Government pushes boundaries beyond the walls of its websites


The move by the federal government to use Drupal Open Source software to publish websites is being followed up with plans to distribute government content to wherever it is relevant to consumers in a major development for digital transformation in Australia, a national conference in Canberra heard this week.

The 2016 DrupalGov conference never lacked a sense of occasion. Located in a building of national significance showcasing the events, skills and spirit that shaped Australia, hopes and expectations for the conference at the National Museum of Australia were also high as some of the country’s most talented technocrats gathered at the conference this week to discuss and share the latest progress in the digital transformation of government and government services driven by Drupal open source software; developments that are set to play a vital role in Australia’s own development as a digital country and online services for its citizens. The conference did not disappoint.

“We have some heavy lifting sites that do good work and that are highly efficient, but our front end services are not so good.”

Sharyn Clarkson, from the online services branch of the federal Department of Finance, gave a compelling outline of the shape of things to come, announcing the “Government as an API ” initiative, which she described as radical by government standards, enabling government content and key messages and data to be delivered earlier and faster on the Drupal platform to people and communities in key community areas and sectors such health, education, traffic and meteorology.

“This is quite significant because it gives agencies the ability to publish everywhere, not just to publish to other websites if they want to reuse the content, but to publish also to their own other internal systems such as call centres, knowledge bases, shop fronts, television screens; there’s literally no end where you can now deliver that content. It’s quite radical.”

Speaking to Komosion at the conference, Clarkson said that a significant number of people in government believed that progress might be achieved more quickly by thinking more about “invisible government,” and delivering things to people where they are on the Internet and not expecting them to always come to government, although there should always be a space for government.

“So we’ve been always interested in the idea of unleashing government and allowing other people to recompile and package up government content, services or data in ways that are meaningful to people in the places where they already are.”

“We are proposing to take government information and allow it to be delivered to where people are rather than having them come to us all the time,” she told the conference.

Clarkson said the government’s decision to adopt Drupal followed a review that found more than 360 different content management systems and versions were in use across some 1600 websites.

“Government works at a scale most private sectors will not encounter unless they work on an Olympic Games,” she told the conference.

“When government adopts something it makes it mainstream. The fact government has adopted open source says: ‘This thing is mature. This thing is enterprise. This thing is robust.’”

“You can access a lot of key information from our site,” Clarkson said. “We are delivering materials for you to use … It takes the pain out of compliance with the Australian government.”

Keeping pace with change

While the government’s omni channel API  initiative is regarded as innovative and world class, keynote conference speaker and publisher of The Mandarin, Tom Burton, said Australia was not yet a leading digital country, ranking about number 15 in the world in terms of the government’s use of digital technologies to deliver better outcomes for its citizens.

“The leading countries, the UKs, the Israels, the New Zealands, the Estonias, are really joining services up and moving quickly into that space and thinking about it as a platform.

“In Australia, we have some heavy lifting sites that do good work and that are highly efficient, but our front end services are not so good and the user experience is pretty poor. We haven’t really worked out the end-to-end services piece but we are moving quickly and that change will happen,” Burton told Komosion.

The government’s adoption of Drupal would drive a lot of that change a key theme at the conference. “Drupal allows you to fast track and so when you have a big platform, you don’t have to worry about security or how it is being supported and all the other issues which often are big issues for government, and allows you to tap into the creativity of the open source platform and community,” Burton said.

“It says if someone has built a great little transactional platform over here, you can just take that module and replicate it, and for government that is massive and allows government to start moving at speed whereas before it was very bespoke, one off, one off, one off, so it’s a huge opportunity.”

In his keynote, Burton foretold of a future world where government may simply be the provider of data with the private sector much more involved in delivering services. “Government could become a data play,” he said. “For example, the government collects the weather and let’s other people play with the information and deliver services related to it.”

“If the government starts using its power over data and other things to really open up large sections of the public sector to investment, innovation and collaboration, then that’s a really dynamic model, and so you’ve got a much more creative public sector, and a public sector working much more hybridly with business and community sectors,”.

Conscious disruption

The annual conference, DrupalGov, now in its third year, has been boosted by the federal government’s adoption of Drupal as the open source software used to now publish more than 51 government agency websites under the banner govCMS.

Drupal is used to publish thousands of websites globally, including for NBC, Warner Brothers, Flight Centre and even The Whitehouse.

Speaking at the conference as a sponsor I said Komosion had decided to “disrupt itself”, replacing a proprietary content management system it owns and operates with a new system built on Drupal.

“There are 30,000 participants in the global Drupal community and they’ve extended it with some 10,000 modules,” he said. “We can give our private and public sector clients much more value by leveraging this effort and contributing to the open source community.”

There was also a clear conference message that the Drupal open source content management system was open for business with the private sector, and that SMEs were a central part of it, and could engage with potential government clients directly online.

Glenn Martin, also from the Department of Finance, said the Drupal software advantages were also relevant for the private sector and encouraged small business and enterprise to look upon the Drupal initiatives as a cross collaboration with government feeding back into the community.

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