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The future of Australian Government Drupal websites with aGov 3.0

Way back in 2009, PreviousNext built the first major government Drupal portal in Australia for NSW.gov.au. That project became a showcase for how the open source CMS could be successfully adopted by all tiers of government, and helped pave the way for its rapid adoption.

by Owen Lansbury /

The following 3 years saw PreviousNext work closely with many large Australian Government departments moving to Drupal, including Education, Environment, Finance, Social Services and Defence. Throughout this period, we also saw the huge demand for an easy way to quickly build Drupal websites that complied with government standards for security, accessibility and branding. 

This experience triggered our development of the aGov distribution, a pre-packaged, standards-compliant version of Drupal that could be quickly installed and ready to enter content. aGov was refined through a lengthy series of testing with key Drupal users in government and released onto Drupal.org in early 2013 as a totally free, open-source product. The main impact since aGov’s release has been to shift government users’ attention from what technology to use, to focusing on better engagement with constituents.

Coinciding with the release of aGov, we also formed a strategic alliance with Drupal hosting provider, Acquia, to provide a unified package of services and support for aGov websites. When the Department of Finance released their govCMS RFQ in early 2014, it required a relatively simple re-purposing of our integrated offering for the successful joint bid.

We’ve since spent the past six months refining aGov 2.0 as the foundation software for govCMS on Acquia Cloud Site Factory. This allows all sites in the platform to be maintained from a common code base, adhering to a set of shared features and standards. As a result, it was decided that aGov should be forked specifically for govCMS to ensure Finance can control the feature set for platform-wide deployment. The fork will be undertaken and maintained by the Department of Finance with assistance from Acquia's web development team, and released onto Drupal.org in coming weeks. 

Under the open source licensing model, any code can be downloaded and forked to better suit the intentions of specific users, and PreviousNext has been fully supportive of aGov 2.0 being forked for govCMS. It provides a huge incentive to government users to adopt Drupal, and frees us to push ahead with a range of initiatives for aGov that won’t necessarily follow the govCMS roadmap. In keeping with the open source ethos, it’s envisaged that govCMS will continue to draw from enhancements to aGov that suit the platform’s requirements.

While govCMS is targeted at small agency sites, the fork ensures that aGov will remain as the best option for websites that require extension by any of the 10,000+ free Drupal modules, custom functionality, integration with third party systems and flexibility in the choice of hosting provider.

The first step will be the release of aGov 3.0 in coming weeks. This release will see a refactoring of aGov’s theme layer to incorporate Zen 6, the hugely popular base theme maintained by PreviousNext front end team lead, John Albin Wilkins. This is integrated with auto-generated style guides and the use of design components - a way of cleanly isolating front end code into discrete units to ensure efficiency in the development process and the long-term maintainability of the code.

The other major aGov 3.0 focus will be to ensure that the user experience reflects the new Digital Service Standard being developed by the Digital Transformation Office. Our accessibility partners, Media Access Australia, will be working closely with our design and development team to ensure aGov 3.0 is fully compliant with all of these latest guidelines and to independently audit the code we release onto Drupal.org.

We’re also in the early stages of refactoring aGov for Drupal 8, with the launch timed to coincide with the release of the latest version of Drupal’s core software later this year. Drupal 8 will be a significant advancement in the CMS’s architecture, with the adoption of modern object-oriented coding and dramatically enhanced features for content editors and site builders. 

The final initiative is to provide a choice of cost effective options for aGov hosting to meet clients’ individual requirements. This will include supporting aGov on clients’ internal hosting environments alongside self managed or supported offerings from Amazon Web Services, Acquia Cloud and Microsoft Azure depending on a client’s preference of global cloud hosting provider.

In addition, we’ll be providing a 100% Australian backed offering for the NSW GovDC data centres with technology partner AC3. All NSW Government agencies are mandated to move to GovDC by 2017, so we expect this to be a great opportunity for clients to move their websites over to Drupal with a turn-key aGov service.

We’ll be providing more details around all of these developments on the aGov website in coming weeks, but feel free to get in touch with us if you’d like to know more in the meantime.

Posted by Owen Lansbury
Co-Founder & Chair

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