Managing Content and Cost: Government Agencies Opening Up to Open Source

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Saving Time and Money
Entities at all levels of government are considering it and are having much success implementing the technology. For Whitehouse.gov, the ability to implement the features required in a timely manner was a main reason for selecting Drupal, an open source platform. Rob Klause, who served as web manager to the Executive Office of the President and was responsible for Whitehouse.gov until last December, says a new content management solution was sought when the Obama administration came into office. "As the administration moved more toward that transparency posture and we wanted to make a lot of that happen, the timeline for getting those features developed was too long," explains Klause. "There was a lot of development time involved." The Drupal platform enabled Klause's team to quickly launch the features they wanted without the long development time.

While a change in administration was the impetus behind Whitehouse.gov moving to open source, for some local governments, the goal to solve inefficiencies in an economical manner was the driving force.

Coleen Cason, webmaster for York County, Va., says that money was one of the main issues that led to her decision to select an open source technology solution. "With state cuts and the economy, we are in the same financial situation as every other jurisdiction around us," explains Cason. "For years, the cost of our website was virtually my salary and the cost of software licenses and that was it." She says she knew a request for about $300,000 for a new content management system would be denied. "I've worked for the local government for 20 years, and when the budget gets tight, we hear ‘do more with less.' But now with the current economy, it's become a mandate. I knew that we had to do more with less, and I decided open source was the way to achieve that goal."

A Reallocation of Resources
For Bryan Weis, chief architect and development manager for Lehigh County, Pa., operational efficiencies as well as a need for an economical solution prompted the motivation behind the implementation of an open source system that could manage the Lehigh County website and provide a better web experience for site visitors. Weis says that he wanted to remove the task of maintaining website content from IT staff members so they could focus more on application development.

"There are times and have been times when new leaders have been put into place, and they wanted to revamp the public image drastically, such as something as minor as it may seem-like changing fonts, colors, or graphics on the website-but do it across the board to 650 pages," explains Weis. "We now have the capability of doing that easily because we've instituted a platform that allows us to get underneath the actual program." The open source platform provides Weis and his staff access to the source code, so changes can be made quickly and easily. He says that more staff would have been required to accomplish the same goal before the DotNetNuke platform was put in place.

For Cason, managing the site's content had become an increasingly large task over time, with more than 20,000 pages and files. At that point, there were about 40 content contributors and only one web-dedicated resource in Cason. "Each time there was a change to a page or a new file had to be added, I was the one who updated the site," she says. "That meant I had to be at a PC that had the software loaded on it, which sometimes caused a delay in getting the new information on the site, especially if I was out of the office." She, like Weis, chose DotNetNuke's free community edition product.

Cason says that it was important that the county's content management solution be easy to learn and easy to use, especially since she had to lead the implementation and training processes. This was especially crucial since she wanted to shift the responsibility of updating content to the individual departments and agencies within the county. "I wanted something that would be familiar to them," and since DotNetNuke is a Microsoft product, "if they can use Word, they can use [DotNetNuke]," says Cason. Now, the content management processes are completely in the hands of the content creators, which have increased in number from about 40 to about 70. "If someone is responsible for one page, I can give them access to that one page or one module on that page," says Cason.

Cason says that this came in handy during a recent storm. The county's PIO officer was unable to get to the office, but she could still update storm and closing information from her home. "They don't have to wait for me to publish," says Cason of the content contributors. "These are people with little web experience. But they do know their content, and they keep it up-to-date. They know the priority, what needs to go up and when, much sooner than I would."

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