How Drupal Modernized New York IT
On The OPIN Mind, we’ve written about the benefits of open source technology for governments in the past, here, here, and here. Often times in the aftermath of costly government IT projects, governments have taken great strides to affirm their commitment to the open source paradigm, writing it into law, policy directives, and electoral platforms.
One open source technology, Drupal, stands out from the rest for its popularity in the public sector. Over 150 countries use Drupal in governmental organizations, including a vast number of American and Canadian agencies. Several states and provinces have adopted the platform as well, such as New York, Ontario, North Carolina, and Colorado.A small sample of the thousands of governmental organizations on Drupal
To understand why the Drupal CMS, in particular, stands out as a core technology behind many of these projects, we are examining the state of New York’s commitment to the platform as a case study.
The last time New York’s state government was reorganized was in the 1920s under the popular Governor Alfred Smith, a leading figure in the worldwide Efficiency Movement at the time. Smith drastically reduced the number of state agencies and departments in his tenure, while increasing overall efficiency.
The popular anti-prohibition, pro-efficiency Governor Smith smiling at a crowd in New York
Fast forward to 2013 with the release of the SAGE (Spending and Government Efficiency) Commission’s report on modernizing the state government. Echoing the work of Governor Smith in the ‘20s, Governor Andrew Cuomo sought to reorganize the state’s IT architecture based on the findings of the commission.
Even efficiency experts like Smith could never have predicted how complex the government of New York would become, and the state’s current information technology needs. The SAGE commission found the state’s IT organization outdated and inefficient, lacking in consistent IT standards:
Agencies maintained over fifty separate data centres and several dozen separate IT help desks, with some having no help desks at all.
Over 30% of network hardware was running on software no longer supported by the vendor, exposing the state to cyber threats.
The commission found that over $290 million could be saved annually if significant upgrades such as resource consolidation were made.
In summary, the state government was long overdue for another transformation, with digital requirements top of mind this time.
To address these findings, Governor Cuomo converted the Office for Technology, which previously had no authority over IT development, into a new Information Technology Services agency led by a newly appointed CIO. This agency would oversee all of New York’s IT functions under a shared model. The number of software applications was also reduced, from approximately 1000 to under 300. In addition, the development of IT projects that yielded a high return on investment was accelerated.
As Bob Samson, the CIO for New York State stated in an interview with GovTech: “If you believe that IT is horizontal, that it’s transformational and that it needed to be secure, then the old model and old way which we did things in IT was no longer going to work.”
These drastic changes were the beginning of what would become the WebNY initiative.
WebNY: A Modernization Strategy Based on Drupal
The WebNY initiative stemmed from the need for IT modernization in New York state. It consists of a 40-point digital roadmap as well as a set of philosophical principles that should guide all future IT development, organization, and procurement.
The state government decided that open source software should support their future web projects due to the recent popularity of open standards, the significant cost-savings (no licensing costs), a larger talent pool and knowledge distribution, and increased development speed.
Drupal is one of the world's most popular content management systems for the public sector
WebNY determined that Drupal was the best open source content management platform for their complex and varied needs. Consequently, they established a set of common processes, principles, and procedures based on the technology for the 60+ agencies in the state of New York. This includes OPIN’s ongoing work (not live yet) with the Department of Financial Services, the state agency responsible for overseeing the world’s largest financial market, of which we are enormously proud.
The Department of Financial Services oversees all financial activity in New York State. In 2017, they tapped OPIN to update their aging website.
The main objectives of the WebNY initiative are to bring more than 200 New York State websites to a common Acquia Drupal platform, build new Drupal-based websites using the latest Drupal 8 distribution, and finally for New York State to become a global leader in the Drupal community. Further, WebNY’s commitments to reusing digital assets across agencies where possible and limiting the amount of custom coding to improve efficiency and velocity of delivery were objectives made possible by the Drupal platform and the global Drupal community.
The newly created Information Technology Services agency had several open source content management systems to choose from, so why did they commit themselves to Drupal?
The government of New York didn’t commit to Drupal blindly; they did their research. Drupal had already proven its worth in thousands of public sector websites worldwide, including over one hundred US federal government websites and other US states such as Georgia, whose web operational costs declined 65% after switching to the platform five years ago. More recently, two out of the top five best state government websites in 2018, as ranked by the Center for Digital Government, were Drupal sites: Arkansas and Mississippi.
"Drupal had already proven its worth in thousands of public sector websites worldwide, including over one hundred US federal government websites and other US states"
When an open source platform is adopted in order to revamp a government’s web presence, it is often required to consolidate hundreds of separate digital properties spanning dozens of agencies. Drupal was built with this functionality in mind, making it the most flexible and scalable open source CMS in existence. Drupal can handle extremely content and feature-rich sites without breaking, making it extremely reliable. Considering the scope of New York State’s digital transformation, the government’s rationale for selecting Drupal is clear.
Drupal’s accessibility standards and multi-lingual functionality helped the state better engage its millions of diverse citizens.
In addition to meeting the highest web accessibility standards, Drupal also offers powerful multi-lingual capabilities, essential functionality for public sector sites in states as diverse as New York.
Most importantly, Drupal offers one of the most secure web platforms in the world, making it a top pick for government agencies. Compared to other content management systems, there are far fewer cyber threats. Due to its nature as an open source technology, security and maintenance fixes are deployed rapidly due to the thousands of sets of eyes on the technology at all times.
With the glowing reputation and functionality of the Drupal CMS in mind, it is clear that the platform was the suitable choice for New York State in their web modernization efforts, helping the state engage their citizens better than ever before.
The WebNY initiative and New York State’s web modernization strategy around Drupal performed better than expected: the state’s refreshed digital presence cut costs, improved efficiency, and provided critical services to citizens while increasing citizen engagement.
At OPIN we are strong believers in the power of Drupal, and incredibly proud of our brilliant Saratoga team’s work with some of New York’s state agencies. We’re biased. So let’s look at some objective numbers from the state government on the success of their digital revamp:
In the one-year anniversary of launching the updated NY.gov website, users doubled, mobile sessions tripled, and page views quadrupled.
New Yorkers scheduled 1.4 million online DMV reservations since 2013, a 107% increase for the Garden City Office, a 163% increase for the College Point Office, and a whopping 645% increase for the Syracuse Office.
As a result, the average wait time at DMV offices was reduced from 72 minutes in March 2013 to 30 minutes in September 2014.
With several New York State WebNY developers earning Acquia Drupal certifications, certain state websites earning recognition for their quality, and increased engagement with their digital properties, it is clear that New York’s strategy involving Drupal was a success, and the state has accomplished WebNY’s objective of establishing themselves as leaders in the global Drupal community.
New York State has certainly set the standard for what digital transformation looks like in the public sector using Drupal.
In response to New York’s commitment to Drupal, OPIN committed to New York: we opened an office in Saratoga Springs, NY to better serve our American clients and meet what will certainly become a growing demand for ambitious Drupal projects in the region.
Governor Al Smith would never have imagined what Drupal could do for his state, but we are certain he’d be impressed.
Some tasteful decorations in OPIN’s Saratoga Springs, NY office