Australian government Drupal-based CMS goes live

An open-source content management platform and the public cloud are saving the government 'a bunch of money', federal CTO John Sheridan has said.
Written by Stilgherrian , Contributor

GovCMS, the Australian government's new cloud-based web content management system, has gone live on Australia.gov.au, the federal government's chief technology officer, John Sheridan, said at a media briefing in Sydney on Tuesday. The site receives more than 2 million visitors each month, and is the first site to migrate to the platform.

The Department of Finance has developed govCMS, an Australian government-specific distribution of the Drupal open-source content management platform, in conjunction with Acquia — a company founded by Drupal's creator, Dries Buytaert, to provide commercial-grade support for the platform.

Acquia also hosts govCMS in Australia on its Acquia Platform, which is built on Amazon Web Services, and provides integrated application and infrastructure support using DevOps practices. All up, it is a contract worth AU$24 million over four years.

GovCMS will be available to Australian government agencies generally from February 2015, for websites that contain only public data, not personal or national security information. The first will be the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA). Its use will not be mandatory for government agencies, however.

"This is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting and crucial projects that Acquia has faced in its seven-year history," the company's vice-president of corporate marketing, David Churbuck, told journalists in Sydney.

"The most interesting story right now, in all of IT and tech, is the rise of open source and the cloud in the public sector, and the impact it's having on society," he said.

"In the early days [of open source], it was very much a political discussion — a fascinating discussion around the intellectual property and software patents. The likes of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation tended to paint it as a bit of an extreme political issue, but over time, I think open source has overcome a great deal of FUD, that fear, uncertainty, and doubt, that was spread in large part by the commercial and proprietary vendors, who were very threatened by it. It is recognised today as being more secure, certainly more dynamic, and more extensible, because of the incredible meritocracy that is at the basis of open-source development."

According to Sheridan, the previous CMS used by Australia.gov.au had various text items hard-coded, which meant that some changes could take months to implement. "What we wanted was a new way of doing these things. The challenge for us has always been to balance the need for cost effectiveness, the effective use of a website, the notion that we've got something that can be well maintained, quickly maintained," Sheridan said.

"We are saving a bunch of money by moving from proprietary solutions, or outsourced solutions, to the public cloud — as you would expect."

While Drupal didn't top the list of solutions examined in the Department of Finances's selection process, the choice came down to support.

"The differences weren't large. Yes, they were first, second, and third. It might not have been a photo finish, but it was certainly quite close. What drove it for us was the ability to support Drupal across the community and through third parties," Sheridan said.

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