Dubai revisits portal project

Dubai eGovernment is replacing its web infrastructure and overhauling its middleware layer in an attempt to improve the manageability and reliability of its portal.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  June 3, 2004

|~|Alshar_M.jpg|~||~|Dubai eGovernment is pulling down its web infrastructure and starting again in an attempt to improve performance, reliability, manageability and, ultimately, its service offering. The portal, which has been operational since October 2001, was supposed to act as ‘single window’ to all online services provided by Dubai’s 24 government departments. However, it has been plagued by a series of technical difficulties that have hampered attempts to promote the site to other government departments, the business community and the general public. “I wouldn’t lie too you and tell you that the portal has been the best,” says Salem Al Shair, director of e-services at Dubai eGovernment. “We have had a lot of hiccups with it. We are in the process of blowing up the whole thing and reconstructing it,” he adds. Dubai’s e-government team plans to upgrade its server hardware and replace key components of its software architecture by the end of July. According to Al Shair, the revamped infrastructure will help assume its position as the single window to government services. The hardware element of the project promises to be a relatively straightforward upgrade of its existing Sun Solaris servers. However, work on the software architecture will be more comprehensive, as Dubai eGovernment replaces its existing Vignette content management system and core elements of its middleware layer. “The hardware is being replaced with more powerful machines. The content management and portal application software [are] also being replaced,” says Al Shair. The replacement of Vignette with Documentum’s content management system is critical to improving the overall performance of the portal. Documentum promises greater out of the box functionality, improved ease of use and customisation capabilities, and better native Arabic support. “Vignette is the Rolls Royce of content management, [but] the problem is that [we] don’t have enough people that can programme with it and use it, which reflects heavily on the performance,” says Al Shair. “We [have] realised that we probably don’t need the Rolls Royce — we will settle for a Mercedes that, at the end of the day, we know how to drive and [that can] be maintained easily,” he adds. Documentum’s out of the box functionality should reduce the number of bugs that have crept in over the last three years of Vignette development work. The greater use of tried and tested components should also enable the eGovernment Department to accelerate the delivery of services through the portal. “One of the problems with Vignette [is that] a lot of the functionality [had to be] developed. With Documentum, most of the functionality we need is out of the box. [We] just have to set it up and use it. That is very helpful for us,” says Al Shair. The greater use of components will make it easier for other government departments to deliver services through the portal. In particular, smaller government departments, which have fewer technical resources, have been struggling to develop sufficient Vignette skills. “They [government departments] are in charge of looking after their sites. So it [Documentum] is much easier for them to deal with and use,” says Al Shair. Documentum also offers better native Arabic support. Dubai eGovernment was one of the first portals to install the Arabic version of Vignette and has consequently faced a number of early adopter issues. The government development team has had to programme a number of workarounds in the last three years. “Vignette has a lot of workarounds, which we don’t have to do in Documentum,” says Al Shair.||**|||~||~||~|Dubai’s largest government department, Dubai Municipality, is another user of Vignette. It has been operating a scaled down version of the Dubai eGovernment infrastructure since it started offering online services in September 2001. The municipality has limited the amount of development work it has done with Vignette and just uses the software to maintain its own web site. “Most of our e-services are not developed using Vignette. We have used Vignette in the development of only a few e-services,” says Ahmed Hashem Bahrozyan, head of e-government services, IT department, Dubai Municipality. “Vignette is mostly used in maintaining the Dubai Municipality portal and its various channels and pages,” he adds. Although Dubai Municipality took a conscious decision to mirror Dubai eGovernment in its initial implementation of its Sun/Vignette infrastructure, there are no signs that the municipality will also migrate to Documentum. “The fact that Dubai e-Government has moved to Documentum does not necessarily mean that Dubai Municipality will follow suit,” says Bahrozyan. Dubai e-Government’s software overhaul isn’t being restricted to the content management system. It is also replacing its existing ‘best of breed’ middleware layer to construct a more modular platform based on BEA’s WebLogic platform. The integrated platform will make future upgrades and service delivery much easier. For instance, to upgrade the existing Oracle and Sun iPlanet middleware platform requires time consuming checking to ensure different components of the software stack will continue to work together. But the WebLogic platform enables the IT team just has to load one upgrade CD and each piece in the architecture is automatically upgraded. “We have written off the earlier structure and we are just building up something more modular where every component is individually hooked to the bigger structure,” says Al Shair. “The earlier [infrastructure] was mangled together. It was causing a lot of delays in terms of improving the performance of the services. [We] were always afraid we would pull at something and it would fall [down],” he adds. The modular approach will be vital as Dubai eGovernment scales its infrastructure to accommodate an increasing number of government departments and services. Currently, 14 out of the 24 government departments share the eGovernment infrastructure to host services. However, before the larger government departments migrate their data and applications to the central infrastructure, it must prove its reliability. “By the end of July we should have a more robust environment, only then can we start talking to other departments about being on it, rather than standing alone,” says Al Shair. “We are concentrating on the smaller departments, and when we have them here operating in the portal, we can then go for the bigger fish,” he adds.||**||

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