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Innovative, budget friendly and dynamic: Drupal is gaining ground as the best CMS around. OpenPublic takes it’s functionality up a notch

By Steven De Costa | Published: 22/08/2012

What is OpenPublic?

Maybe the first question should be “What is Drupal?”.  Drupal is a free open source content management system (CMS) that allows you to easily organize, manage and publish online content. It is secure, scalable, compliant, flexible and capable of more customisation than any one web site will ever need.

OpenPublic is a CMS based on Drupal. It is a pre-packaged product containing modules particularly valuable for government websites. It is created for, and by, industry professionals working with top level government agencies and organisations. As a global, community driven project OpenPublic takes the open source Drupal CMS to its next instinctive level: tailoring it to government within a shared learning environment. Growing this open source CMS with genuine community input ensures its enduring relevance.

An active community

OpenPublic is a community project being spearheaded by US based content management and open data integration specialists Phase2 Technology. Contributors are generally administrators, site builders and developers. A number of web application and data visualisation tools have already been added to the mix and enthusiastic advocates continue to contribute code, tutorials, screencasts, and other documentation for OpenPublic.

But isn’t all open source software at odds with government security needs?

Not at all. OpenPublic is founded on US government security requirements and is also applicable to Australian government requirements as prescribed by the Defence Signals Directorate’s Australian Government Information Security Manual, particularly in regard to: standard operating environments; web and email applications; web application development; and databases.

Additionally Link’s partnership with Acquia goes a long way to removing historical and assumed risks around the use of open source software and means our clients can have 24/7 access to expert Drupal support for break-fixing and advice

How does Link Digital fit in with the whole OpenPublic CMS and community ethos?

For over ten years Link has been working with government clients to help them meet the demand for greater transparency, participation and collaboration, while satisfying their unique needs, not only in terms of security compliancy but also across accessibility and usability. OpenPublic provides the ideal model for us.

We are aligned with a strategic approach to the establishment of Drupal and OpenPublic sites for a growing number of clients, and closely linked with the activities of global leaders in the community, such as Phase2 Technology and Acquia. We have opened up dialogue with both companies to seek their support in the establishment of best practice deployment for our clients and will, in the coming months be acting on their recommendations and service options in this regard.

What does OpenPublic mean for Australian enterprise and government clients?

The Drupal 7 environment already offers a very budget friendly solution with great flexibility, a highly intuitive interface, and the ideal platform for information sharing and knowledge exchange. By aligning our development approach for enterprise and government clients with the OpenPublic community our clients get access to best-of-breed and emerging website management tools. This provides our clients a more long term CMS solution that is both effective now and has a roadmap aligned with the needs of government and public oriented organisations into the future.

OpenPublic is a direct response to the US Government’s Open Government Initiative and there are direct parallels between this and similar mandates placed on Australian government agencies, particularly in regard to the central recommendation of the Government 2.0 Taskforce’s report. Indeed the Australian Government’s 16 July 2010 Declaration of Open Government made by the Hon. Lindsay Tanner, MP, then Minister for Finance and Deregulation, opens with:

“The Australian Government now declares that, in order to promote greater participation in Australia’s democracy, it is committed to open government based on a culture of engagement, built on better access to and use of government held information, and sustained by the innovative use of technology.”

Link Digital is currently developing the new website for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet using OpenPublic. Like us, they are encouraged by, and committed to, the ongoing development roadmap it provides.

What are the key features of Drupal with Open Public?

Responsive Design

The number of environments and platforms available today (and tomorrow) means for a site to be relevant it must also be responsive design ready.  OpenPublic allows customisation of the look and feel of a site with base themes, while implementing the best practices in responsive design. The implementation uses ‘contexts’, whereby the device a visitor is using – mobile phone, iPad etc – is noted as a particular context, such as a smaller screen size. An OpenPublic site can present site content within specific layout regions that are optimised for each context. Entirely different content can also be presented if desired.

Security

OpenPublic is pre-configured to better meet the needs of Government-level security. Passwords comply with Level 2 of the US’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Electronic Authentication Guidelines, https is setup from the start, and CAPTCHA comes standard on forms.

Accessibility and WCAG Compliance

Australian government accessibility guidelines and regulations and WCAG compliance are key, if not mandated, foundations to usable government websites. In meeting US Government requirements OpenPublic’s default themes meet ADA guidelines for Section 508 Compliance, which goes a long way to giving site implementers a head start on testing for their own compliance. Link Digital is further mapping the compliance of OpenPublic’s default themes against those adopted within Australia. Localisation is a requirement for our www.dpmc.gov.au work and the benefits will roll into the work provided for other clients.

Workflow

OpenPublic allows for the tailoring of permissions and a customisable workflow that meets organisational needs. This kind of functionality is fairly standard in modern CMS platforms but the implementation provided by OpenPublic is extremely relevant to establishing self-managed facilities for Australian government and enterprise clients. Link is able to implement content which is aggregated from nominated RSS, twitter or user contributed sources and queue these for promotion within the site via automated, yet moderated, workflow rules.

Customisable Look and Feel

OpenPublic, similar to WordPress, offers a selection of standard designed themes, or you can apply custom design. For Link clients we apply uniquely designed themes, but the functionality allows us to consider design variations to accommodate seasonal or temporary opportunities to refresh the site design. For example, a design to celebrate a major event hosted by a government department could be adapted and applied during celebrations.

Intuitive Dashboard

You can have all the greatest modules in the world but, at the end of the day, if you don’t have a user-friendly dashboard that makes administering your site easy, you will have a suboptimal outcome. Thankfully OpenPublic does not fall short here and offers an intuitive dashboard for easy content adding and updating. The vast improvement in usability will be particularly apparent to anyone with previous experience in administering a Drupal site. For a number of content types, improved rich-media management means the addition of graphics and data visualisation elements is as simple as clicking “upload.”

Media Room

OpenPublic provides tools for the quick release of breaking news and information that’s important to your website visitors. You can also invite media to access images, video, press releases, and other valuable content in a single, centrally accessible location.

Directory Management

With directory management features OpenPublic sites can publish via profiles – for example via a Ministerial profile for an agency or via program ambassador for a major initiative. This is an effective method for site visitors to develop a deeper and more personal association with an organisation and its objectives. Tools provide the ability to easily and quickly maintain a directory of contact information for hundreds of profiled people and/or organisations.

Pluggable Features

Out-of-the-box, OpenPublic comes with pertinent features – from integrating a Twitter feed to posting blog entries – that you can enable or disable, depending upon your needs. These pluggable options make customisation a process that is less technical and more focussed on meeting your objectives.

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