At a glance

2019 - 2020
Federal government
Discovery & strategy

The purpose

To undertake a technical review of the ABS’s new website solution with recommendations based on the existing architecture, configuration and security.

The players

The ABS is Australia’s national statistical agency, providing trusted official statistics on a wide range of economic, social, population and environmental matters of importance to Australia.

The challenge

The ABS is currently building a new authoring, publishing and website solution as part of a major transformation program (see ABS Transformation). The planning for the new solution began in 2016 with a user-centered design focus. Following a technical assessment, Drupal 8 was selected as its content management system (CMS) in November 2017. An ABS technical team started investigating architectural approaches in February 2018 with the build starting in mid 2018. The project was complex in terms of scale, business requirements and technical complexity.  Approximately 12 months into the build ABS  sought independent, expert advice to undertake a technical review and to assist with planning the remaining work.

The project consisted of ABS business teams working closely with technical staff in multi-disciplinary teams delivering the project using an agile methodology. The technical staff included a Drupal development team along with representatives from many other technical areas including security, infrastructure, DevOps and testing.

Key business requirements included:

  • Delivering a new authoring environment and website that is easier to understand and use

  • Point-in-time release of content

  • Meeting a broad range of non-functional requirements


ABS engaged Salsa for an objective technical review of the project. This included providing expert technical advice on how to best deliver some of the more complex technical requirements, the technical architecture and DevOps, and providing a framework to better understand and plan the delivery of the remaining work.

Salsa used a series of workshops with ABS stakeholders to understand the present state of their technical solution, governance and management frameworks and processes, as well as get a better appreciation of business requirement priorities. 

With the present state understood, Salsa’s focus shifted to future state and methods of increasing innovation and efficiency, focusing on:

  • Drupal scheduled content release

  • Performance and the potential integration of caching solutions

  • Scalability of the architecture

  • Deployment, configuration and patching of Drupal platforms in an AWS environment

  • Technical project plans

Structured workshops to support this process included:

  • Initial kick-off meeting: An overview of the current project including the project goals, timeline, key business requirements, and present state solution architecture. 

  • Infrastructure deep-dive: An early check-in to discuss infrastructure topics, pain-points and implementation goals after an initial discovery period.

  • Application deep-dive: Further technical investigation into the Drupal application to understand decisions and pain points. 

  • Backlog review sessions: Review of the known (high-level) requirements of application and infrastructure to determine the scale of outstanding work prior to go-live. 

  • Review and discussion on initial report draft: Salsa provided an initial draft report to ABS, which was subsequently discussed to validate focus and fidelity of recommendations. 


Salsa was able to provide an objective assessment and make recommendations for:

  • Current state solution gaps and limitations
  • Proposed state solution blueprint
  • Proposed platform architecture
  • Proposed deployment architecture
  • Proposed CI/CD approach
  • Proposed caching solution
  • Estimations for re-engineering effort

Salsa’s recommendations regarding project governance included:

  • Re-assessing the go-live date to accommodate the remaining crucial work

  • Re-affirming the role and importance of the product owner to drive the discovery process for all the remaining requirements

  • Prioritising the definition of the requirements to arrive at a prioritised backlog of estimated and groomed development stories as soon as possible

  • Setting out a clear sprint plan based on the prioritised backlog to validate as soon as possible 

This provided an independent, evidence-based perspective of the project for the ABS to use to help with planning the remaining work.

Salsa’s recommendations regarding technical solution and approach included:

  • Address cache invalidation challenges to reduce the number of purged pages on each content update

  • Configuration recommendations to further optimise the use of the varnish caching solution

  • Configure read replicas to enhance database performance and durability

  • Use S3 file storage integration to centralise media assets

  • Use separate instances for search functionality and integrate it with existing applications to achieve reliable cross-site content look up

  • Recommendations regarding deployment architecture, CI/CD, automated testing, module updates and container-based approaches

Why Salsa Digital?

Salsa has extensive enterprise Drupal knowledge and experience in managing large programs of work. Our relevant large-scale experience with DevOps, Drupal and whole-of-government programs include Salsa’s role as Department of Premier and Cabinet’s implementation partner for Single Digital Presence and our work with the Department of Finance and its GovCMS program.  

After the initial review and technical assessment, Salsa continued to work with the ABS to provide ongoing technical advice as the ABS moves toward launching the Website.