Tapping into the universal publishing power of govCMS isn’t just a federal game — states are now getting in on the action, working with local partners to deliver customised solutions without losing any autonomy along the way.
With multiple Commonwealth groups now adopting govCMS technology, more state and local agencies are doing the same, upgrading their own systems and leveraging truly universal content management power.
The potential benefits of such adoption are huge.
Because govCMS uses the same technology framework, federal and state agencies are able to share and utilize resources, code and web elements like never before.
“Getting agencies to share is one thing, but when you allow states to share with federal agencies … I’m not aware of any other program that’s been able to do that,” said Acquia govCMS director Chris Harrop. “It’s quite remarkable.”
Momentum is already building among state agencies.
The Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet has already taken a big step in debuting the state budget on a govCMS-powered site, while South Australia has recently launched two sites, including one for the Department of Education and Child Development.
There are also projects underway in New South Wales and Queensland, with sites being built or migrated to govCMS platform.
A common question raised by State and Local agencies is whether there are any potential downsides to signing up for a platform created and managed by the Commonwealth.
GovCMS is all about creating community; tearing down the walls that divide government digital teams no matter to which jurisdiction they belong.
One of the core principles of the technology is “creating functionality once, and sharing with everyone”. The idea is to create efficiencies, a greater base level of tools and technology, shared development and support.
The main differentiator between govCMS and a more traditional approach is that the govCMS platform seeks to maximise autonomy, allowing a wider range of options for an agency.
“The concern many agencies have is about how much control are they giving over to the Commonwealth, which is the same question at the federal level,” Harrop said.
“That’s just about awareness of the program. You can still have complete flexibility around design, the ability to request new features added in a public forum. And for us it’s about creating those proof points.”
The existing benefits of govCMS remain true for state agencies. The ability to use components and elements built by other agencies ensures consistency and cross-agency collaboration, while using the Content Hub means agencies can cross-publish important releases and reduce time spent on updating their own sites.
With engineers and staff being trained in the one CMS platform, resources are able to be shared and time spent solving acute technology problems will undoubtedly shrink. For the first time there is a real possibility of governments having a surge capacity and for people in digital teams, having skills that allow them to move within the public sectors.
State solutions with Commonwealth power
There is a larger benefit, Harrop says, that is exclusive to states.
“I think among the states, there is some hesitancy in dealing with federal agencies. And govCMS is treading new ground … we’re creating this program that’s valuable to their level of government, which is run at a federal level,” he said.
Open collaboration between state and federal agencies is no easy task, and has traditionally been difficult, says Harrop, partly due to concerns around autonomy but also from more mundane reasons such as location and price. Sometimes different juristictions have their own technical requirements, compliance rules and different security protocols.
govCMS has a made a point of finding ways to address these issues and to understand and support the needs of all participants.
Harrop points to the adoption of govCMS in Victoria as an example of how states and federal agencies can cross-collaborate.
“The Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet wanted to visualise budget data on their budget.vic.gov.au website. At the same time the Department of the Environment has a similar technical need to visualise data and had already embarked on building the functionality within govCMS.”
The two agencies were able to connect, share code between each other, and embark on a sustained collaboration to share the cost and effort of creating a set of tools and ultimately provide a better experience for the end-user.
Within weeks of the first iteration going live the modules were rolled out into the base govCMS software and the entire community gained access to powerful tools to consume and visualize data.
“The data the Department of the Environment is consumed from Data.gov repository, while the data for the Victorian budget was consumed from www.data.vic.gov.au. Both of these requirements were met through enabling a Drupal CKAN module.”
Carolynne Hamilton, Senior Projects and Engagement Manager at the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, says the experience was a positive one.
“We thought this would be a good opportunity to trial a live project with govCMS, and look at what the benefits of using that might be,” says Hamilton.
“It enabled us to focus efforts on just the front-end theming, and to make the information more easily understood by the public. We’ve learned a lot from it, it’s been a good experience, and it was collaborative throughout.”
Harrop says given state departments have their own IT requirements — with some managing their own infrastructure — it’s important to note govCMS won’t have an impact on how departments go about controlling their web presence.
Not only that, Harrop says, govCMS even provides more functionality and flexibility. Due to its core Drupal base, govCMS adoptees are able to take code and elements from other govCMS pages and finesse them for their own use.
“You can have complete flexibility as a service, and you’ve got flexibility around design, the ability to request new features in design,” he explained. “You’re not losing control of the road map of your site.”
Local partners included
One of the benefits state agencies have in adopting govCMS platforms is access to a wider pool of resources and skills, but local partners who have knowledge in implementation right across Australia
In Victoria, implementation partner Salsa Digital has already started helping agencies come on board. Director of business development Alfred Deeb says the amount of discussion regarding govCMS has continued to grow among state agencies and departments.
“We’re having great conversations,” he said. “The next challenge will be adoption and internal buy-in.”
The benefit of coming alongside adoption partners like Salsa is that they already have experience in bringing govCMS to federal agencies. Salsa is then able to take that expertise, and any learnings along the way, and bring them to state agencies. That includes the adoption of agile processes, Deeb says, and the building of a framework that can be adopted by future sites within govCMS.
“We’d done three federal agencies and, after that, and shadowing Acquia, we had the confidence to do this on our own and now we’re working on two or three govCMS projects we are the lead on,” he said.
“This really just focuses on adding value and serving citizens.”
One of the benefits of adopting govCMS at the state level, Deeb says, is that the implementation procedure is no more or less difficult than it is at the federal level. The creation of new sites will build on the knowledge of those before it, he says — and implementation partners will only become more skilled as more agencies come on board.
“I can’t say there are too many bigger or different challenges,” Deeb said. “I haven’t seen too much difference.”