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GEneral Municipal Model Architecture (GEMMA)

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Posting Date:

2 October 2009

Last Edited Date:

02 October 2009


GEneral Municipal Model Architecture (GEMMA) Logojeffreyg's picture
Award finalist 2009

Type of initiative

  • Project or service-imgProject or service
  • Strategic initiative-imgStrategic initiative

Case Abstract


The GEneral Municipal Model Architecture GEMMA (GEMeentelijke Model Architectuur in Dutch) is a comprehensive set of architectures and standards to help Dutch municipalities realize their e-government ambitions.


GEMMA is developed and maintained by EGEM, a public agency created and funded by the Ministry of the Interior and the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) to help municipalities take the realization of their e-ambitions into their own hands and to reduce their dependency on the agenda and the pace of few large software-providers.


The products that have been developed by EGEM since 2003 were constantly refined and synchronized, culminating in the comprehensive set of mutual dependent standards and architecture products that together are known as GEMMA.


GEMMA consists of the following components (see figure):

 - Municipal e-Strategy: A document consisting of paragraphs and guidelines that can be used as a template to formulate a municipal e-strategy;

- Reference Architecture: The reference architecture products form the core of GEMMA, and consists of two parts: a process and an information architecture;

- Service Delivery Standards: The service delivery standards consist of three parts: 1) Standardized electronic forms (40+) for the most popular municipal products, all accompanied by standard messages for interfacing with backoffice applications. 2) Standardized Service-delivery Processes, based on the process architecture that bridge traditional municipal stovepipes. 3) A standardized catalogue of customer requests (“case types”);

- Data Model Standards: Canonical data models for integrating data from different (national and local) authentic registrations (“RSGB”), and to share and exchange case-file information among different applications (“RGBZ”);

- Data Exchange Standards: The StUF (Standardized Exchange Format) family of standards consist of basic semantic and technical exchange specifications (based on the data models) and several sector models for different domains.

- Procurement Approach and Guidelines: This approach helps local governments with the procurement of components based on the other architecture products and standards.

Main Benefits & Impacts:

- Due to the publicly available architectures and standards, interoperability is increased on all levels;

- GEMMA has helped a great deal in clearing entry-barriers to the municipal software market. From about 5 main vendors in the early days, this has increased to over 100.

- GEMMA standards help municipalities improve their service delivery to citizens and businesses. More than 120 municipalities use forms based on the GEMMA e-form specifications to set their first steps on the electronic channel;

- Software Suppliers more and more realize the importance of implementing standards in their products.

Main lessons learned are:

- Involving all stakeholders (suppliers, municipalities, administrations) is key to the quick and successful adoption and support of standards and architectures.

- When developing standards and architectures it is important to think about the governance and administration of these standards in the early stages.

- With municipalities differing hugely in (e-) maturity level and ambitions, architectures and standards will therefore always have to be a compromise and will be based on well-known and widely used standards and technologies.

Description of the case

Start date - End date
January 2004 (Ongoing)
Date operational
January 2004
Target Users
Administrative | Business (self-employed) | Business (industry) | Business (SME)
Target Users Description

GEMMA is a model architecture for municipalities, who (all 441 of them) clearly are GEMMAs main target group. In approaching these municipalities, however, GEMMA takes a hybrid approach, and targets municipalities as well as suppliers on the e-gov market. The large municipalities mostly employ e-gov architects and ICT-specialists themselves, and can translate GEMMA standards and reference architectures into their own specific architectures, procurement-requirements and products. The smaller municipalities, however lack these competences. This is one reason we also target suppliers of e-gov applications and consulting services to implement the GEMMA standards and architectures. Most e-gov application suppliers are SME’s. Only few large providers and consultancy firms can be considered industry. Most e-gov consultants for the local government market are however self-employed, or associated in SME’s.

As of January 1st 2009, there are 441 municipalities in the Netherlands. This number decreases yearly by a few due to local government mergers. Dutch Municipalities differ in size from 750,000 to 937 inhabitants, but do have the same responsibilities. In total, there are 25 municipalities larger than 100.00 inhabitants and 51 smaller than 10.000 inhabitants. The others are situated in the range of 10.000 – 100.000.

Next to municipalities and businesses, a third target group is formed by national (e-government) projects, mostly sponsored by ministries on a national level, that involve municipalities. As GEMMA is a model architecture for municipalities, these national projects need to be convinced to formulate their requests and solutions in GEMMA terms. To be able to interface with municipalities, these projects should also use the standards that are defined by GEMMA (e.g. StUF). An example is the national portal for requesting integrated environmental permits, a large national project, sponsored and executed by the ministry for housing, regional development, and the environment. Building permits are part of this integrated environmental permit, but are for the largest part a municipal responsibility, causing the need for an interface with municipalities. EGEM carried out an architecture-check based on GEMMA, and as a result, the data models are now corresponding with the RSGB, and for interfacing with municipalities, the project uses StUF.


Local (city or municipality)

Policy Context and Legal Framework

Dutch municipalities are by constitution an autonomous government layer. As a consequence, local governments can –within the boundaries set by law- make their own decisions regarding the prioritization and implementation of e-government.

National e-government programmes therefore have to tempt and negotiate with local governments to realize their ambitions. The same holds for standardization: municipalities cannot be summoned, but have to be tempted to use standards and architectures. An exception is the national list of open standards, for which a “comply or explain” regime is in place. The data exchange standard of GEMMA, StUF is on this list.

A recent development is the vision of the municipality as a one-stop-shop for the majority of public agencies. This has a huge impact on municipal processes, and increases the importance of a solid and well-adopted reference architecture.

The two main drivers for national and local e-government programmes are traditionally the reduction of administrative burdens and the improvement of service-delivery to citizens and businesses. Numerous national e-government programmes to help realize these ambitions have been initiated over the years, sponsored by different national ministries.

The relatively large number of e-government initiatives has lead to a situation where local and other governmental agencies are lacking oversight and focus. To help position and prioritize these initiatives, in 2009, the National Implementation Programme (NUP) was created. The NUP contains 19 e-government infrastructure building blocks, such as authentic registrations, authentication infrastructure and national portals that have to be implemented by the end of 2010. A second part of the NUP are 6 example projects, that have to be realized using this basic infrastructure. Among these is the implementation of the EU-services directive in the Netherlands.

The National Implementation Programme has lead to a signed agreement between all 4 layers of government, giving it government-wide support. As a consequence, the GEMMA process- and information architecture are updated to more explicitly indicate where the basic infrastructure building blocks are positioned, and how they should be used.

Next to the influences of the NUP, the GEMMA architecture products are also developed within the context of the Dutch National Government Reference Architecture (NORA). Unlike the NUP, this is a true reference architecture, providing a framework and guidelines on the business, information and technical architecture levels. The GEMMA is a specification within the scope of the NORA, specifically focussed on the domain of local government. Or, more popular: “GEMMA is a daughter of NORA”.

GEMMA contributes to the EU policies of single market, an information society for all, and providing better services to citizens and businesses. By means of standardization and creating interoperability, GEMMA has greatly reduced the entry barriers to the Dutch e-gov market. The GEMMA service-delivery standards and possibly also other GEMMA products help municipalities create better electronic services for citizens and businesses. The focus in all GEMMA architecture products is on multi-channel service-delivery, which benefits an information society for all.


Project Size and Implementation

Type of initiative
Overall Implementation approach
Partnerships between administration and/or private sector and/or non-profit sector
Technology choice
Standards-based technology | Mainly (or only) open standards
Funding source
Public funding national | Public funding local
Project size
Implementation: Not applicable/not available
Yearly cost:

Implementation and Management Approach


GEMMA is developed and maintained by EGEM, a public agency created (december 2003) and funded by the Ministry of the Interior and the Association of Dutch Municipalities. EGEM is part of the ICTU, the ICT Execution Organization, an public institution that was created to carry out e-government projects for different authorities (see also: http://tinyurl.com/n3r85q) .

EGEM itself is governed by a steering committee under the chairmanship of a mayor and with representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, the Association of Dutch Municipalities, and the Association of Town Clerks. The steering committee sets the yearly agenda and makes final decisions about the products to be developed. On a day-to-day basis, the steering committee is represented by the Management Team, in which the Projectmanager Architecture is responsible for GEMMA.

The Management Team is advised on a once-a-month basis by an advisory body consisting of members from municipalities. The advisory board discusses new products and other, more general developments that affect municipalities and formulates requests and priorities. The MT canalizes this advice to the steering committee. There are two advisory bodies: one with business architecture, and one with information architecture as scope. The first group is populated by the likes of Municipal IT-managers and e-Government Programme Managers. The later group consists of the more technical municipal specialists, such as IT-architects and integration specialists.

EGEM works closely together with both municipalities and suppliers in developing the architectures and standards. The governance of all GEMMA-products is currently under redesign, partly due to the continuation of EGEMs activities in the new KING organization (as of January 1st, 2010), but for most products, stakeholders can participate on three levels: as part of a community of interest, as part of an expert-group, or as part of an decision-making group. The community only receives regular status-updates, mailings and possibly requests for comments, the expert-groups consist of experts from suppliers and municipalities that actively help co-develop architectures and standards, and the decision-making group formalizes new versions and agrees on issues like release- and configuration management.

For some GEMMA products the role of the decision-making group is performed by the EGEM Management Team. For the data model, and data exchange formats, all three roles and a very strict governance model is in place (see http://www.egem-iteams.nl/beheermodel-en-releasebeleid, in Dutch only). Creating consensus in the decision-group gives these standards and their release calendars wide-spread supplier support.

The service-delivery standards were all co-developed by expert-groups consisting of domain experts from municipalities and suppliers. All major electronic form suppliers even formally committed themselves to participate in the development and governance of the e-form standards by signing a letter of intent.

Communication with the community and knowledge management is facilitated by a dedicated electronic environment for GEMMA (https://www.surfgroepen.nl/sites/gemma/default.aspx -free registration required). In this environment, all relevant documents (documents that are not publicly available on the EGEM website) regarding (the development of) the GEMMA products are available. It also contains an discussion environment that can be used to ask questions or formulate RFC’s. For the StUF standard, this forum is functioning so well that support questions are al relayed to this forum, and most questions can be answered by the experts in the community, instead of by EGEM experts.

For all products a change management procedure is in place. RFC’s are collected, registered and filtered by EGEM. Then these RFC’s are discussed in the expert and/or decision-making groups, and if accepted they are scheduled for the next release (for more info on the release calendars see: http://www.egem-iteams.nl/releasekalender-gemma).

As EGEM is a temporary organization (this changes with the arrival of KING per January 1st 2009), Human Resource Management is a particular area of concern. For this reason, only few of GEMMAs architects can actually be employed by EGEM itself. ICTU and EGEM, however have a policy in place under which civil servants of municipalities or national administrations can be posted for a specific term (typically 1-2 years) at ICTU/EGEM. This way EGEM attracts practical knowledge from municipalities, and in the longer term creates GEMMA ambassadors in the field. The gap between the need for personnel and the EGEM –employed and the temporarily-posted is filled with contracted consultants. These are contracted via one of the preferred consultancy-suppliers (as a result of an European tender) of ICTU.

For the implementation of GEMMA, EGEM cooperates with i-teams. I-teams is a sister-programme of EGEM within ICTU. I-teams helps all Dutch municipalities create a by management formally accepted ‘e-government implementation-plan’. This is done by specially trained and certified egov-consultants that all visit one or more municipalities. GEMMA is one of the main means to realize the egov ambitions in the plans.

Technology solution


The set of architectures and standards that make up GEMMA is composed in such a way that GEMMA promotes interoperability on a semantic, technical, and organizational, or process-level. Interoperability on semantic level is created by means of the data model standards, which are canonical data models. Technical interoperability is created by the data exchange standards from the StUF-family. Organizational and process interoperability is created by means of the process-architecture and the GEMMA e-processes. In the process-architecture and e-processes, the interfaces with other organizations are explicitly indicated.

GEMMA consists of architectures and standards, which are by definition to a certain degree technology-independent. There are, however several technology choices that have been made for the specific GEMMA products. In general, GEMMA products are based on well-proven technology instead of the newest state-of-the art technology.

The StUF standards are based on well-accepted W3C standards as XML, SOAP and WSDL. Semanticaly, the StUF messages are based on the canonical data models RSGB and RGBZ. In its newest version, StUF 3.01, StUF is designed following the basic principles of Service Oriented Architecture. StUF also includes specifications for binding to the ebMS and WUS protocols that are supported by the Dutch Governmental Service Bus (OSB).

The architecture products are build around the concept of a “midoffice”, which conceptually contains application functionality that is needed to connect the citizen-driven front-office with existing legacy back-office applications, such as. It also contains functionality that is shared between the different specialized backoffices, such as a Document Management and Content Management Functionality. Both architectures are also designed around the notion of a realistic use of concepts from service-oriented architecture. Not the fully-fledged ambitious kind with service directories and on-the-fly coupling of services , but more down-to earth componentization of applications and processes, and formulating existing and not yet existent interfaces in terms of services.

The service-delivery standards e-forms, e-processes and the ‘case-type catalogue’ take a much lower technology approach to standardization, as a main part of its targeted users are not architects or technical specialists, but also the civil servants in he municipal processes themselves. They must be able to review the standards and decide to adopt them in their own situation. The e-form specifications are therefore made available as Openoffice.org documents (EGEM and ICTU use Open Office throughout the organization). The case type catalogue as simple spreadsheet, and the e-processes as graphical pdf documents, but following the international Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN) standard.

Impact, innovation and results


Benefits and impacts can be identified for the three main stakeholders: municipalities, suppliers and vendors and administrations.

Main Benefits for municipalities:

· Interoperability: Due to the publicly available, and shared architectures and standards, interoperability has increased on all levels; municipalities experience this in practice, as it becomes easier to realize electronic interfaces between applications of different vendors, for example a front- and backoffice application.

· Not re-invent the wheel 441 times: By using the standardized service-delivery standards, municipalities do not all have to re-invent the wheel themselves. For the standardized electronic forms, much work has been done to identify the (minimal set of) questions that should be asked.

· Reduction of lock-in: as applications of different vendors share the same architectures and standards, it becomes easier to change vendor.

· Improved service-delivery, reduction of administrative burdens and increased municipal efficiency: GEMMA standards help municipalities improve their service delivery to citizens and businesses. The benefits associated with this improvement are also partly due to GEMMA.

Main Benefits for vendors/suppliers:

· For new suppliers: reduced entry-barriers to the Dutch egov market;

· For all suppliers: increased interoperability between their products, opening up possibilities for improving service-delivery;

· Standardization leads to less customization, which may seem profitable in the short run, but costs suppliers money in the long run. Standardization frees resources that can be used for innovation.

Main benefits for administrations/egov projects:

· National egov projects can align their plans and architectures to one standardized municipal model architecture instead of having to talk with all municipalities individually. It is also clear what standards to use if they want municipalities to interface with their application.

Impact of GEMMA:

The impact of GEMMA is difficult to measure exactly, as so many different organizations use and benefit from GEMMA. The impact is however very large, as the very major part of municipalities and e-gov vendors use concepts or standards from GEMMA (or the EGEM architecture, the products have been branded GEMMA from the beginning).

· The midoffice concept from the GEMMA information architecture, for example, has been very influential and has, together with the standardized procurement approach, completely reshaped the municipal software market. Many vendors started offering midoffice products based on this architecture.

· The StUF standard is formally backed and adopted my all major software vendors on the municipal egov market. The same holds for the standardized data models.

· The electronic forms are used by over 120 municipalities, and all major electronic form vendors (11 at the time of writing) have signed an letter of intent to start offering the standardized forms to their customers.


Track record of sharing

Sharing our standards and architectures is one of the main tasks of EGEM. So many publications have been written and talks are held on almost a day-to-day basis.

An overview of selected publications (most in national peer reviewed professional journals) can be found here: http://www.egem-iteams.nl/gemma-publicaties

And a list of selected presentations can be found here: http://www.egem-iteams.nl/gemma-presentaties

On the GEMMA website, more documents and even movies aimed at sharing information about GEMMA and its products can be found.

Next to sharing information about GEMMA to our main target groups, municipalities and suppliers, we also communicate regularly with organizations that are not directly our main target, but want to learn from our experiences in standardization to applied in their own field.

Occasionally we are asked to present GEMMA and/or the whole EGEM in and European context. Examples are the talk given at the Eisco conference last year, and the two presentations given in the context of the European Smart Cities Project in Kortrijk, Belgium. These presentations can be found here: http://www.smartcities.info/building-personalised-services-requires-vision-and-architecture (presentations #4 and #8).


Lessons learnt

The three main lessons learnt are:

- Involve stakeholders: involving stakeholders as suppliers and municipalities is key to the quick and successful adoption of standards and architectures. By co-developing standards with all stakeholders, (municipalities, suppliers, other e-gov actors), the support for using the standard is increased. One example is the StUF standard, that is actively co-developed by many, different kinds of suppliers, and in this way became a nationwide official open standard. And the electronic form specifications, where al main electronic form suppliers (11) signed a letter of intent to offer standardized forms to their customers.

- Design and Implement Governance in early stages: the GEMMA products developed over the years were initially developed without thinking about the governance of these standards. EGEM also was created as a temporary development-organization. The importance of administration and governance of standards as since been realized, and EGEM is to be succeeded (January 1st, 2010) by a permanent organization, KING (Quality Institute Dutch Municipalities).

- Compromise: designing architectures and standards for 441 Dutch municipalities is an interesting, but difficult task. The municipalities differ hugely in their level of (e-) maturity and ambitions and architectures and standards will therefore always have to be a compromise. The hybrid approach, by which we target municipalities (the larger ones) and suppliers for municipalities (for the smaller ones) also helps bridge these differences.


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Showing 7 comments

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GEMMA unites local governments

20 October 2009 | 4827 Visits | Rating: 3.7 (maximum:5)

GEMMA is broadly accepted by Dutch local governmental organizations and provides them with purchasing power against their IT-suppliers.

Edit Delete

GEMMA for Europe

20 October 2009 | 4649 Visits | Rating: 4.5 (maximum:5)

GEMMA is very succesfull in Dutch local e-government. I wish you as much success in Europe!

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Practical standards for municipalities

15 October 2009 | 5012 Visits | Rating: 3.8 (maximum:5)

GEMMA delivers practical standards which municipalities

can finetune into their local specific architectures, procurement- requirements and products.

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Big benefit for municipalities

13 October 2009 | 4874 Visits | Rating: 4.2 (maximum:5)

GEMMA is really a big benefit for municipalities. A lot of knowledge is shared. Municipalities dont need to re-invent ict-architecture, but can use what is already available.

GEMMA program

13 October 2009 | 5138 Visits | Rating: 3.3 (maximum:5)

The GEMMA program is very successful in helping local governments in their information and process architecture, standards and efficient work.

I would recommend everybody to vote for this submission.

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Curiosity - Architecture for Municipalities

10 November 2009 | 0 Visit | Rating: 3 (maximum:5)

This case is about the dutch Municipalities. The netherlands have a very decentral approach in there governmental structure. Is there anyone who can tell me how this has been done in other countries. Is there a similar approach?


14 October 2009 | 0 Visit | Rating: 3.7 (maximum:5)

I wish you success in your project

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