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The technology shift fuelling innovation in Canadian government

Focusing on themes of collaboration, cost-effectiveness and the smart use of technology, we will cover how using Drupal, the Government of Canada can become a more modern workplace so that it can meet citizens’ continuing demands for more IT-enabled services and for these services to be available through new channels.

Collaboration equals innovation

This year, the Government of Canada (GC) endorsed open source as a preferred technology platform. In recent years, government agencies around the world have faced issues with processes, procurement, implementation, overspending and siloed technology.

These issues are the underlying symptoms of proprietary platforms that overpromise and under deliver, causing government departments to underwhelm in engagement, customer satisfaction, return on investment, and end with an inconsistent brand experience. 

A peer-reviewed article written by members of the Canadian Government covering the current open-source movement outlines some current issues facing various government departments:

“There’s a need for improved interoperability between systems; more independence from data formats, software, technologies and vendors; substitutability of solutions and service providers and; avoiding lock-in to enable greater flexibility in the management of IT solutions.” 

The nature of open source platforms, especially Drupal, means that there are fewer barriers to innovation due to the ever-improving opportunities for collaboration within the Drupal community. This makes the Drupal platform the ideal candidate for government use. 

Image of people working together towards innovation.Open source gives teams the power to collaborate and innovate more effectively.

Government departments can share code through Drupal, benefitting every other department that uses the platform. Drupal’s community of software developers has around 630,000 active members, allowing for collaboration, shared knowledge, which mitigates siloed information while reducing costs.

In 2003, Douglas Rushkoff predicted the power open-source software would have in government. In his paper, Open Source Democracy: How online communication is changing offline politics, it was stated:

“Interactivity, both as an allegory for a healthier relationship to cultural programming and as the actual implementation of a widely accessible authoring technology, reduces our dependence on fixed narratives while giving us the tools and courage to develop narratives together.”

This contributed code feedback cycle enables government organizations to participate freely, creating a more innovative environment, enabling IT to focus on areas of change and innovation.

Fares Laroui, a Product Marketing Specialist in the open-source community further reinforces the innovative environment open source fosters in his article why open source is a good fit for the public sector:

“The open source way also reflects the changing dynamics in the modern workplace and aligns well with digital transformation strategies in terms of control over the software, longer-term vision of the organization and sustainability of its IT investments. 

The open collaboration and input from internal or external contributors to the software drive innovation which in turn helps in shaping a solution that effectively responds to various challenges.”

Key benefits in switching to an open-source CMS

In order to mitigate the risks of lock-in platforms, leveraging technologies that are built on open standards will offer key value to GC departments by offering independence, interoperability and substitutability necessary to create enterprise-level services and applications. 

Open source encourages the implementation of open standards. The flexibility of open source platforms allows for a rapid response to changing markets and missions, offering a solution that provides a fast and repeatable delivery format for content and brand.

Using open-source software means benefitting from readily available technology, allowing more time to be allocated towards customized solutions that solve unique problems.

Image of government IT using open source code.Open source enables IT departments to work on customized solutions.

As stated in the Open First Whitepaper from the Government of Canada, there are several key business outcomes associated with utilizing open source in government:

  • Enable greater flexibility in the management of information and communication technologies (ICT).
  • Support and increase collaboration with other public administrations in Canada.
  • Improve the overall availability of re-usable technology within the government and society.

Take, for example, The London Mayor’s Office. They improved innovation when they developed a Drupal platform for their new site.

Through the agile project methodology, which allows for continuous incorporated feedback, design and content issues were mitigated with ease. The previous site was poorly organized and had too much content, making it difficult for users to find what they need. 

To save time and money, pre-existing modules were used for features such as the site’s data migration, webcasts, taxonomy, planning decisions, job feed, and search sections. 

The savings in time and money allowed the team to trim the site’s content by 75 per cent and focus on delivering compelling, multimedia content, written in plain English.

Tools such as OpenPublic are helping governments innovate through Drupal. OpenPublic provides collections of modules and theme configurations such as the ones used in the London Mayor’s Office which are specifically tailored to suit government use. Providing these modules saves agencies from having to choose from thousands. 

OpenPublic was built from experience in working with top-level government agencies and is built to publish information across multiple devices. As stated by a Drupal developer:

“OpenPublic provides a distribution specially designed for open government requirements, such as improving citizen services, providing public access to data and providing a public forum for two way communication with agencies, without compromising accessibility, security, or usability.”

As more and more government agencies begin to adopt the Drupal platform, barriers hindering government innovation will disappear entirely. 

Reallocating budget towards innovation

Going beyond the collaborative and technological benefits, the cost-effective nature of open source is yet another reason why Drupal is ideally suited for government agencies in over 150 countries

Open source enables government departments to benefit from solving common issues with readily available technology allowing more time and resources to be allocated to customize unique solutions to solve unique challenges. 

Open source is extremely well suited for rapid prototyping and experimentation. Testing costs are significantly minimized and encourage departments to design, deliver change and enhance sites with ease. Being compatible with thousands of third-party solutions and infrastructure systems leads to cost savings and mitigates further investments in IT infrastructure. 

Without the need to manage individual user licenses, more focus can be directed towards maintaining the application itself, allowing for more creative freedom and innovation within the agency. Open source also mitigates the vendor lock-in aspects of other platforms. This allows the department to seek other support services to support maintenance and development. 

image of people working together in front of a computer.Open source gives government teams the power to redeploy spend towards solving unique challenges. (Photo via

An article on GitHub covering open source in government describes the cost advantages associated with avoiding vendor lock-in solutions:

“From a support and maintenance perspective, open source, as opposed to more burdensome usages of proprietary software and their user’s license, provides a real cost advantage where multiple copies of software are required, or when the user base grows.”

Highlights of open source in government

A perfect example of a GC department that benefited from adopting open source was Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). 

As part of the government’s goal to make Canada a world leader in science and technology, they decided to shatter expectations and break the world record for the largest practical science lesson at multiple venues. 

To achieve NRC’s goals, OPIN utilized the Drupal platform to capture and consolidate data to meet Guinness standards, including time capture, video, witnesses and volunteers, all presented in one package. 

Two experiments demonstrating the Bernoulli principle were performed simultaneously at 88 different locations such as classrooms, science centres and museums across Canada. The experiments involved a total of 13,701 participants (all of it accomplished on OPIN’s system) and resulted in increasing ROI for Natural Resources Canada.

Yet another example of a government agency benefitting from the cost-saving nature of open source was the government of Georgia, who chose Drupal as their new CMS platform. 

The state understood that their existing costly proprietary CMS could not provide a flexible long-term solution that could compete with other private and public sector agencies. Implementing Drupal for the state government of Georgia resulted in $14 million cost ownership savings. 

Due to the elimination of licensing costs, and reduced costs associated to support resulted in savings of nearly 75 percent. The witch to Drupal also ensured more savings to the agency by reducing the time to edit and add content. 

According to the Georgia Technical Authority, update times diminished almost entirely. Update time dropped from 15 minutes per edit on the proprietary platform to 1 minute on Drupal. Eliminating the dependency on proprietary platforms allows for government agencies to redeploy IT spend towards innovation, such as allowing content teams to roll out new features and sites to serve citizens more effectively.

In all, over a quarter of all government sites in Canada are now running on Drupal, not only for its cost-effectiveness but for its collaborative and technological capabilities. 

Start building your roadmap towards open source

Determining the best outcomes for your departments begins with open source and Drupal.

Actionable and versatile platforms are imperative for a more efficient and effective government. The ability to iterate faster greatly increases the abilities of IT in order to deliver projects quicker, keep costs low, and maintain streamlined usability in the department. 

As stated in a Government of Canada whitepaper outlining the key benefits of an open government with open source: 

“Open Standards are essential to ensure interoperability between systems and enables easier migration and transitions to different systems. More so, the use of open source supports interoperability and information sharing and should be considered in the assessment of IM-IT solutions.

Both help mitigate the risks of lock-in, enable the Government of Canada to support the Canadian economy, open communities, provide a lower total cost of ownership, attract top digital talent and lead to better job satisfaction.” 

In order to utilize Drupal effectively, an organization like OPIN is one of the leading agencies that implement Drupal solutions for the Government of Canada. OPIN delivers the digital experience platform, support, and expertise necessary that will match successful competitive enterprise solutions that technology companies in the private sector possess.

Open source in Canada

In order to utilize Drupal effectively, an organization like OPIN is one of the leading agencies that implement Drupal solutions for the Government of Canada.

OPIN delivers the digital experience platform, support, and expertise necessary that will match successful competitive enterprise solutions that technology companies in the private sector possess.

Join us at our webinar on Dec. 5, 2019 “Open Source in Canada: How Drupal Empowers Government Innovation and Communication” and discover how open source is revolutionizing the Government of Canada’s technology landscape. 

Ryan Pelicos is a marketing coordinator at OPIN Software.