Choosing open source and cloud for your website

Brigitta Norton BN

The use of open source and cloud solutions for government websites has been growing rapidly over recent years, and now these are further endorsed by changes to Government policy. Adelphi Digital examine what this means for agencies looking to create or redevelop their websites, how do they choose from the many options available to them and assess the suitability of these options, such as the Whole-of-Government Content Management System (govCMS) service, and help make the right decision for the future management and direction of the website.

Open source and the cloud

“We have two primary requirements - an open source solution and the use of the public cloud.”
John Sheridan[3]
“A public cloud provides services to users over the internet. Infrastructure is shared, and data can be located in different locations across the globe.”
National Cloud Computing Strategy[4]

Australia’s use of open source products and cloud technology for government services was pushed to the forefront when the Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance) mandated the relevant open source[1] and cloud [2] policies.

How to embrace digital change

“The pace of change is increasing with disruption driven by relentless technological advancement. It requires organisations to deliver real products and services quickly, as well as respond to issues as they arise throughout projects.”
Inside the consumers’ mind, Adelphi Digital

This message particularly applies to Governments globally as there is a responsibility for delivering real products and services to the public; to citizens that ‘need’ a certain product or service (not just want it). Agencies are under pressure to have a more user-centric approach and provide service delivery online; wherever, whenever and whatever the device. With the emergence of the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) there is an increase in that pressure and agencies will be looking to consultancies such as Adelphi Digital to help guide best practice.

“Some agencies do things already incredibly well … others have made very little progress”
Spokesman for Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull [5]

Fortunately, Australian Government agencies are constantly improving how they provide digital solutions for the public to better access services online and the use of open source and cloud including govCMS should be assessed for its positive benefits for agencies and Government as a whole. 

There is a need to be more strategic and agile even when embracing change. A government website needs to be quick to respond to additional requirements or changes as they arise and being flexible to new improvements once the project is complete.  It will be a cultural change to encourage the ‘digital by default’ thinking. Embracing digital is not just about publishing information on a website, it also requires a dynamic view of website creation; launch then interact and engage with the public.

Open source and cloud options

Navigating the maze of content management systems and cloud can be daunting at first.  What are the benefits of Drupal over Wordpress, why would I choose a .net based solution over a php or java option? These types of questions are posed every day in real world situations and we aim to demystify the range of products and solutions out there.

What choices are there?

The choice of CMS and hosting is based around a number of factors including budget, internal technology platform, complexity of functionality, performance, load, security and integration requirements of the site.

Some examples of website solutions which were developed using Drupal and are cloud hosted.

In developing the above websites and many others, Adelphi Digital follow our Agile Iterative Discovery (AID) process, this involves working with agencies to demystify the CMS and cloud services required, identify the need for customisation and help assess the capability developments to best fit and so determine the best tool or service for the website.

In addition to the above platforms there is now a new choice for Government agencies looking for an open source cloud platform – govCMS.

What is govCMS?

“govCMS will be a new, differently focused service.”
John Sheridan[6]

The govCMS distribution is based on the open-sourced Drupal content management system (CMS) running on the Acquia Cloud Site Factory[7] to implement and manage Australian Government websites.

Benefits of open source and the cloud

CMS and cloud are becoming close to commodity services. They are the kinds of technology that are designed to save costs, hassle and time to market by ensuring that technology owners select and manage a suite of products that are tailored to their requirements without large capital purchase overheads. They must be scalable and they must be ready to embrace change, content, sites and technology must be flexible and be ready to adapt to the next direction of online services.

Another important consideration for any open source and cloud solution is that the procurement overhead is taken out and scalability and security requirements have already been assessed.  Agencies, unburdened, are more available to encourage collaboration of digital best practice and have direct access to highly skilled practitioners, who are experienced in fostering community relationships in the open source and cloud space and can best advise ways to encourage and embrace digital change.

Creating manageable websites

According to the govCMS feasibility study carried out by Finance in 2015, there were currently over 1200 Australian government websites, almost a third of them were small and less complex sites.  The key issues, taken from surveys and interviews, were the cost for resourcing, hosting and managing a website and meeting security and accessibility compliance.

In Adelphi Digital’s own experience there is a real need for agencies to establish a forward-thinking strategy when developing government websites and this is becoming more important when considering the redevelopment of dated websites into a solution that is more easily manageable.

The positive news is that having a website with a flexible solution in mind, is being in a position to plan for change. Open source and cloud hosted websites are very adaptable due to growing supporter communities, they are able to incorporate improvements quickly which are able to provide ongoing benefits that are shared with others using the same service or platform.

Assessing your website

Understanding your requirements will be key to assessing the suitability of different technologies for your online presence. Depending upon how much functionality is required, such as online forms, services, blog, discussion forum or ecommerce facility you may require a different technology mix.

The site might be dependent on the development of complex integrations with back-end systems for customer data or personalisation, or there may be security and data integrity requirements to consider. Knowing more about what the requirements are for the site will help determine the most suitable open source CMS and cloud solution.

CMS checklist

Based on the complexity patterns from the govCMS feasibility report, the first step is to determine what kind of website you have and assess the amount of customisation required before determining how to proceed:

  • Pattern 1: Templated
  • Pattern 2: Content Rich
  • Pattern 3: Feature Rich

In essence, each pattern is based on the amount of customisation required. Pattern 1, not much, Pattern 3, a lot. So obviously, transitioning a site with simple templates, a small number of pages and no functionality equals less customisation.

Once a pattern is determined, an assessment of suitability can be carried out as a way of determining which open source and cloud solution might best suit your needs. The solution may not just depend on the site’s requirements but also the complexity of professional services required to actually implement the solution. Agencies questioning the work involved in assessing suitability for govCMS can talk to Adelphi Digital directly as our consultative services also support the process of moving a site into an environment such as govCMS.

Conclusion

Historically there were technical barriers for those wishing to create or improve an agency’s website. Open source and cloud offerings such as govCMS allow agencies to embrace the change without the same constraints that were common in the past.

Government policies endorsing the use of open source and cloud services are encouraging a drastic shift to how agency websites are managed and in many cases the communication and PR sections are taking more control of the online presence and the IT areas are expected to keep up, provide real business solutions and become enablers of change rather than causing roadblocks. The disruption internally for government agencies considering services such as govCMS will require a future focus on how best to adapt quickly and efficiently to keep up with relentless technological advancement.  The use of open source and cloud solutions will mean the onus is on management to keep up with changes but if they are using services such as govCMS, it will be a shared responsibility rather than resourced just internally.

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