211: Building digital government services? Drupal is the proven choice.

Jeffrey A. McGuire explains why Drupal is the open source, community software powering successful digital government around the world.

I had the honor of speaking about Drupal and government to a packed room at the Internetdagarna in Stockholm, in November 2015. I used the opportunity to highlight Drupal’s success in helping governmental organisations and public bodies and went into some detail about the Australian government’s Drupal-based govCMS solution, as a shining example of good policy meeting good software. In conversations following my presentations, members of the Nordic Drupal community shared thoughts and frustrations with me about public policy and open source adoption in Scandinavia. I’ll attempt to address some of those here.

My presentation at Internetdagarna 2015

Thank you!

Thank you, Wunderkraut Sweden and the Swedish Drupal community for your hospitality and for inviting me to speak about Drupal and government at the Drupal sub-conference at the Swedish Internet Foundation’s 16th annual Internetdagarna in Stockholm. I had a wonderful time and was appreciative of the large, engaged audience and warm reception for my talk. It was great to meet a healthy mix of Drupal service providers and public servants interested in Drupal and improving their digital presence there on the day. If you were there, I am looking forward to following up on all our conversations!

Selling into conservative organisations

While I encountered strong interest from current and potential government end-users of Drupal, I also discovered some frustration on the part of Drupal service providers having trouble selling Drupal solutions into other government agencies. The problems seemed to boil down--as so many do--to communication difficulties and mismatched expectations.

I don’t have any guaranteed formula for success, but here are a few points that might help:

  • Gratis is not important. Remember, “free” (aka licence fee of zero), is not the only arrow in your quiver when it comes to pitching and selling Drupal as a solution.
  • Despite the power of being able to redirect money from license fees to investing in your vision directly--be it in features, design, staff, training, or what have you--and improve ROI, there are many other good reasons to choose Drupal. Gratis is neither the most compelling, nor the most important.
  • Not changing anything is the safest bet. An organisation with long-term investments in proprietary software licenses and a culture of risk mitigation (often a very smart thing), won’t be swayed by an offer of an unproven solution, just because it is cheaper.
  • If I am running a system or website that is good enough and has been for a long time, my smartest move is to make no move at all. You still won’t interest me by offering a new build (risky), for a product unproven to me (risky), even if you can show me I could save money with it in the long term.
  • Your most powerful sales tool is easing your clients’ pain. If pitching into an organisation with a seemingly-entrenched investment in a proprietary solution, engage them on a different front.
  • Ask them about new features they are considering. Ask if there are areas that need improvement, pain points in their daily operations, ways they would like to improve in future.
  • If you can make a genuine connection, you have the chance of making an honest assessment of whether Drupal would be the right tool to solve their problems. This is a much more powerful position than dogmatically selling Drupal “because Drupal”.

If Drupal is a good fit, then ...

If Drupal can, in fact, solve their problems, then and only then do a couple more points open up to you that could help tipping a decision in your (and Drupal’s) favor. I cover these in my presentation (below) from Internetdagarna 2015:

  • Drupal is community software: open source backed by a massive community of professional developers and a large, healthy ecosystem of service providers
  • Drupal is adopted at scale by governments, political organisations, and NGOs around the world. There are thousands of practitioners and communities of peers building and sharing solutions to the problems common to city councils (Copenhagen, London, etc.), states and regions (Georgia in the USA, Nordrhein-Westfalen and Hessen in Germany, etc.), national governments (USA, Belgium, Vietnam, Australia, etc.), and everything in between.
  • govCMS in Australia is based on Drupal and is an example of visionary policy regarding digital government, and it is open source. You can use it and the Australian government’s policy models as the basis to build your own tools, policies, and platforms appropriate to your local situation.

Links, references, resources