The proliferation of web content has had a profound impact on businesses, governments and organisations of all kind struggling to keep up with the desire for quality written, audio and visual communication. In 2013, data scientist Petter Bae Brandztæg of SINTEF recorded that 90% of all data had been recorded in just the two years prior.
For those organisations having operated online for many years, keeping up with that content is a challenge. A large number are forced to deal with multiple legacy systems that can threaten to harm the unity of their online communications, resulting in a disjointed and degraded brand positioning.
In government, this is especially true. The need to discover, repurpose and share or consume government content in real time is greater than ever before.
According to a 2015 Forrester Research report, large enterprises manage an average of 268 customer-facing websites and mobile apps. Such a high level of communication means spreading a single, unified message across all channels can be time intensive and, for large organisations, subject to regulatory burden.
Across the Australian government, there are more than 1600 web sites managed by various departments, with the states controlling at least that many again.“Content Hub is really about delivering content as a service to lots of different channels …”
Being able to create a single message — across multiple channels — is imperative. Web visitors expect a high level of polished and robust communication, whether it be from a private company or a public agency.
Solving these issues is at the heart of “Government as an API” and the Content Hub. The Content Hub plugs into the Drupal content management system and enables website managers to cross-publish, edit and distribute material across a large number of sites — all at once — and even material from within non-Drupal content systems as well
For organisations with many small groups making up a whole — such as a university or a government — Content Hub allows communication to be consistent across multiple sites.
“One of the things we see in public service and commercial sectors, and higher education, is that content is created all over again,” said Bryan House, Acquia SVP of Worldwide Account Management.
“Content Hub is really about delivering content as a service to lots of different channels, so it’s a distribution mechanism, to share content across and between many sites.”
Content Hub works by connecting multiple sites into a network. When connected, website managers are able to search for articles in a dashboard, and then simply re-publish existing content.
“This will mean we can make content once and publish it many times,” Department of Finance online services manager Sharyn Clarkson recently told the Drupalgov conference.
This opens an enormous number of opportunities to break down divisional barriers. Within an organisation which consists of self-governing entities, those departments and divisions can discover content they may not have found otherwise. Not only does this share much-needed knowledge and breaks down information silos, it enables a much richer content experience for the end user.
Co-ordinating the message
In the context of a platform such as govCMS, Content Hub provides an enormous opportunity for government to co-ordinate and unify its messaging. No longer will departments have to customise content — they can republish it directly from the source.
And with the launch of “Government as an API”, powered by Content Hub, agencies are able to do more than just repurpose content via an API.
You can also export digital content and allow it to be reused by third parties or your own systems via API. Your piece of content becomes the single source of truth. If you edit the content, those changes are automatically rolled through to every site and system consuming that piece of content in near real time.
For instance, a regulator could update a compliance document which could be then automatically updated across all relevant sites and subsidiaries. This reduces a huge amount of confusion, compliance burden and an entire advisory process.
At the Drupalgov conference, Clarkson used the example of an agency pushing an important pregnancy health release to sites such as Baby.com.au. When the original post is updated, the changes flow through to all subsequent publishers of the original article.
But this can also allow communication and discussion on topics that stretch across departmental boundaries, a possibility that was previously unavailable. For instance, an article published from one department could be published by another, which could add its own context and information to the existing subject matter.
Users can publish approved, trusted content across all channels – including in kiosks or mobile scenarios, or event shopfront customer service display screens. (Acquia Drupal creator and Acquia co-founder and CTO Dries Buytaert discussed this recently on The Mandarin, suggesting government agencies need to prepare for a time in which content is consumed not just on web devices, but through devices connected through the internet of things.)
And more importantly, systems managers can move content via API from non-Drupal sites to the Content Hub, where it can then be distributed. This enables syndication despite legacy issues.
This would be especially effective when applied to a department with many smaller silos, all serving the same goal — such as the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
As Bryan House explains, agencies would also be able to take advantage of the robust structure and metadata within the Content Hub platform. Website managers could easily add some custom data fields to fulfil whatever specific needs they have. In this way, House says Content Hub “promotes the idea of giving more structure and consistency across content”.
“Within a system like govCMS, for example, the core concept is repeatability and function, but also repeatability in configuration,” he said. “Content Hub can take advantage of that to streamline content delivery.”
Another advantage of Content Hub from a public agency perspective is the top-down publishing structure to reduce the risk of outdated content. Not only could agencies cross-publish content, but they can distribute communication that can only be edited by the original publisher.
“In a situation where there is an official release on policy, you may not want that memo to be edited, so you can make it read-only,” said House. Any subsequent edits or changes to that article made by the original publisher are then updated automatically on pages published by other website managers.“… it could be a mobile app, it could be on a kiosk in an agency centre, along with somewhere on a site.”
Another “huge benefit” according to House is that Content Hub can be used for agencies attempting to migrate content on legacy systems over to a new platform. Content can be ingested from the legacy system and stored in Content Hub.
As a new govCMS site is built, the content can be populated from the Content Hub site — which would subsequently be available for other sites within a Content Hub network to publish.
The use of Content Hub embodies the principles of an agile internet — fast-moving and easily iterated upon. But it also speaks to the ability for agencies to have more control over their online presence without having to invest more time in technology and integrated systems. Instead, Content Hub allows agencies to downscale the resources needed to maintain a complex web presence.
In particular, House says, agencies will be able to rationalise the resources need to cross-publish content in multiple channels, increasing the opportunity for communication to influence citizen engagement.
“Content hub delivers on lots of channels, it could be a mobile app, it could be on a kiosk in an agency centre, along with somewhere on a site,” he said. “Content Hub orchestrates cross-channel content delivery.”
In the context of public service, House says govCMS could do more than just rationalise content creation resources across government — it could provide a consistent, unified message.
“This is how agencies could find content relevant to a citizen that comes from other agencies, then make it available on all their digital properties,” he said. “In the spirit of an integrated government experience, content hub enables them to be broader than simply the content generated out of their agency.”