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Agile Drupal development's role in the Service NSW portal

by lucy.vernon /

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As part of our sponsorship of the GovInnovate conference, CeBIT conducted an interview with Owen Lansbury about Drupal's role on the Service NSW platform, including how the use of Agile development enabled it to go live in record time and be iteratively improved since launch.

This is a re-print of the an interview that was originally published on the CeBIT website in November 2015.

PreviousNext has played a key role in the adoption of Drupal in the Australian Government; most notably through the development of aGov, an open Drupal platform for building standards-compliant websites. In late 2012, they were commissioned by the Australian Government to build the Service NSW portal. Owen sat down with CeBIT to discuss the project.  

CeBIT: Can you give us some background into Service NSW, and what it aimed to achieve?

Owen Lansbury: Service NSW is an initiative established by the NSW Premier in late 2012. The goal was to provide a centralised access point to the 800+ transactions that citizens have with government agencies. Prior to Service NSW being established, these transactions were hosted on a large number of separate platforms with no centralised integration, leading to duplicated resources and end-user confusion.

CeBIT: How did you set about implementing the project? 

Owen Lansbury: In partnership with SMS Management & Technology, PreviousNext, proposed building the Service NSW web portal using Drupal, the leading open source Content Management System (CMS) for complex website builds.

The reason Drupal was a good fit was it provided many core features out of the box - a flexible framework for developing custom functionality and a rich API for integration with disparate legacy and third party platforms. Drupal also has a proven track record in government for its ease of meeting accessibility and security requirements.

Given the aggressive timeline in which to launch the portal (6 months from January to June 2013), Drupal provided the means to rapidly develop the portal. We coupled this with Agile development methodology, which plans for unpredictability by splitting a project into increments called “sprints”.

CeBIT: What were the core activities involved in building the web portal? 

Owen Lansbury: SMS Management and Technology developed a customer experience strategy, that placed customer experience at the forefront of the design. In line with this we took a “design in the browser” approach from the first development sprint. This meant the core structure of the site could be built before any branded design was applied -  facilitating user testing and feedback, as well as iterative improvements to the functionality from the early days of the project.

Once the site architecture was bedded down, branded designs were applied and content migrated into the platform. As a result, the Service NSW team was using the Drupal CMS months before launch, and could continually test and refine in the lead up to the July 1 launch.

CeBIT: Were there any challenges you faced during the roll-out, and what steps were taken to overcome them?

Owen Lansbury: I’d say the biggest challenge was the speed at which the entire team was moving, and the hard deadline being worked towards.

We managed this through the adoption and implementation of Agile processes, in which the Service NSW stakeholders had daily engagement with the development team.

Through this they were able to prioritise what was being built - ensuring that it was providing the most value to the business. This provided a roadmap of sorts, and helped reduce the delays that would normally be encountered if requests were being generated every time a priority was adjusted. This really helped us create a unified team dynamic, moving it outside of a traditional client-vendor relationship.

CeBIT: What are the results of this implementation?

Owen Lansbury: The digital portal has supported the physical growth of Service NSW’s physical locations. There are now more than 50 around NSW, compared to the one when we first undertook the project. In 2014 alone, more than 2.5 million customers were assisted in the Service centres, with the portal facilitating self-service touch-screen kiosks. This has resulted in huge cost reductions in the cost per customer served.

CeBIT: Was there a success factor that you think contributed to successful implementation, more than any other?

Owen Lansbury: The most important factor for Service NSW’s success was the recognition that the initial launch in July 2013 was only the first step in the development of the platform. Over the subsequent two years, PreviousNext has been engaged in a program of continuous improvement - refining the user experience, adding functionality and integrating with new services. This has included a major program to integrate Salesforce as the Customer Relationship Management system for the MyServiceNSW account.

CeBIT: What are the key ways in which a government technology implementation would differ from a private enterprise implementation and how did this inform your approach? 

Owen Lansbury: Service NSW has paved the way and set an example in the adoption of user-centred design, open source technologies, agile project delivery and managed cloud services. Proving that Government can get products to market just as quickly as the private sector. With the Digital Transformation Office (the government department responsible for upgrading the Australian Government’s services) adopting all of these approaches, we expect to see rapid progress across the board in coming years.

CeBIT: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to other companies about to undertake technology implementations with government departments? 

Owen Lansbury: With the success of Service NSW and the creation of the Digital Transformation Office, I think companies need to be continually up-skilling in open source technology and Agile project delivery to meet the needs of government, who’re moving at a faster pace than ever before.

Read a case study on the Service NSW project here »