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Salsa’s govCMS journey

At our recent ‘lunch and learn’ event in Melbourne, I briefly ran through Salsa Digital’s govCMS journey, reflecting on how ‘it was no longer about just building websites’…

Alfred D 25 April 2016

The journey

Thinking about our journey towards govCMS, we reflected on the most influential “inflection points” of our past and came up with nine points (as illustrated in the timeline below). For each of them we asked ourselves:

  1. What were they really?
  2. How did we get there?
  3. What outcomes did they achieve for our customers?

In the beginning there was open source

Salsa Digital’s journey to govCMS really started off with open source 13 years ago. We were excited by the open-source movement and the great content management systems (CMSs) coming out of it, such as Wordpress and Joomla. The challenges for companies and government agencies however, was that it required technical skills to setup and it was unsupported. Who was going to setup and configure the sites and be there when stuff went wrong? Salsa was of course.

We had this really great and unique idea to setup a “software internet” company to solve these problems and offer value to our customers. No one would ever catch on. :)

Outcome: Customers got affordable, feature-rich CMS websites that allowed them to manage the content themselves with the peace of mind that someone was there to support them.

Drupal

Fast forward several years…and we discovered Drupal. We hesitated at first but couldn’t ignore the high level of engagement and the growing community contributing to this CMS.

Our first impressions weren’t great. It was ‘different’ and it appeared ‘more complicated’ to configure. However, we quickly realised that Drupal was a whole lot more sophisticated than other CMSs (at the time) providing things like publishing workflows, content collaboration, multilingual support, version control, etc.

Soon it wasn’t just our developers encouraging us to get Drupal…it was our customers, too. Including government clients.

Outcome: Customers would now receive a sophisticated CMS with ‘enterprise-grade’ functionality for a fraction of the cost compared with proprietary CMS ‘leaders’ of that time.

Government

Our journey with local government began with building, hosting and supporting websites. It quickly became clear that it was no longer just about building websites — it was more about driving outcomes, creating efficiencies and positively impacting users by delivering and communicating information in the most effective way.

This really helped us mature as a digital agency, not just in developing enterprise rigour around digital service delivery and supporting processes but also really needing to understand, and help, our government clients understand:

  • User profiles
  • How to model content
  • How to create effective user journeys
  • How to identify the optimum pathways for linking citizens to content.

Outcome: Government got us thinking about improving accessibility, making information easier to find and easier to consume. This applied equally to diverse user groups of varying cognitive abilities as much as it did to citizens consuming content in different ways with mobiles and tablets.

Cloud

And then came the cloud…ah, a techie’s utopia. We saw this incredible movement towards cloud, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), as the major market disruptor. The speed to market, control and flexibility was amazing. We could easily and instantly provision and configure infrastructure. All without having to touch a piece of hardware or rely on a human to do it for us. Really amazing.

We embraced the cloud head first by migrating hundreds of our legacy clients onto AWS. But cloud (and AWS) provided so much more than infrastructure — we could now use Amazon’s IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) application stack to build truly enterprise-grade applications.

Outcome: We were now providing great levels of sophistication and reliability for our clients, within really fast timeframes, and at low costs — that just wasn’t possible before the cloud and AWS.

Acquia

The next pivotal point in our govCMS journey was our relationship with Acquia. We tendered for a large Victorian Government agency that had six Drupal sites they wanted to build, migrate and consolidate onto a single shared cloud platform.

We put together the pitch of our lives. We got shortlisted, got to best and final offer (BAFO), we even prematurely started toasting our success. And then...silence. A week later we got the news: some company called Acquia had won the tender and brought in an existing implementation partner.

We hit Google, saw Acquia’s site, and we got it instantly. Acquia was a global company that brought it all together:

  • optimised Drupal stack;
  • on the cloud (backed by AWS);
  • enterprise-grade SLA with 24x7, one-hour critical response times; and
  • 99.95% application uptime guaranteed.

We understood the power of PaaS (and what it meant). Needless to say, we were immediately on the phone and on a plane to Sydney soon after to meet with Acquia in person and convince them that we’d be a fantastic partner.

Who would have thought that only two years later we’d become Acquia’s APAC partner of the year :) Salsa also ended up forming a great relationship with the same large Victorian Government agency we originally lost to, successfully executing on several projects on Acquia’s platform since.

Outcome: The strong alliance between Acquia and Salsa meant our customers in common received enterprise-grade products with enterprise-grade services.

govCMS

The next step was govCMS itself. govCMS solved common problems by bringing together open source and cloud, with a Drupal distribution specifically designed for government’s key standards, all backed by an enterprise SLA.

Outcome: With govCMS, government agencies no longer needed to worry about stuff like platforms, CMSs, security, compliance, support, etc. Instead they could focus on serving value to citizens and creating great digital experiences.

Salsa immediately understood the vision and value of govCMS and we were naturally keen to be part of it. And so came our first govCMS website…

Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)

As well as being Salsa’s first govCMS project, the CASA website was one of the first public govCMS projects Acquia built with an external implementation partner (us!).

CASA is primarily responsible for legislative content on air safety. Their previous site was unstable and, given that their legislative content needed to be always available, the mandate for the initial phase of this project was to: 1. migrate their legacy CMS onto govCMS “as-is”; and 2. stabilise!

You can read more about CASA’s web redevelopment story in our blog Talking govCMS in Melbourne.

Outcome: A happy client got a stable, resilient, highly compliant and supported CMS platform with near 100% uptime (to date).

govCMS++

Since CASA we’ve been fortunate enough to deliver govCMS-related digital services to several other federal agencies including Department of Communications (DOC), IP Australia, Department of Finance (DOF), Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA) and Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO). Beyond govCMS implementation and theming development, our services have also covered strategy, service design, visual design, private training and public training.

And in the spirit of the govCMS vision, we’ve begun to heavily invest in community contributions to enhance the govCMS distribution, in particular enabling the ability for govCMS-hosted content to be consumed externally via web services.

Outcome: Several federal agencies have realised the benefits of govCMS through Salsa’s delivery and expertise. Furthermore, the entire govCMS community now has the benefit of leveraging more advanced features.

DPC

So now we’re at our current place in the govCMS journey. We recently won the tender to design and build a site for the first official Victorian State Government agency to come onto govCMS — Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Without revealing too much before a successful go-live :) the goal of the site is to drive positive outcomes by better informing citizens with good and relevant content that is easily accessible.

A really cool aspect of this project is that we’re collaborating with another government agency (federal) to contribute and enhance a third-party module offering data visualisations for DPC, which will then become part of the standard govCMS distribution. This is a great example of how government and tax-payers are benefiting from the govCMS open-source program.

Outcome: DPC delivers a great digital service for citizens, who will be better informed with more easily accessible content. Whole of government will now have access to even greater functionality with govCMS by being able to provide inexpensive data visualisations on their sites.

Where to next?

We’re excited about govCMS and how it’s going to help government agencies deliver on the digital service agenda. We’re looking forward to continuing our govCMS journey and naturally bringing more agencies on board.

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