Website that cost State €4m shut down

 

THE GOVERNMENT spent more than €4 million developing an ambitious citizen and community information website that was shut down in December.

The Mobhaile project (www.mobhaile.ie) was launched in 2004 for local authorities to use as a portal for citizens to access a wide range of local information.

It cost €4,001,319, according to documents obtained by the technology consultant and blogger Damien Mulley under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents show Mobhaile’s software development costs ran to €1,482,092 and a further €1,275,878 was spent on computing hardware and data storage. Associated salaries are listed as €431,418 and the total hosting costs between 2006 and 2009 came to €291,302.

Mobhaile was the brainchild of the Local Government Computer Services Board, the body that provides shared IT services to the local government sector. The project was financed through the Information Society Fund.

By the time Mobhaile was fully live, just seven counties were actively using it.

When Information Society funding was cut last year, the decision was taken to stop Mobhaile from December 31st last.

The site was intended to give citizens and businesses a single view of information relevant to their locality based on three criteria: function, location and time. Many local authorities already had this information – Mobhaile’s role was to make it easily accessible to the public on the internet or by text message. It was also intended to act as a tool for the community and voluntary sector to deliver information to citizens.

The FOI documents do not contain any statistics for Mobhaile, such as the number of visitors it had or what the most popular pages were. Mr Mulley said this was highly unusual, as regular monitoring is standard practice for most websites. He said the FOI documents reporting the project’s success were not supported by any independent website statistics.

Tim Willoughby, assistant director with the Local Government Computer Services Board, said web analytics software would have pushed Mobhaile’s budget up further because it comprised more than 700 individual sites. “To put in Webtrends licences on each of those sites was an expense that we couldn’t have borne,” he said.

The FOI documents show Mobhaile went €230,528 over budget. Mr Willoughby said this was because the software code to run the site was extended to include additional functions for other local government systems, such as planning and housing.

He added that the project saved a significant amount of money by moving to open-source software during its development. “The cost of the project would have been higher if we had stayed with proprietary software,” he said.

He acknowledged the project “fell short” of its initial ambitious scope. He said about 20-25 per cent of the system developed for Mobhaile was still in daily use.