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How Open Standards Adoption Can Affordably Support Place Based Improvement

3 Mins read

Placecube is a software development and data services business that has supported its clients with transformation enabling technology for over twenty years. In this article, Placecube’s Chief Product Officer, Dr Gavin Beckett, explores how an open standards approach is supporting place-based improvement. 

A new approach to digital 

I’ve often spoken about how it’s time to move beyond closed proprietary monolithic systems at one end of the spectrum, and coding from scratch at the other end, to a place where reuse of modern, internet age, digital services built on open standards and open APIs enables the public sector to stop reinventing the wheel.   

Digital leaders often express their frustration that they cannot simply connect one system to another, easily tap into common data sources, or share services across organisational boundaries without costly development to break down barriers that legacy suppliers have constructed.  

Our services and the whole business model of local government, needs to be designed afresh, based on an understanding of user and community needs, if we are to adapt successfully to continued budgetary strains and growing demand.   

Creating an ecosystem based on open standards 

Placecube’s vision is an open standards ecosystem, where we provide reusable building blocks – ‘Cubes.’  Whilst councils are the democratic centre of the local place, we know that people, businesses and visitors to an area interact with many organisations that provide services and guidance. Our vision is to digitally connect the network of organisations across a place, enabling them to provide or access data, services, and to collaborate on meeting community, individual and local business needs. 

What is a cube anyway? 

‘Cubes’ are packages of programming code, deployed as a single unit to meet a defined purpose or user need – a building block for a joined-up digital experience. They are based on a modular approach to programming and could be constructed using a microservices architecture, or be implemented in a coarser grained ‘traditional’ modular framework like OSGi – which is the approach Placecube uses to build Digital Place. So cubes are composed of one or more atomic modules that use services to communicate with each other, through published standard APIs, hiding their implementation details. 

One benefit of a modular approach is that we can deploy new cubes into an existing SaaS instance of the platform without needing to take down the whole service. Customers can then hook up the new cube with other components of their Digital Place instance through the standard APIs. 

Many Cubes are designed to provide commonly used features like case management, document management, or search. We call these Feature Cubes. We have also produced Service Cubes – these bundle together a combination of feature cubes to produce the user experience, business logic and interfaces that have been designed to provide a service which meets user needs. Service cubes are constructed based on the needs uncovered in user research, as we collaborate with our clients to build a specific service requirement. We build Service cubes in line with industry good practice and sector specific standards, such as the Government Digital Service Standard.  

Because Cubes can access the other services of the Digital Place platform, they can also expose data about their usage, enabling tracking inside the Analytics cube, or extraction through an open API into the clients’ business intelligence system. 

So far, everything I have described is about Cubes built inside Digital Place, as collections of OSGi modules. But this is not the only way to build Cubes. We want to ensure that Digital Place operates as an open ecosystem – and that means supporting code that is built in other languages, outside the core platform, but that can talk to the services it provides. This relies on the native support for OpenAPI in Digital Place, and the ability to wrap web apps built by other organisations in popular JavaScript frameworks like React, Angular or Vue in such a way that they can be deployed as widgets alongside Cubes we have built ourselves. 

Placecube’s Digital Place offers a combination of well-designed services, built on user research with open standards, intended for easy adoption and reuse. Rather than charging premium prices to every customer, making the public sector pay multiple times for the same code, we have designed a subscription that gives access to all of the service cubes designed and built with existing customers and in particular councils – and keep adding cubes for reuse. This frees organisations to focus funding on the activities that will really tackle the complex social and economic challenges in their place.  We believe that this open, modular, standards-based approach offers local public services a real difference and has the ability to help transform the sector.  

To discover more about Placecube services please visit: https://www.placecube.com/ 

Author: Dr Gavin Beckett, Chief Product Officer, Placecube  

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