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Special Report: Web Services and Enterprise Architecture

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Case Study: Web Services on a Mission
The UN's IFAD agency employs a robust, open source portal solution to streamline collaboration and knowledge sharing for a worldwide community.

February 22, 2007

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries. Working with poor, rural people; governments; donors; nongovernmental organizations; and many other partners, IFAD focuses on country-specific solutions, which help increase access for rural, poor people to financial services, markets, technology, land, and other natural resources. Typical IFAD projects include microfinance initiatives, small-enterprise development, providing safe drinking water, natural resource management, and access to markets. IFAD focuses on enabling the poorest people to overcome poverty, with a special emphasis on women and indigenous people.


As the UN's rural poverty specialist, IFAD needed to improve the way it learned and shared knowledge about the most effective ways to fight rural poverty. To accomplish this challenge, it decided to power the development of a new portal Web site that focuses exclusively on rural poverty eradication (see Resources). The Rural Poverty Portal will enable development workers, the poor, and policymakers in more than 165 countries to share ideas and information, and in this way improve their ability to fight rural poverty.

However, for several reasons including budget constraints, the new site needed to be based on an open source solution. Jose Stigliano, IFAD's IT director, said that open source was important to the organization in a number of ways. It wanted the technology to be maintainable and customizable. Open source gave the organization the control it needed to get the most from the software, Stigliano said. The mix of skills of its development and support team made an open source solution preferable because it costs less to own and is more flexible than proprietary products.

Stigliano said his team found that the Liferay content management solution could best satisfy the requirements of IFAD's customers, even when compared with proprietary solutions. Another factor that impressed IFAD was the vendor's commitment to discount its services to support a nonprofit initiative, thus enabling IFAD to direct its savings to poverty-related projects. (See the sidebar, "An Open Source Portal Framework Technology.")

Bryan Cheung, Liferay's CEO, concurred from the vendor's perspective. He said that IFAD's work aligns with Liferay's corporate vision, and the company wanted to contribute to the agency's mission by reducing the cost of services. In turn, IFAD offered to contribute new functionality to Liferay's technology.

Stepping It Up
IFAD developed a prototype of the Rural Poverty Portal on its own to test the concept and then turned to Liferay to turn the prototype into a dynamic tool. It implemented the dynamic functionality to classify content with tags taken from a tag library, according to Stigliano. The content was then used by portlets associated with templates that define what goes where dynamically on the portal.

IFAD will address maintenance issues with Liferay's integrated Journal Web publishing system, which allows IFAD's team to reuse content and work within a streamlined publishing process. Cheung said that the Journal technology will provide the Rural Poverty Portal with powerful content management and Web publishing tools, including requisite multilingual support for English, French, Spanish, and Arabic.

The new portal will also empower project personnel and community members to collaborate globally on solving rural poverty issues. Maximizing the tools the portal provides, users can publish information, discuss common problems, and share success stories among the many members of IFAD's worldwide network, ranging from rural farmers and project leaders to administrative staff and policy makers.

The full-fledged portal will offer a variety of collaboration tools to its users such as message boards, wikis, blogs, e-mail, and instant messaging. The approach to content creation and management enables IFAD to decentralize the administration of the site and shift to a user-driven, content model that drives collaboration and activity within its virtual community, according to Roxanna Samii, IFAD's manager of Web services and business sponsor of the project.

The vendor's professional services team provided the expertise to customize its technology for IFAD. The Rural Poverty Portal project is driving innovations in the area of tag-driven, dynamic content publishing. Liferay is extending its content management system to enable metatagging. Content uploaded to the portal—including reports and studies, multimedia audio/visual, Web articles, URLs, and statistical data—will be classified with tags that denote country, topic, content type, and so forth. New portlets can display that content based on those tags.

Content that is newly added appears automatically in the appropriate places without additional work, Cheung said, and it's a huge time-saver for the Web site team and a powerful tool for end users.

The Liferay technology helped to reduce the cost and time of maintaining the site. Rather than create hundreds of individual pages per country and topic, metapages instead can display the correct content based on the country and/or topic a user navigates to. Thus, IFAD staff and development practitioners in the field can participate actively in the portal, and a support team can spend its energy focusing on strategic issues.

The collaborative development and flexibility of this solution lies at the heart of Liferay's mission and embodies the spirit of open source, according to Cheung. This project demonstrates the power of open source for accelerating Web development and delivering its benefits to diverse communities. The vendor's participation to help win the fight against poverty is one of the most important rewarding aspects of the project.

Source: Liferay and IFAD

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