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Australia’s govCMS:  Key takeaways for Canada and the world
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Australia’s govCMS: Key takeaways for Canada and the world 

In Canada, there are multiple ongoing initiatives at both federal, provincial and municipal levels to re-platform content management as part of larger government engagement initiatives.

Last month Australia launched govCMS, its new centralized cloud platform for the delivery of government digital experiences. It’s an ambitious project. Australia.gov.au and finance.gov.au were among the first federal sites to move to govCMS, but hundreds of other agencies have the opportunity to take advantage of the government’s groundwork to secure cloud deployment and gain economies of scale while lowering costs.

Australia is committed to leapfrogging its peers and becoming more citizen-centric. The Commonwealth’s move to make govCMS available for procurement by any government office will accelerate digital innovation across federal, state and local government. Says John Sheridan, CTO for the Australian government, “We want to get the best user experience we can for (citizens).”

As agencies across Canada similarly look to digital engagement to lower costs and improve services, it is crucial to focus on the principal learnings from the Australian experience. Australia also highlights the particular advantages that open source software brings to scaling digital government initiatives.

A key success factor has been Australia’s adherence to good management principles.

First, the business objectives were established at the outset and formed the backbone for decision-making. Taking a strategic view of the challenge at hand allowed Australia to identify the best solution holistically, in a top-down fashion, and to develop a selection methodology adapted to hitting business goals. The starting point was to revisit traditional procurement processes to ensure, where necessary, they addressed anything no longer relevant.

Second, Australia purposefully separated its CMS re-platforming selection into the following three distinct phases, treating each component separately:

  • Identify the CMS standard and validate proof-of-concept
  • Select the implementation partner(s)
  • Rebuild

By adopting this approach, the government was able to compare CMS standards and implementation partners separately and on a level playing field.

Although the three project phases were treated independently, Australia addressed overlap, where necessary. For example, Australia validated the existence of a local, qualified talent pool while selecting the CMS standard. The benefit is that Australia is maximizing economic spinoffs via job creation and skills transfer while expediting rollout and minimizing deployment costs.

Third, driven by a vision for an accessible, flexible, forward-thinking, secure and scalable platform, Australia conducted pointed research into available solutions and spoke with peers in Australia and around the world. Most importantly, it actively involved industry in validating key functional and non-functional capabilities against current solution versions to ensure that the selection process was not conducted in a vacuum thereby keeping every option on the table.

Magnolia and Liferay scored well in Australia’s 2012 evaluation of open source content management systems on a handful of functional and non-functional requirements. However, the open source Drupal content management framework was selected for govCMS; Drupal’s large, collaborative, committed, worldwide community of more than 36,000 practitioners was a key factor in its ultimate selection. Having access to a vibrant community will allow Australia to share best practices, solve project impasses more quickly, and find expert talent more seamlessly across Australia and abroad.

Finally, Australia’s selection of an implementation partner was transparent; selection findings were periodically documented in reports posted in the Department of Finance blog. John Sheridan, Australia’s CTO, invited feedback during the process and responded directly to vendor inquiries. By actively involving vendors, Sheridan and his team were recognizing that they did not have all the answers and sent a strong message about their intentions to deploy a solution rooted in available and future-proof functionalities and standards rather than a wish list.

Rather than shoehorn its new CMS into Australia’s existing architecture and processes, the government took the time to question its existing business practices during its evaluation.

  • What role should implementation partners play?
  • Is the cloud a fit for govCMS?
  • How can Australia avoid vendor lock in?
  • How to plan for elastic scalability without paying upfront for it?

This self-analysis led Australia to break from the past and to deploy govCMS as a Software-as-a-Service. Ultimately this approach will allow the Department of Finance to deliver government services from the cloud while maximizing security, lowering costs and simplifying ongoing maintenance. Most importantly, sharing services in the cloud supports the Government’s vision of improving user experiences and provides greater flexibility for publishing relevant content.

The Department of Finance selected Acquia as its implementation partner. Acquia is providing its cloud platform for the delivery of govCMS as well as advisory services for Drupal best practices. The company is also working with local implementation partners to offer a comprehensive solution set including website design and development and managed operations.

The ROI was compelling: faster time-to-market, centralized maintenance, elastic cost structure, rich personalization capabilities and expert support helped the Australians cement Drupal’s enterprise capabilities.

Australia’s work demonstrates that creating an environment where open source technologies become an alternative, wherever viable, benefits government and the citizens they serve. By systematically and unequivocally selecting the best solution, whether open source or proprietary, citizens win. Choice is clearly a good thing.

Web re-platforming is on the agenda for many governments across Canada. As we strive to bring public finances under control, we should be modelling ourselves after the Australian experience, looking to alternatives, such as Drupal, as a means of reducing expenditures all the while enhancing programs and services.

Mathieu Weber heads Acquia’s Canadian practice, where he is responsible for managing the partner ecosystem, leading sales and marketing and ensuring solution delivery. He has more than 15 years of experience in high tech, working between Montreal and San Francisco.

Editor’s Note: This article is a follow-up to IT in Canadas earlier exlporation of the Australian government’s govCMS system. Click here to read the original article.

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