Goodwill turns to open source software for worldwide intranet

The world’s largest nonprofit providers of education, training and career services for people with disadvantages have launched an open source-based intranet site for its 80,000 employees worldwide that allows them to share information and participate in e-learning courses.

Goodwill Industries International recently completed a Web portal development project with open source vendor Liferay to implement MyGoodwill to Goodwill employees in North America, including Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia and much of the European Union.

The Liferay portal is based on J2EE architecture, which allows users to integrate portlets like e-learning tool Saba learning management system that support JSR-168 standard. The portal is also designed to run on most database and operating system platforms including AIX, Solaris, Windows and Mac. Goodwill is a Microsoft shop running Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database and Windows operating system platforms.

The open source licensing model freed up some cash flow that Goodwill was able to put towards product development.

“We were able to redirect those resources from licenses to actual development,” said Steve Bergman, CIO of Goodwill Industries International. “The end product was significantly more robust because we had resources to apply to the development of the product as opposed to just buying it out of the box and paying for all of the licensing.”

With the J2EE architecture, Goodwill was able to save time and money on integrating applications that it would have had to build itself in the past, added Bergman.

Unlike Microsoft’s SharePoint portal product, which doesn’t support JSR-168 portlets, Liferay portal is designed to run in a heterogeneous environment, said Liferay chief executive officer, Brian Chan.

“We are a pure portal platform that doesn’t care about your database, your authentication mechanism or your app server that you want to run on or your operating system,” said Chan.

Liferay portal also doesn’t follow a general public license (GPL) model like Sun Microsystems Java Enterprise System that requires companies to publish modifications they’ve made to the code.

“GPL forces users to make modifications to the code public,” said Chan. “With LGPL if you want to distribute it, then you have to make it public as well.”

Bergman, however, said having access to the community allows his IT staff to be proactive when a problem occurs instead of relying on the vendor for support. Liferay offers support from its U.S. location as well as through integrators like Affinity Systems in Canada, which helped with the integration and deployment of Goodwill locations here.

“We were able to leverage the open source community to make modifications to the core system when we needed it in the pinch and not have to deal with proprietary issues of licensing and the vendor to make the changes for us,” said Bergman.

With the new system in place, Bergman hopes to increase the number of people that Goodwill helps each year up from this year’s number, which was just shy of three quarters of a million people around the globe. Aside from saving money by not going with a proprietary portal product, the ability for workers to collaborate online, distribute knowledge via blogs and take online learning courses will help them in their day-to-day dealings with people who use Goodwill’s services.

“This particular platform is going to allow us to serve more people next year than the 723, 000 people we served this year,” said Bergman. “It’s going to allow the Goodwill community to not only leverage the power of the overall organization by getting best practices but also collaborating with other subject matter experts across the organization.”

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