There’s a technology revolution spreading across Australian government — and it’s set to completely disrupt the way agencies publish content and manage their websites.
But the govCMS project is more than just a new way for sites to manage content.
First announced in 2014, it not only represents a transformation in how agencies can rapidly roll out major technology solutions, but also in how they collaborate to create mutually beneficial systems in ways and at speeds never before seen in public service.
By partnering with an established and respected technology group in Acquia to help roll out a simplified, unified CMS for all levels of government, the Australian government has also signalled its dedication to embracing innovation from outside the traditional public agency sphere to tackle large, crucial technology problems.
Yet even more important is the result. Without the burden of complex technology infrastructure management and maintenance, government can get back to doing what it does best: leading and guiding citizens with information that benefits them the most.
When the Australian government first announced the availability of the Drupal-based govCMS, the reception was one of surprise — and delight. The government would be following in the leading footsteps of the White House in delivering public service technology.
Equally surprising is the rapid pace of deployment the new CMS allows.
Eight months after launching govCMS, 49 government sites are now operating on the new platform and 12 are in development. With the service available to all Commonwealth, State and local agencies, more than 120 agencies are engaging with the service and there is a growing pipeline of govCMS activity.“… build it once and share it with other government agencies at no further cost.”
Agencies including IP Australia, the Shared Services Centre, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, the Australian Taxation Office and the departments of Finance, Social Services, Communications and Prime Minister and Cabinet all have live sites on the platform.
Developed in partnership between Acquia and the Online Services Branch of the Department of Finance, govCMS is more than just a cost savings initiative — it will enable agencies to collaborate in ways never before possible.
“The real strength of govCMS is the ability for teams to create extended functionality — build it once and share it with other government agencies at no further cost,” said Sharyn Clarkson, assistant secretary of the Online Services Branch in Finance.
Clarkson is in a unique position to view digital development in government: she recently spent seven months helping set up the new Digital Transformation Office, working with people from across the Commonwealth public service.
Clarkson was able to take and apply that experience in her role at Finance, where her team manages a range of government digital platforms including govDex, govSpace, AusGovBoards and the Google Analytics Premium service to all tiers of government.
One of the main frustrations with the current system is that there are hundreds of content management systems in use across the Commonwealth. That splinters collaboration opportunities, but also spreads resources. Each time an agency needs to make a change, the same activity is replicated across each agency.
Uniting under one platform, across all levels of government, isn’t just a global-leading technology simplification initiative — it means agencies at any level will have access to the same robust systems, simplifying infrastructure, management and maintenance.
“We work with digital teams all across the Commonwealth, state and local government as our services are used by many agencies,” said Clarkson. “We have a unique perspective, particularly to spot the gaps, from this role we have.
“It’s not easy to work together across boundaries. Everyone is using different systems; we thought there were things we could do to improve that situation.”
An established partner in Acquia
Clarkson says partnering with a large and respected group such as Acquia gave the government the stability for the core offering — Drupal application management and hosting.
Such requirements are easier to manage when working with an established enterprise solution. An added benefit, Clarkson says, is that “using such an established enterprise partner means tapping in to their considerable expertise and capabilities” (this is crucial as communications and web teams across government departments can differ in size, composition and capacity).
Finance plays a large part in govCMS, managing the procurement, IT security accreditation and compliance against standards including AGLS, accessibility and Digital Service Standard.
Clarkson said: “Our aim is to take all the hard work out of it for agencies.”
Finance also works with other partners such as Akamai, which provides security against distributed denial of service attacks, and a content delivery network. Local SMEs provide specialised services such as design, onboarding and migration.
The quality of the service lies in its flexibility, Clarkson says. Agencies can onboard to the full service or use Drupal without it.
“Agencies can go to Drupal.org, download the govCMS distribution, and they can use it any way they like — on their own internal hosting or on a hosting provider of their choice,” she explained.“Agencies can build the sites themselves, then we can pick it up and bring it into the govCMS platform.”
“Agencies can build the sites themselves, then we can pick it up and bring it into the govCMS platform. They can ask another agency to build on their behalf, they can get a local business to build their site or they can ask Acquia to provide an SME partner to perform the work.”
The ability to collaborate and rapidly deploy technology solutions is taken to a new level with govCMS. Any agency will be able to use components used for others.
The Department of Communications built a dedicated policy engagement module which enables stakeholder interaction — formal submissions and informal comments on prospective legislation or other types of change by government. That capability will now be available to all other sites on the platform at no further cost.
Clarkson says these types of custom modules are desired — future government websites won’t have to start from scratch. They can extend what already exists or reuse what another agency has provided.
“I hope in time that I will see agencies collaborating and co-building pieces of functionality where there is a common need,” she said.
“We’re committed to being good citizens of the open source community — that means giving more than we take, and it means everything we create; our distribution and any modules we develop are openly available on Drupal.org.”
The change and release process for new functionality sits openly on Github as well. It means anyone can participate, propose ideas and critique different options. Any decisions reached are completely transparent to agencies and the entire Drupal community.
govCMS is dynamic — it will grow and develop according to the needs of the users, Clarkson says.
While there is more work to be done, Clarkson says Finance is “excited” so many agencies have come to govCMS, saying the agency is “building a strong community around the platform … the opportunity to co-create and work together to solve common problems has been a key reason agencies have joined”.
“We’re excited that so many agencies have come to govCMS in such a short space of time and how strongly this vision is driving their adoption,” she said.