Accela interview

Solutions for government agencies to empower citizens

Government and citizens
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Meet Kris Trujillo, Senior Software Architect at Accela. I met Trujillo at last year's CityCamp Colorado and was curious about how Accela is advancing the open government movement with their software. I was impressed to learn about some of their solutions aimed at government agencies and how those solutions help to provide transparency into government processes and civic information.

Accela is working with organizations like Code for America to generate interest in the civic entrepreneurial space and spur innovation for citizen-focused solutions. Not only do their solutions help government agencies be more transparent, but they also enable citizens and developers to build on top of those solutions. While not all their solutions are open source, Accela is helping to enable some of the key parts of enabling a more open government: transparency and collaboration.

Trujillo tells us more about Acella in this interview.

Tell our audience about Accela.

Today, Accela powers thousands of services and millions of transactions for more than 500 public agencies worldwide, enabling people to connect with their governments and streamline processes such as permitting, licensing, land management, and public health and safety. Accela addresses a broad range of agency, business, and citizen needs, and includes built in payment, scheduling, compliance, and information transparency. Together with our partners, Accela can custom-tailor solutions based on precise agency specifications, or deploy pre-configured solutions based on best practice templates and packaged services in a matter of a few weeks.

Our platform:

  • Enables agencies to reduce workload, increase efficiencies and connect with constituencies
  • Provides citizens and businesses with easier, more convenient access to government services
  • Offers partners and developers with an open platform and access to data to build and deploy apps

How does Accela embrace the open source way?

The core of our software products are powered by open source technologies. Additionally, we are working with organizations like Code for America and Tumml to spur innovation and build a vibrant ecosystem around our platform. We provide the ability for developers and partners to build, sell, and deploy mobile and social applications to engage industry professionals and citizens in their communities. This improves the quality of the applications and fosters usage. Here are some of the components used in our technology:

  • JBossAS – Accela has been using JBossAS for over 10 years as the core to our application and distribute our application sole on JBossAS.
  • Spring – IoC is a key architectural pattern used by Accela with Spring providing the framework.
  • Hibernate – Provides the ORM capabilities with our applications architecture.
  • Castor – Although an older framework we started using Castor before Hibernate and still have a lot of code that relies on it.
  • Lucene/Hibernate Search – Over time we found the need to index key pieces of data outside of the relationship database to speed up searching. Since we were using Hibernate adding in Hibernate Search powered by Lucene was a logical choice for us. It has paid off and we've had a lot of success indexing very large datasets in Lucene (hundreds of millions of rows).
  • Rhino – A key feature of our application is extending the built-in business logic using scripting. We have been using the Rhino JavaScript engine to provide this capability for many years.
  • Apache CXF and Axis – This is used to power our web services interfaces which is also key to our architecture. Several .NET based applications use our J2EE business server via these interfaces.
  • Swagger – We've been using this to provide the documentation and how-to interfaces into our REST web services.
  • Quartz – Provides our batch scheduling functionality.
  • Railo – Part of our code base was written over 10 years ago using ColdFusion.  A few years ago we switched to using Railo as the CFMX engine and have a had a lot of success.  New development does not happen under this architecture but it allowed us to retain our investment in CFMX as the company has moved forward.
  • JDOM – Using to make working with XML easier and faster.
  • Jakarta POI – This has been used on the server-side to generate Microsoft Office compatible output files (Excel and Word).
  • Ant – Used for building the entire applications source code.
  • Junit – Used for all of our automated unit tests – we have around 200k automated unit tests.
  • Jquery – Is used heavily in our web pages as the javascript framework.

Additionally we have working on an open data solution using CKAN. This is not at a production level yet, but is something we are actively developing and plan to release in the next couple of months.

What kind of things do governments do with technology from Accela?

Accela improves government processes in land and asset management, permitting, licensing, code enforcement, and more.  Our powerful workflow engine integrates with apps, allowing agencies to push content and manage inbound requests, transactions and other information.

For example:

  • Accela Land Management provides the ability to access and utilize data, manage the growth of community services and resources, and interact with citizens in a more meaningful way.
  • Accela Asset Management provides a way to analyze and access data about assets and resources and enables government workers to use the information to make decisions and provide customer service.
  • Accela Licensing and Case Management streamlines licensing activities, enhances enforcement and code actions, and improves customer service.

How is Accela improving the citizen experience?

We provide a complete platform for civic engagement. Our solutions accelerate and streamline citizen interactions with government agencies and engages them directly with mobile and web-based applications that provide transparency into government processes and civic information, power their business transactions, and enable them to actively participate in improving their community.

What open source apps are available from Accela?

Accela Mobile 311 is an app (available on iPhone and iPad) that enables residents and business to take an active role in their community by requesting services from or reporting incidents to their local government agency. The Android version is scheduled to be available in May. The app can be downloaded at We are also planning to add these to Github, we just haven't made it that far yet.

Governments using Accela Automation software license the app and developers can brand the app, customize it to their specific environments and offer it to their local constituents via Apple's App Store.


About the author

Jason Hibbets
Jason Hibbets - Jason Hibbets is a Principal Program Manager at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and community publications. He is the author of The foundation for an open source city and has been with Red Hat since 2003. Follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets for a fun and shareable feed of his open source (and...