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Launching a whole-of-government digital platform on an open cloud platform

Independently, both whole-of-government digital platforms and open source technologies deliver many benefits...but when you put them together you can see the power of an open source whole-of-government digital platform at work, delivering tangible benefits.

Salsa Digital 18 February 2019

Whole-of-government platforms

Whole-of-government platforms help governments deliver better solutions to citizens, while also reducing costs significantly by consolidating multiple, fragmented and disparate digital services (e.g. websites, data catalogues, etc.) onto one platform. The DTA’s Digtal Service Platforms Strategy, specifically talks about the need to create whole-of-government platforms. The Strategy’s foreword says: “Our vision is to make it simple and fast to get things done with government, through any channel. Whole-of-government digital service platforms are critical to realising this vision.” The Strategy goes on to look at some of the benefits of whole-of-government platforms, such as improved user experience for citizens and improved efficiency and effectiveness within government. See the Strategic Context in the Strategy for more information on other benefits — and there’s lots of them.

Open source for open government

Governments around the world are adopting open source technologies. Here in Australia, policy and procurement policies suggest ‘open source first’. The preference for open source is also reflected in the DTA’s Digital Service Standard, which says to Use open standards and common platforms and Make source code open.

Open source content management systems (CMSs) such as GovCMS, SDP, Drupal and Wordpress deliver many benefits including:

  • Significantly reduced costs both in development and maintenance (no licensing)

  • Global and active communities, global and active adoption

  • Minimising vendor lock-in and the common ‘$ proprietary liability’

  • Greater flexibility with the option to tailor, adapt and/or extend functionality to meet custom needs as required

  • Collaboration and knowledge sharing (open source allows us to build on the pioneers before us)

Open source platforms

Open source platforms (open platforms) are a new paradigm shift for government and industry. An open platform is essentially an enterprise-grade, cloud-agnostic hosting platform that’s completely built using open source components.

Salsa uses’s open source platform, Lagoon. Lagoon uses Kubernetes and Openshift to deliver an open source platform that uses containers, which provide many benefits.

Traditionally, developers would work on code, test locally, then it would go through testing on the development server, staging server, and finally onto production — where it would often ‘fail’ because the production environments may be very different to development environments (system software/versions, data size, security, caching, etc.). This meant the release cycle was cumbersome, involved multiple people/stages and was often long. Containerisation completely revolutionised this release cycle. Using containers, developers can test their code on their local environments (in the container) and if it runs locally, it will run on production because the underlying platform setup is identical whether running in a local development environment or running on the production platform. Containerisation significantly reduces the release cycle, which means developers can find out sooner if their release will fail or succeed, and can make changes as necessary. Developers can release faster and make smaller releases (because it’s so easy and quick). Ultimately this faster release cycle creates more space for innovation.

These same containers can be used in continuous integration and deployment pipelines, automating testing and deployment processes and give far greater confidence to the release cycle.  

An open source platform means there’s no vendor lock-in PLUS it gives flexibility and adaptability. In a licensed software environment you either can’t change things or it’s restrictive and difficult to make changes, but with open source you can make changes, such as tailoring workflow or features to your needs.

Whole-of-government PLUS open source

When you combine whole-of-government digital platforms and open source technologies, including an open source platform, you get a fully open source technology stack for a whole-of-government platform. One great example of this open whole-of-government platform is the next-generation GovCMS.

Open source cloud platforms deliver many benefits, including:

  • Significantly lower total cost of ownership (TCO)

  • Stronger collaboration across government

  • Fully open source technology stack enabling sharing, reuse and minimisation of duplication

  • Benefits of containerisation (including related benefits such as automation and agility)

  • Implementation of the latest technologies to do things differently — faster, better, cheaper

Victorian Government — taking risk with innovation

Before GovCMS 2.0 there was Victoria’s Single Digital Presence (SDP). The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) was the original ‘risk taker’ in delivering on our shared vision of an open source cloud platform. DPC invested in Salsa (and to deliver the first fully open source platform stack for government.

SDP delivers value to citizens, agency content authors and the Victorian Government as a whole.

Truly open source, truly open smoke

Both DPC and GovCMS are investing in, and maturing, the fully open source stack and both plan to continue this close relationship (see our blog on their shared DrupalSouth session, Open source for open government).

DPC pioneered using Lagoon and took a 'risk' on a young product. Then GovCMS took Lagoon, sponsored new features such as the admin UI, and gave it back. The second-generation GovCMS also included IRAP certification, and DPC now has a baseline (with reduced costs) to certify SDP. Great examples of the open source ethos at work.

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