Succeeding with Digital Services in an Open Environment

This post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, The Future of Digital Services. In the guide, we explore five trends that are transforming the way government serves citizens in the digital age.

Given increasing government mandates and citizen demands, it’s imperative that agencies adopt digital solutions. To discuss best practices for maximizing investment in those solutions, we spoke with Dan Katz of Acquia, a company that provides open source digital platform solutions and services to organizations worldwide.

Katz discussed the proliferation of successful digital initiatives executed using open source software and cloud platforms: “We’ve seen agency after agency leaving behind legacy content management tools and following the government’s recommendation to go cloud first and open source first.”

However, not all open source platforms—and the providers behind them—are created equal. Katz explained that the ideal platform combines agility, security, and resiliency to create integrated experiences for agency users and the citizens they serve.


One of the biggest benefits of open source digital platforms is their agility. Open source allows those responsible for publishing content and maintaining systems to rapidly respond to changing customer needs. “[Acquia] allows rapid publishing of content—even the creation of new websites—that is governed by the agency,” said Katz. “No technical knowledge or coding is required. That enables agencies to get their message to citizens as quickly as possible.”

Functionality and enhancements can be added without spending on unnecessary procurements. Expertise and collaboration can be developed in house, and the agency can maintain complete control over its technology. As a result, Acquia’s open source platform ensures project teams retain the agility to transform without having to re-engage with outside vendors.


Yet while agency staff require the ability to independently edit content and continuously improve their sites, they also need the assurance from a platform vendor that their data will be safe.

Acquia’s cloud platform is FISMA compliant and is currently being vetted by FedRAMP. It also provides the flexibility to customize security and offers options like Acquia Shield, a segregated data tier and VPN solution. “I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all model for security,” said Katz. “It’s important to look at the specific needs of an agency and help them map the right solutions to those needs.”

Additionally, Acquia’s open source model allows organizations to take advantage of one of the largest, most active open source communities. “Working with a company like Acquia allows an agency to leverage not just the company and support staff at Acquia, but the entire Drupal community,” said Katz. “If a security vulnerability is found, because the code is open, it’s addressed very quickly. And with the support of Acquia, it can be addressed on an enterprise scale.”


Furthermore, this security and support is not compromised during times of heightened use. Especially for agencies who must rapidly deploy new content and features, or whose user traffic may fluctuate with unexpected events, it’s important to have the technology and assistance to ensure digital services remain online at all times.

Acquia ensures their open source technologies are resilient enough to withstand even the worst-case scenarios for government agencies. For instance, preceding Hurricane Sandy, the company worked with New York’s Metro Transit Authority (MTA) to ensure emergency information portals remained online during the disaster.

“We worked with MTA to do a simulation before the hurricane actually struck,” said Katz. “And during that simulation our team identified areas of improvement, which we addressed so they’d be responsive even during extremely high traffic. During the storm, there was no down time for their site. We were serving more than 30,000 concurrent users and pushing large amounts of data, even when MTA editors were creating new content simultaneously.”

Integrated Experiences

Each of these attributes—agility, security, and resiliency—helps agencies achieve their missions. However, Katz noted that the true benefit of these open source elements comes when they are integrated to form a holistic experience for both the government organization and end users.

Katz offered an example to highlight how Acquia provides this integration. “We worked with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to consolidate all of their public-facing websites, which were at one point on 16 different content management systems, multiple hosting providers, and various software licenses. We created a roadmap and helped support the design and implementation of a central Acquia and Drupal-based platform,” he said.

“Additionally, we worked with DHS to do training and onboarding. What developed out of that is not just over 24 sites being migrated from different systems into Drupal, but also an internal DHS government community of innovators who are all very passionate and committed to making this platform successful.”

Katz concluded, “Digital services enable strong relationships between government and citizens. What Acquia, as a vendor, can provide is an enablement platform for the next great wave of digital services.”


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