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Should the Public Sector pay for Content Management Systems?

About 3-4 years ago I used to think that the requirements of a Local
Authority or Public Sector Agencies around content management system
(CMS) were pretty complex and could only really be supported by
purchasing one of the many high end products out there in the market.

must stress at this point that i am referring to Content Management or
Web Content Management – This is not a post about Enterprise Content
Management (ECM) which is at a higher level and includes a wider range
of functions and features including:

Document management
for check-in/check-out, version control, security and library services
for business documents.
Document imaging for capturing,
transforming, storing and managing scanned images of paper documents.

Records management for long-term archiving, automation of
retention and compliance policies, and ensuring legal, regulatory and
industry compliance.
Workflow for supporting business
processes, document review and approval, routing content, assigning work
tasks and states, and creating audit trails.
Web content
for controlling the content of a Website by using
specific management tools based on a core repository. It includes
content creation functions, templating, workflow and change management,
and content deployment to web servers.
for document sharing and supporting project teams and
discussion threads.

I do believe that the public sector and local
authorities need to take ECM seriously and must consider how they
provide the functions above, but i find it very difficult in a public
sector role to justify the likely expenditure around a single ECM
system, for which there are some big players. My view and i stress this
is my view is that in the current climate the public sector needs to
consider how it delivers the “value” these tools promise by taking
advantage of the open source platforms which exist out there. If we had a
public sector developer community around some of these technologies
then we would in effect create a sustainable approach. If your
organisation has already invested in the large providers of this
functionality (IBM, Open Text, SAP and Microsoft) then i wish you luck
in realising the benefits of that investment.

But i would
suggest that you could actually achieve this architecture through open
source products and a Web Oriented Architectural (WOA) approach. You
will still need to consider the integration aspects but open source
products are far more likely to integrate (openness is key) then the big
supplier products (no motivation to integrate).

Since I have
moved into ICT and started to look at the Architectural view of the
infrastructure a lot more, it is now becoming clear to me that if any
local authority or public sector agency thinks there CMS requirements
can not be met by one of the open source products such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal doesn’t
really understand how there Web Architecture can be utilised to deliver
greater cost savings and value and increasing agility and flexibility.

post is not going to be music to any vendor/supplier of web content
management as i really don’t think the public sector can justify the
expenditure on these products in the current climate – Unless there
current technical architecture actually works against implementing a
cost effective and open source product. If this is you – go and speak to
your ICT colleagues about why you can’t at least consider these tools?

been doing a piece of work recently about reviewing the architecture
around our Corporate Website and it is a very complex area – I have
started to focus on what the requirements are for a CMS and what an
effective Architecture would look like. This has led me to seriously
think about the open source options around the CMS area, this doesn’t
mean that we are proactively making decisions in the council at the
moment as we need to get our wider web architecture right first –
however my current view is that tools like WordPress
and Joomla
specifically could be key parts of our future web architecture.

advantage of these products is that we are increasingly seeing people
use these types of products outside of work or as a way to bypass the
existing corporate platform because there is a lower skill level to
entry and development. This approach coupled with the excellent
developer communities that exist provide dynamic platforms for employees
to publish content far quicker, more effectively and with less
corporate ICT intervention. This for me is a critical aspect and is a
major plus for these products. Like most local authority web development
teams, they are often bombarded with requests for work from large scale
application integration to minor template tweaks – with the ever
growing pressure on resources we must start to devolve the
responsibility into the business and to those people who are comfortable
and capable to develop these tools. This would therefore allow the core
team to focus on the larger scale products and deliver more value.

this leads to me think, if these tools can provide value and meet all
of our needs around CMS then why would or even how could any public
sector body justify a large expenditure in this area in the current
financial climate.

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Alex Sadleir

In Australia, the federal government reached the same conclusion you have about CMS. So they took a locally developed open source solution and funded it to be customised to meet the government specific metadata and accessablities needs: http://matrix.squiz.net/evaluations/white-branding
This is now used widely across the whole .gov.au space including the websites of all the public schools in the Australian Capital Territory. At the same time, there is WordPress being used where it is most appropriate – for blogging on govspace.gov.au

Kerri Karvetski

The open source software may be free but the customization and ongoing maintenance are not. I say this as a huge fan of open source software – I’ve overseen the launch of sites in Drupal, Joomla and WordPress (mostly nonprofit but one gov). It’s worth the money to pay experts in these systems because each have their quirks and strengths.

I launched http://www.rhinebeck-ny.gov on Drupal and we paid a firm to customize the back-end. A volunteer committee provided the strategy and collected the initial set of data. The biggest challenges are 1) allocating staff resources to keep it up-to-date and 2) maintenance costs associated with version updates, bug fixes and enhancements.