The whole of government content management and website hosting service for Australian Government agencies.
With the govCMS platform now rolling out across the public service at the federal, state and local levels, agencies in all areas of government are witnessing how a streamlined and more powerful way of providing content and information can produce significant benefits. But the success of govCMS goes beyond simplifying infrastructure and IT processes. The entire project is a landmark for transformation in government on multiple fronts — allowing the public service to take a leading role in spreading a culture of innovation through government.
From adopting an entirely open-source platform, to allowing collaboration between agencies through a universal technology system and using agile development processes to support rapid deployment, along with partnering with a respected and robust enterprise group, govCMS has enabled the Australian government to explore and adopt fundamental tenants of a digital, innovative economy.
John Sheridan, the Australian government’s chief technology officer and procurement co-ordinator at the Department of Finance, says key innovations lie not just in the system itself, but in how the project was both adopted and implemented. This process, he says, provided greater chances for a more powerful solution.
The first innovation was choosing the Drupal open-source platform. “We discovered that proprietary software had made it very difficult for us to be flexible or responsive,” said Sheridan. “We wanted to move forward from that.”
Another key innovation lay in moving the system to the cloud, rationalising and simplifying infrastructure requirements within agencies.
But Sheridan says one major innovation came through the tender process itself. “We did a request for a proposal, but we set our objectives without a solution,”
he said. “We left it open to have the solution offered to us.
“Acquia had the best response, and then we worked with them to fully explore their proposal in order to develop a mutually agreeable contract arrangement.”
That openness, Sheridan says, allowed the agency to tackle a problem without having preconceived notions of what would or wouldn’t work.
Additionally, Acquia’s arrangements with local SMEs provide support services at reduced costs and a more flexible arrangement for govCMS to roll out across government, Sheridan says.
“An added benefit is that because the platform itself is open source, we don’t have issues associated with licensing requests,” he said. Being open source further allowed collaboration between agencies that, while present, wasn’t fully realised.
“The coming together of the open source software, not having issues with licenses, the public cloud, a support system through Acquia, and the Department of Finance making it easier to share these things...makes this process easier,” he said.
Innovation isn’t just limited to the Department of Finance, however. Now that multiple agencies are gaining access to govCMS, the openness and flexibility of the platform is now becoming more visible through the custom modules and site builds agencies are choosing to create on their own.
For Peter Moller, assistant director of service delivery at the Australian Financial Security Authority, innovation presented itself in the form of a streamlined solution that reduced infrastructure costs for the small agency. But migrating the ppsr.gov.au site’s web platform to an open-source system didn’t just make things easier when things were going well, he says
— the new system also presented innovations in terms of problem solving.
AFSA discovered its DLM marking system wasn’t working properly after migrating to the new platform. As a result, there were issues with system generated emails being sent.
Moller says the problem-solving process was an example of innovation in action. Working with a robust enterprise partner in Acquia to address the solution, he says, provided a speedier solution than having to pass support requests up a traditional support hierarchy.
“We had an excellent response from Acquia,” he said. “Once we realised what the issues were, along with some other small things ... we had excellent responses. Prior to this, we were dependent on individuals in the agency getting these types of problems passed through.”
In the future, Moller says, problem solving may even come from reaching out to other agencies. “There is a cost in having people on call,” he said. “The fact we can go to other agencies and ask how they’ve found things, or to other Acquia partners, and Acquia itself, is huge.
“Usually government activity takes some time, there are longer lead times. The on-demand service here is fantastic.”
One of the most powerful innovative structures in govCMS is for agencies to build custom modules that serve a particular, specified purpose. Ben Galdys, digital and creative services manager at the Department of Communication and the Arts, says the open-source platform has allowed the agency to create its own “Have Your Say” module for interested parties to submit comments on legislation, releases and other events.
But the real benefit, he says, is the universal nature of govCMS means the module can be used across any agency that requires it.
“We’re a small agency, only a few hundred staff, and yet other agencies are coming to us and asking us questions about how we did this, can they use it,” said Akhil Bhandari, senior advisor of digital implementation at Communications. “So it’s been good to collaborate with other agencies and give back.”
The “Have Your Say” module can be adapted to any type of need an agency requires, says Bhandari, whether that means a poll, text submission or other needs for citizens to engage in formal consultant processes. This flexibility brings a new
level of innovation to the type of collaboration now available between departments without the need for cumbersome processes or costly procedures, he says.
“Agencies are used to the traditional way of doing things ... it’s been good to help them do more, whether it’s a quick poll, or a discussion, the ability to have conversations online, versus the traditional release of a paper,” said Bhandari.
John Sheridan says while governments have always been keen to innovate with technology, govCMS has brought a new level of cost savings, collaboration and development to the public space. The more agencies that adopt the platform, he says, the more powerful it will become.
“What govCMS allows is faster delivery of services, more flexibility. More effective use of public money. This platform has made these things easier,” he said.
First published at The Mandarin. themandarin.com.au