Archive for October, 2010
One question that I’ve had about building a solution for Building Safety Evaluation (BSE) is whether it should be built into an existing council system, or indeed implemented on existing council systems, or perhaps a standalone solution should be used. Clearly there are pros and cons both ways, but I’m definitely tending towards a standalone solution – at least initially. I certainly gained some insights in the 7 days that I had working within CCC’s BSE team.
There are certainly benefits to be gained from integrating a BSE into existing council systems. These include:
- Information as it is captured goes directly into the business-as-usual systems.
- Building information is tightly linked to existing council data structures e.g. building records, ids etc.
But there are problems associated with systems implemented on a per-council basis:
- It requires each and every council to build and integrate a BSE system into their existing systems – something which most don’t have the time or budget to do, especially for relatively infrequent events.
- It is harder to bring in staff from other councils to provide surge capacity for the data entry tasks (data entry is another problem I’ll get to as well) – they would be more likely to be trained in a different system that their council uses.
- As an inhouse solution would be limited by existing council IT systems – don’t underestimate some of the issues associated with getting large organisations IT systems working following a disaster of this magnitude.
I will admit to being slightly biased, but I believe a more sustainable solution is to create a free and open source software tool that can be used in a standalone manner for the first few weeks, and then council IT staff can find a means to import the information back into the council system. This would likely become easier if the BSE data was able to be implemented in a standard XML format. I’d like to see an OASIS Emergency Data eXchange Language (EDXL) extension created for representing BSE information.
Why do I think an open source source solution would be best?
- The system will be relatively infrequently used, so it is easier to justify a consortium approach to development. This will be far cheaper than multiple councils thinking about building their own bespoke solution, that probably won’t be compatible with neighbouring councils. This means multiple councils, and indeed governments worldwide may be able to contribute relatively small amounts each to build a better system than any one single organisation could build.
- Being free, it is also likely to be widely deployed, and this means that rather than just having one councils staff trained in their systems use, there are likely to be an order of magnitude more people trained in its use if it is open source. This greatly increases the ability to have surge capacity for data entry.
- An open source solution is also likely to implement open standards, whereas a bespoke council system is likely to forgo the additional cost associated with implementing a recognised data interoperability standard. This means that bespoke council BSE systems will be inherently closed, and potentially incompatible with their neighbouring councils. An open source application with open standards automatically means that neighbouring councils can either share the one system, or at least use the same software on separate instances, and use the interoperability standards to allow easy aggregation of the BSE data for reporting.
- Open source would also allow the creation of what is effectively a BSE kit in a box. A wireless hub, a handful of netbooks etc and it would be quite easy to have a portable, redeployable and standalone kit for implementing BSE without having to depend upon any existing organisational IT infrastructure.
So, for the time being, I’ve convinced myself that a standalone open source BSE application is probably preferable to councils implementing their own system in house.