Monday, April 28, 2003

Finally content?

Firstgov.gov, the curiously named but highly visited US government entry site, is getting some content management. I guess that's not to say that it had no management before, just that it was all hand-cranked ... Currently, GSA employees have to manually retrieve relevant information and write HTML and Java code for each individual page. Ugh. The pain of not having such a system is graphically presented with this quote ... When the Columbia shuttle tragedy happened, we took 24 hours to get up what we needed to get up," Jameson said. "If we had had this content management system, the people who do that for FirstGov could have done it from home within 20 minutes." The OMB have paid $525,000 for the software licence and ... The new system should be running by summer. The contract covers the software license and maintenance for one year and includes four one-year options ... [and] .. The license is governmentwide, so other agencies can use the Vignette system as well, she said. All of the technology contracts associated with FirstGov are governmentwide, including AT&T's hosting services. Use of the site soared from 7 million unique views in 2001 to 37 million in 2002, a 444 percent increase. Several factors fed the spike. I'm delighted that the OMB have made this move; delighted for a couple of reasons: 1) It gives me a good excuse to talk to Dan about the issues with implementing content management, what he's going to do about them and what he might learn from what we've done and vice versa. $525k for a software licence is a big chunk of change (for one year especially), add on top of that the integration and consultancy costs, the need to do the business process work (which is the hardest part in our experience), additional hardware and so on and it mounts way higher than that. I'll also be intrigued if it's planned as an XML delivery system, or whether it will all be TCL. 2) The "pan-government" nature of the deal is similar to what we've done and are doing in the UK with our DotP platform (check www,ukonline.gov.uk to see DotP in action - particularly look out for the neat use of cascading style sheets throughout). We've gone bespoke rather than package, which is a topic for some other time, but the principle is the same. Delivering "pan-anything" is pretty hard, it needs a lot of commitment (from top to bottom) and a lot of passion. The US doing what we're doing is a vote of confidence in the strategy. Content management is not a solution out of the box, as I've said before (I know, you're bored with hearing that now), yet pretty much everyone goes out and buys the disk expecting a smooth install. The challenges that it presents to the business; the hassles of running a complex system; the need to maintain and manage infrastructure and the pain of moving a big old site to a new site (changing it in flight no doubt) are all big, scary and under-estimated in every project. Anyone taking an implementation on needs to go in eyes open, otherwise there is more pain than benefit. I'm looking forward to watching how firstgov progresses with the implementation and comparing notes with our own approach. Now that we have ukonline live on DotP, we can move ahead with the implementation of other departments - all on the same infrastructure, with no additional licence costs for new entrants.

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