Sell your software advises council IT chief

IT managers, especially those in the public sector, should look at the commercial potential of software they develop, says Dunedin City Council IS manager Mike Harte.

IT managers, especially those in the public sector, should look at the commercial potential of software they develop, says Dunedin City Council IS manager Mike Harte (pictured above).

Harte says his council often has to develop its own “smart” products because they do not exist in the shrinkwrapped IT market.

His comments follow a council financial report revealing that in the year to June it received $145,000 in royalties from the sale of its Knowledge Base intranet system, $110,000 more than expected.

The council created a one-stop customer service centre in the mid-1990s. Knowledge Base was the system that supported it. Harte describes Knowledge Base as “probably the first real, truly integrated intranet in New Zealand”.

Knowledge Base was an early initiative in Dunedin City Council’s Citizen Direct project (UK officials eye NZ local e-govt), Harte says.

“It also front ends a number of our core business systems with a browser interface.”

To date, Harte says the system has generated about $200,000 of revenue, approximately what was spent developing it.

The council is further developing Knowledge Base but the product’s future will be reviewed as part of the council’s plan to install an electronic document management system. The DataWorks system will largely take over the document storage role in coming months.

“We will be deciding where to from here [for Knowledge Base] in a few months time,” he says.

The council’s core business is not supporting and selling developed applications, so it then engages a third-party to this for them — in the case of Knowledge Base, Hindin Communications of Christchurch.

“When we see there is an opportunity there, we will then partner with a commercial organisation and they have a right to it and we take a commission,” he says. “It’s not distracting us from our core business but we are receiving some development money. There are probably lots of organisations who can do a similar thing.”

Dunedin City has no other products it has developed for sale, but it is no stranger to commercialisation. In the mid-1990s, Harte says, the council sold an electricity billing system to several energy suppliers.

Buyers of Knowledge Base include Palmerston North City Council, Papakura District Council, Queenstown District Council, Maroochy Shire Council in Australia, and Massey University, which uses it for student enrolments.

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