Date:
23 August 2021
Author:
Phillipa Martin

Facilitated by Salsa

Salsa’s Akhil Bhandari facilitated the Drupal in government session, asking questions and leading the panel discussion. Key highlights from the session are below. 

How Drupal started in Australia (GovCMS), WA and Victoria

Bill Bell: In 2016, WA published our first digital strategy. Part of this strategy was ensuring a citizen-centric focus, however we didn’t have a central portal. We built an alpha portal on Wordpress, and then went to procurement knowing Wordpress wouldn’t meet our security needs. We chose Drupal because it’s secure, extensible and was also the best platform for our needs. 

Pip: Drupal 8 was chosen as the platform for Victoria's Single Digital Presence (SDP) in March 2017.  So far, Victoria has consolidated 54 sites onto vic.gov.au and brought many other sites onto the SDP platform.  SDP is a headless/decoupled instance of Drupal 8 and we’ve put a lot of work into third-party integrations. Personally, Pip was introduced to Drupal 12 years ago and was “blown away after training by its capacity and how it might suit government...SDP shows it does have the capacity to suit large implementations.”  

Nathan: This year GovCMS celebrated its sixth anniversary. There are over 330 sites on the platform with another 50 in the pipeline. Growth is ongoing. GovCMS is centrally managed but community led. With 145 sites launching on the platform last year, the growth and success is expected to continue. 

Problems Drupal is solving in government 

Pip: Drupal has given us the starting point for a multi-tenancy CMS, and that flexibility is a driving force for our government. Many government agencies don’t require a full website, just a presence, so Drupal has allowed us to spin up websites quickly on vic.gov.au. We also use the roles and permissions and have extended on those for governance. The open source nature also allows us to stop or limit the amount of duplication going on in government. Harness one good idea and re-use it many times.

Nathan: My opening thoughts were around open source as well. One of the reasons Finance chose Drupal is that being open source really helps with the procurement process. Lots of developers are using Drupal, which means access to skillsets that aren’t always available in-house. Open source also makes government more transparent and accountable, and that’s a good thing. 

Bill:  Drupal has allowed us to be multi-tenanted straight away, with over 40 agencies using our Drupal portal for their whole platform and others using parts of it. We’ve also now got standardisation across look and feel. Drupal being open source made it easier to experiment with whole-of-government — there’s less risk because we didn’t need to outlay to begin with. Public cloud is also really important. Use goes from 300-600 continuous users to 45,000 continuous users and you see those servers start to spin up and couldn’t have done that with other technologies.

Nathan: Yes, the numbers are astonishingly high and we’ve had to put layers of infrastructure around Drupal to make it happen.

Drupal functionality and the benefits it brings

Nathan: I’m old-school but my favourite thing is Views because you can do so much with it. It’s harder to use but once you can figure out how to use it, it’s so powerful.  Also reusable functionality. We can move people around from agency to agency and you’ve got that consistent CMS experience  so resources can pick it up easily.

Bill: Yes, we can really save lots of money with the whole-of-government approach. Machinery of government becomes a non-issue. One agency saved $500K on that alone.

Pip: All of our content is assembled from paragraph modules and our VueJS calling on that. The publication feature is also a big win for us. Across the Vic Government there were a lot of PDFs (annual reports, daily reports, etc.). So using the publication feature based on the Book module allows publications to be presented in a better way rather than creating PDFs. 

How Drupal can be improved 

Pip: We’ve put a lot of effort into the CMS experience for content authors, to make the content authoring process easier. For example, hiding little-used applications, creating wizards and setting up a dashboard. Anything Drupal can do in this space would be good.

Bill: Agree with Pip, it would be great to see changes that empower our authors to do more, be more creative, and not be tied to developers. For us it’s also about performance. There’s always a lag when we scale and from a technical point of view it’s the telemetry. The more logging the better, to get ahead of potential issues. 

Nathan: Webforms.  Would be great if site admins could build a webform, set up an independent database and dictate who has access to that database. 

Audience questions

Below are a selection of questions from the audience. 

Q. What are your strategies for investing back into Drupal?

Nathan: I think for us it’s about encouraging the community we’re working with to be part of that.  Also getting agencies to move away from customisations, or to make it available to others if they do build something new.

Pip: It would be great to stop duplication as much as possible, to be across any duplication and guide our users. We’re using shared technology, let’s bring in a shared vision too.

Bill: We’re a consumer of Drupal. We support Drupal. We invest in companies in WA and Victoria. We collaborate with Victoria in regards to API and also collaborate with the Federal Government in terms of digital identity.

Q. How can we increase engagement with Drupal in WA? 

Bill: We have a policy that if an agency is going to spend more than $100K they need to apply for an exemption to NOT come onto the platform.  We’re gaining momentum and people are coming on board because it’s costing them too much to run outside the platform. One agency saved $930K/year just by coming onto the platform. 

Q. Looking forward, what are you hoping to achieve and what potential threats do you see for Drupal in government in the future?

Pip: We’re at the next stage of expansion. We’re all about establishing patterns to save time and  implement better things. We’re using APIs, geospatial services, and our core portals like data.vic. We’re also looking for patterns in modules, for example ‘Find me this service near me’. We have a roadmap and we know there will be things we can’t do so will encourage agencies to work with partners to build them.

Nathan: Our roadmap has slowed down over the past 18 months because of COVID and the need to put performance front of mind. We are interested in content personalisation in the future. It’s not a space government has a lot of experience in, so we want to know how to start small and grow. Also APIs — lots of work to happen in that space.  In terms of a threat, it’s the changing cybersecurity landscape. We’re witnessing big shifts and malicious attacks so how do we stay in front of that? We’re looking at things like static rendering to add in a layer.

Bill:  We have a program of work for 11 digital platforms and Drupal will deliver 2 of those platforms. In terms of a threat, I think we need to define exactly what Drupal will do. We were using it for everything but that’s not a good thing. 

Salsa Digital’s take

Many Salsarians sat in on this panel session, which is obviously particularly relevant to us in the Drupal space. We’re excited about the current traction Drupal has in government and we’re looking forward to the future of Drupal, and Drupal in government.