Goodwill launches open-source intranet

By Todd Cohen

Wanting to give its large and far-flung community of users better online access to shared knowledge and to one another, Goodwill Industries International has overhauled its extranet portal.

Launched last September and still growing and evolving, MyGoodwill is designed to give up to 100,000 people “the ability to interact with one another, share best practices, collaborate in real time online, and get just-in-time learning,” says Steve Bergman, chief information officer.

And by using an open-source system, he says, Goodwill was able to develop its entire new extranet for less than one-fourth the cost it would have incurred had it used a proprietary system.

“We were able to bypass the huge expense of purchasing licenses,” he says, “and apply the funds we had to actual development and implementation.”

Goodwill Industries, a federation based in Rockville, Md., of 205 autonomous Goodwill organizations with 80,000 employees throughout the United States and abroad, last year provided job-training and career programs for more than 723,000 people with disabilities, welfare recipients, low-wage workers and other job-seekers.

The nonprofit also provides commercial services for government and private industry, and operates 2,015 retail stories and an Internet auction site.

MyGoodwill initially has been organized into “centers of practice” to serve its retail, information-technology and human-resources operations, its operations for workforce contracts with businesses and government agencies, and its volunteerism and strategic-planning operations.

It plans soon to add centers of practice for its governance and legal affairs operations, and later to add several more.

MyGoodwill, developed with open-source technology from Los Angeles-based Liferay, offers online-learning, knowledge-management and collaboration tools for each center of practice.

“It’s a learning environment for a community of peers,” Bergman says.

An employee of a local Goodwill organization visiting MyGoodwill can click on a link for any of the centers of practice and, on the webpage for that center, find resources within the e-learning, knowledge-management or collaboration features.

An employee visiting the retail center of practice, for example, could access a document repository in the knowledge-management feature and then search for best practices on store layout.

Or the employee could use the collaboration feature to enter the online community to find someone to ask about store layout.

The employee also could use the online-learning feature to search for and download a computer-based training module on the topic.

Goodwill will call on experts in various subject areas to write modules to be shared on the portal.

“Wherever the subjects take us, whatever is needed, we’ll develop content,” Bergman says. “Much of that content lives within the institutional knowledge of this organization.”

The knowledge-management feature of MyGoodwill serves as a document repository that provides “versioning” and search tools.

Versioning lets a user see who authored each version of a document, as well as the date it was posted or updated on the site.

The search function, known as “federated search,” lets visitors search across multiple databases to gather information.

Formats in which users can store information range from Microsoft Word and PDF applications to audio and video files.

“It’s growing into a big library of all our best practices,” Bergman says.

In the collaboration feature of MyGoodwill, employees not only can search for a best practice, but also can interact with people who may have expertise users wants to learn about.

Online tools for gathering and sharing that information include message boards, blogs and community calendars, and soon will include chat, instant-messaging, RSS news feeds and “wiki,” or an online document that multiple authors can edit and to which they can add information.

And as Goodwill works to expand the portal, Bergman says, its open-source technology makes that expansion easy and inexpensive.

Goodwill, for example, recently wanted to add online chat and peer-to-peer instant messaging to MyGoodwill.

“Instead of having to purchase it or develop it in-house,” Bergman says, “we simply can use what’s available in the open-source software community for free.”

On a recent Friday afternoon, when Goodwill needed a feature on the portal modified, says Brian Chan, founder and CEO of Liferay, he issued an email alert to the community of open-source developers.

The feature that was needed already had been developed by an open-source developer, who contributed that code for it to Liferay, Chan says.

“By Monday it was fixed,” said Bergman.

Chan says that while only three of Liferay’s 30 clients are nonprofits, his company’s mission is to “make money to give money to charities.”

The two-year-old firm, which Chan launched as an open-source project in 2000 and which now employs 20 people, generates $2 million to $2.5 million a year in revenue and already is turning a profit, he says.

“We’re giving away part of our profit,” he says. “Our aim, as we scale, is to give away more and more of that.”

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