The govCMS project has created a powerful, open and secure innovation platform for government engagement, enabling federal and state agencies to easily contribute and benefit from applications developed by other agencies.
According to Josh Waihi, Senior Technical Account Manager at Acquia, the introduction of an open-source content management system like govCMS, built on the Drupal platform, means agencies are now open to being more collaborative and sharing resources – which significantly reduces the cost and complexity of running a piece of technical infrastructure.
“We’re seeing things change to be more of a conversation with other agencies in the govCMS community,” he says. “Today we have two forums for govCMS, with one being a community forum and the other on Github where our source code is managed.
“Within those two areas, we’re trying to get both technical and non-technical representatives from any agency to start having conversations about govCMS.”
Inclusion by design
It’s a naturally collaborative approach that fosters inclusion from the outset.
“It’s starting to bring in a communal aspect to approaching software development in government,” Waihi says.“The benefit for agencies is they no longer face the risk of having mismatched technical stacks and requirements.”
The power of the govCMS technical stack lies in its simplicity, says Waihi. All websites under the govCMS platform are hosted on Amazon Web Services infrastructure, ensuring individual agencies don’t need to handle excessive server technology in their own premises or face expensive upkeep costs.
Additionally, he says, the open source nature of the platform means agencies aren’t subject to many of the restrictions that are associated with proprietary technology. Such technology might require a more dedicated technical infrastructure for hosting.
“The government is able to take hold of code from other contributions around the world, and be able to manage a much smaller footprint than might be typical,” says Waihi.
“The other aspect here is what individual agencies are getting out of it, and the big benefit here is that govCMS is provided by a government agency as opposed to a private provider,” he says.
“The Department of Finance has done the due diligence with technical compliance, and being able to provide software as a service. It brings down the technical overheads for procurement, especially for smaller agencies.”
Safety in transparency
But while Waihi says the technical nature of the Drupal platform might be simplified, part of the power for agencies lies in its security proficiency.
“Security is handled differently in an open source platform like Drupal,” Waihi says, “You can’t hide the fact there may be a vulnerability, so your code is out there for people to scrutinise.”
“This also means there are more resources looking over that code and you’re able to respond to anything much quicker. It adds an aspect of accountability to the platform.”
Ensuring the system runs on cloud-based infrastructure means agencies are able to be more flexible, says Waihi.
“The more complex things become, the narrower a field they apply to,” he says. “We want to keep things flexible and not take on scenarios that don’t have value.”
This manifests itself in the use of new components and web design. Waihi points to the Department of Communications creating its own consultation module, which can now be used by any other agency.
“It creates a value-add for everyone,” he says.
“We’re in the next digital age, where everything is based in websites and responsive mobile sites,” he says. Agencies using govCMS allows them to access a more advanced web infrastructure through a front-end system, rather than a more complex infrastructure that requires technical maintenance.
Tapping into talent
Additionally, Waihi says, the availability of Drupal developers within Australia means agencies have the ability to freely find developers on their own for specific projects. With this in mind, creating components becomes a matter of strategy and funding for resources, rather than the ongoing cost of maintaining expensive infrastructure.
The benefit for agencies is they no longer face the risk of having mismatched technical stacks and requirements. Instead, the Department of Finance is able to manage this from a shared services perspective – which eliminates the possibility of technical mismatches between organisations.
“When I think about what makes govCMS a powerful platform – compared to some of the alternatives – I think it really comes back to that idea of being open-source and part of a community,” says Waihi.
“What’s valuable is that it gives everybody a voice within the program – different agencies can have their own [individual] requirements, [yet] everyone can still have the benefits of the entire program.”