Don’t worry, govCMS doesn’t mean standardised sites

By David Donaldson

April 21, 2016

The Department of Finance’s govCMS team has moved to reassure nervous departments they will not be forced to use standardised websites if and when the platform is rolled out to the states.

As long as they have the capacity to either do it themselves or outsource it departments will be free to build their websites exactly how they like, govCMS product owner Glenn Martin told an event for Victorian agencies on Wednesday. The event was supported by Acquia, a large, Boston based, open source services company, and Salsa Digital, a Melbourne digital agency that is promoting the govCMS development. Acquia is contracted by DOF  to provide the public sector version of the open source content management system, Drupal to public agencies. 

The reassurance comes as Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet is in the process of moving onto govCMS — the first in the state to do so. There is talk this is the opening move in shifting the whole VPS across to govCMS.

Some are concerned it will mean bland, standardised sites. Not so, says Martin. “An important part of govCMS is that you can be a unique and beautiful snowflake,” he argued yesterday.

It follows another exercise in reassurance on Tuesday: the joint blog post between Australian government chief technology officer John Sheridan and Digital Transformation Office head Paul Shetler announcing govCMS will be a critical part of GOV.AU Beta and that agencies should go full steam ahead in the shift to govCMS.

Some agencies were holding out to see which way the DTO will jump on the platform issue, so the endorsement will make it easier to commit.

Shifting platforms is a good chance to get rid of bad work processes that have remained out of inertia, Martin told the crowd. “If you have a content author workflow that’s so over-the-top with six layers of approval process, get rid of it,” he said.

“Have a look at what you’ve been doing, use migration as an opportunity to create a better experience not just for your users — because they have to be at the forefront of your mind — but also the people who run these sites.”

The choice of whether to use govCMS in its software as a service (SaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS) form comes down to a few main considerations, Martin explained. PaaS tends to be more expensive but allows more customisation, so if your agency needs to use unusual capabilities or be regularly updated, and has the resources to either hire developers in-house — as the Tax Office has — or outsource — as the Department of Communications did — PaaS may be preferable.

SaaS provides what most agencies will require,Martin said, and has the benefit of being cheaper to run by eliminating duplication of common requirements across agencies. If your website tweaking requirements don’t go much beyond things like updating the annual report, SaaS is for you.

John Sheridan: ‘There’s nothing to patch up’

John Sheridan told the audience the proof of govCMS’s benefits is clear, with “a long queue of people wanting to join” even though it had not been mandated. Speaking to The Mandarin, he summed up govCMS’s appeal as “value for money, fit for purpose, appropriate security”.

He also denied the blog post on Wednesday signified a “patching up” of the relationship between Finance and the DTO. “That’s complete nonsense. There’s nothing to patch,” Sheridan said.

The relationship between those working on Finance’s govCMS and the DTO’s GOV.AU is not a rivalry but “very solid”, he said.

“We originally seconded staff into the DTO when it was being set up, once it was established those staff came back. We’ve worked together for some considerable time. Paul Shetler and I speak regularly,” he said.

The two are, in fact, complementary, he argued.

“The ability of these two complementary capabilities to work together to provide the sort of digital outcomes that government wants is very important. Paul’s been quite clear that GOV.AU needs a CMS and his team aren’t going to build one, so if this works for us it will be a really good outcome,” Sheridan said.

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