paris, says an open-source approach allows her team to not only throw up digital services much faster and save money but to also create a better connection between the municipality and Parisians.

 

The modular, open-source Lutece platform has been developed in-house by the City of Paris since around 2001, following a requirement to launch new websites quickly. Now, Lutece, described as “part operating system, part content management system,” powers over 200 digital city services in Paris with more than two million lines of code. These services include:

 

  • Participatory Budget: The City of Paris has one of the largest participatory budgets in the world. It was launched by Mayor Anne Hidalgo in 2014, enabling Parisians to vote on the allocation of €100 million to community and city-wide projects each year. Between 2014 and 2020, the City has committed to reserving €500 million (about five per cent of its capital fund) to be spent through participatory budgeting.

  • Dans Ma Rue: "On My Street" is a platform (website and app) that enables Parisians to report non-emergency issues in public spaces, such as graffiti, potholes and broken streetlights. Users can locate the incident, attach a photo and track the city’s response

  • LOC’annonces: This social housing platform allows public housing applicants to learn about housing vacancies and apply for the housing that best suits their needs. Applications are assigned a rating and ranked in order of priority. Housing on the LOC’annonces platform are 15-70 per cent cheaper than private homes, the City says.

 

Around 35 per cent of Paris’ 1,000 IT applications are Lutece-driven and 15 per cent are based on other open-source software, with the remaining 50 per cent using proprietary systems. As applications are upgraded or new ones added, Lutece and open-source tools will be deployed as much as possible, Lanouar said, noting that this approach enables greater autonomy and agility for the City, as well as the ability to be more transparent and create a better user experience for the citizen.

 

For one thing, Lanouar said the open-source ethos means Paris is not beholden to vendors’ roadmaps, which are often “out of rhythm” with the City’s, while private-sector code can be something of an “industrial secret”.

 

Global vision

 

Further, open-source systems support a “global vision” for digital services, she said, creating an increasingly one-stop shop for residents and allowing front-end interfaces and back-office systems to be better connected.

 

In future, this will allow Parisians to track all their interactions with the City via one dashboard. This will include not only city services but also, for instance, the status of issues they have reported via the Dans Ma Rue app.

 

“It was our mandate to have a CRM [customer relationship management] tool for Parisians," Lanouar commented. “Without this open-source tool, I don’t know how we could do this.”

 

Before the Dans Ma Rue app, residents would report issues such as graffiti by phone, email or in person. Reports would be analysed internally before being passed to the company contracted to clean. Progress would have to be chased and monitored manually. Now, the Dans Ma Rue application is connected with the software of the company who will clean the graffiti, automating the process end-to-end.

 

“It was our mandate to have a CRM tool for Parisians. Without this open-source tool, I don’t know how we could do this.”

 

Similarly, the participatory budget interface has been connected to the back-office systems, which analyse proposals and provide a response direct to the citizen-facing website.

 

“It can’t work disconnected from the ecosystem,” Lanouar said. Each budget cycle campaign is different, she noted. Because Lutece is open source, it can be adapted as required each year in a way that wouldn’t be as feasible with closed systems.

 

This year, for example, Paris agreed to make public transport free for children aged between four and eleven. The City was able to develop an application to support this within six months using Lutece.

 

Lanouar commented: “It enables us to be more agile.” Relying on proprietary solutions, it could have taken up to a year to agree and sign a contract, let alone develop and implement a system, she said.

 

 

Strength in numbers

 

Now, in partnership with Bloomberg Associates, Paris is working to help more cities in Europe and the United States adopt the system and similar processes to drive collective benefits.

 

Other cities can download Lutece from GitHub and personalise it to their needs. While they will need some internal resources – Paris has ten developers – or budget to work with external partners to customise, cities don’t need to pay a licence fee and they can re-use existing modules.

 

“You can avoid an important part of the costs," Lanouar said. The City of Paris has calculated that using Lutece saves it €3 million each year in maintenance.

 

Other cities can download Lutece from GitHub and personalise it to their needs.

 

Lyon, for instance, has developed a new application related to safety in buildings, which Paris now intends to reuse. The platform is also able to better manage heavy traffic thanks to core optimisations contributed by a French weather forecaster, which used Lutece to power applications that received up to one million visitors per day.

 

Start somewhere

 

Lanouar’s message for other cities hoping to reap open-source rewards is to start with new initiatives, rather than become overfaced with unrealistic rip-and-replace thinking.

 

“When you have a new need, check if an open-source solution exists and has been developed by another city. Think about whether it could be a good thing to download it and compare it to other proprietary solutions," she said.

 

“And, when you want to change an application, as technology evolves, you can migrate progressively.

 

“That’s what we are doing in Paris with Lutece.”

 

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