The federal government has spent five years encouraging departments and agencies to standardise website software on an open source content management system in order to reduce complexity, save money and improve engagement with citizens.
But the Digital Transformation Agency, in overseeing one of the largest public-facing government web projects ever, has shunned the much-touted open source GovCMS system in favour of software from the US giant Adobe, delivered by its global partner Deloitte.
And no-one knows why. The work relates to the huge GovDXP project, which is billed as a social network-inspired re-build of the myGov platform.
The myGov redevelopment is a giant piece of work and decisions made this year about software will lock the government into huge cost commitments for years to come.
But the Digital Transformation Agency has declined to say not only what software is being used in the project, but also how decisions were made about the platform selected, despite the tens of millions of dollars already spent so far on the early GovDXP build.
The DTA will not say whether the technology decisions were made by Deloitte – which has been awarded contracts worth about $26 million to build a prototype and early beta for GovDXP – or by its own executives, or by other public servants elsewhere in government.
The DTA will not say whether any comparative studies were conducted prior to the decision to deploy the Adobe software as the platform for the GovDXP prototype and Horizon 1 (early beta build), or whether Deloitte had proposed the Adobe solution.
Although the DTA had engaged management consultants McKinsey to conduct a business case for the GovDXP project prior to its building of an Adobe-based prototype, it will not say whether this included comparative work in relation to technology platform decisions.
The DTA paid McKinsey $600,000 for a six-week contract over last December-January on a GovDXP business case prior to Deloitte being awarded $1 million to build the initial prototype, but it is not clear whether the business case had been completed by the time Deloitte started work on the prototype.
The DTA then paid McKinsey another $1 million for further work on the GovDXP business case, but not until after the DTA had already signed a $23 million contract with Deloitte to deliver the Adobe-based Horizon 1 stage of the GovDXP (this contract with Deloitte for the Horizon 1 build had started at $9.5 million but more than doubled within months).
It is also unclear whether the contracts with Deloitte for the GovDXP prototype and Horizon 1 build were awarded via an open tender process, or if the contracts were awarded through a more restricted tender. The DTA will not say.
The DTA will not say why it opted to step away from the government-endorsed GovCMS content management system, based on open source Drupal software, or why it instead moved to the Adobe platform for the GovDXP.
The DTA declined even to confirm that Adobe software had been used as the base platform for GovDXP. Instead, it provided a single sentence response to detailed queries about the project. There is an irony that the Adobe platform is based on the open source Apache Jackrabbit platform, although the services around it are propriety software.
“The DTA is continuing work to improve digital experiences for Australians, in accordance with Government requirements, relevant procurement processes and the DTA’s Service Design and Delivery process.”
Although the DTA has for years supported the GovCMS system – the whole of government content management platform that is administered by the Department of Finance – and has encouraged the advantages of widespread deployment of a standardised system across government, it will not say whether it will continue to do so.
There are now more than 300 websites that use the GovCMS platform, covering 90 organisations across three jurisdictions including 72 Commonwealth agencies – covering agencies from the Australian Signals Directorate to the Australian Business Register.
The Genesis of the GovCMS system was itself full of controversy. The Commonwealth invested heavily in its development and in providing incentives to departments and agencies to ensure its widespread deployment.
The early contract with US-based Acquia for the GovCMS system – worth more than $20 million over four years – put extreme pressure on a number of Australia CMS providers who were incumbent suppliers to government. The rationale at the time was that GovCMS was favoured because of the cost savings that could be derived from its widespread adoption across government.
It was also touted that the Drupal-based Acquia platform was also widely used in the US government, among others around the world.
The DTA will not say whether it will continue to support standardisation on GovCMS across government.
Meanwhile, the future direction for the GovDXP project is in an apparent limbo. The $23 million contract awarded to Deloitte to complete the Horizon 1 (beta) phase of the project ended in September, with no contracts for the next phase yet awarded.
While InnovationAus was initially told by the DTA earlier this month that the a vendor had been selected to carry out work on the GovDXP Horizon 2 stage of the project, it then retracted this statement to say the procurement process was still underway.
The Horizon 2 phase had been expected to get underway in July but is apparently delayed.
No-one that InnovationAus has spoken to seriously expects the Horizon 2 business to get awarded to anyone other than Deloitte, with its global partner Adobe. A decision is expected soon, and possibly after the current Senate Estimates cycle.
What is not well understood is whether a technology decision that could result in one of the biggest CMS deployments in government may have been derived from a single, limited tender for a prototype system developed over a 90-day sprint, and its resultant influence on technology decisions across the rest of the federal government.