Still many agencies remain wary of Drupal, because they fear it means giving up their reliance on Microsoft Windows and/or SharePoint and moving entirely toward a LAMP stack solution, or undergoing a complicated integration that requires very different skill sets for maintenance. There may also be resistance to make the move for agencies in the midst of long Windows software contracts, as often agencies already own SharePoint as part of an existing deal.
But Drupal’s ability to integrate is “limitless,” said Treehouse Agency’s Caccavano. “It is very compatible with other solutions and services. That’s probably one of its greatest strengths.”
It’s likely that proprietary solutions such as SharePoint will continue to coexist with Drupal in many agencies. Gartner listed Microsoft as one of only three leaders in its annual Social Software in the Workplace Magic Quadrant in September. The research firm predicted that more enterprises will use SharePoint to collaborate and enable social solutions than any other platform. Perhaps because of this popularity, purchasers are willing to pay a premium for licensing and maintenance fees, rather than go the open source route.
“There are pros and cons to each,” said Chris Johnson, general manager for Microsoft Gold Partner Provoke, and former technical product manager for Microsoft. “And IT spending on Microsoft licensing is typically only 3 percent of an IT budget.”
“There are still very real hindrances to Drupal adoption in government,” said Phase2’s Walpole. “There is a sort of entrenched software industry model, with technology stacks, licensing and entrenched vendors, in part due to long procurement cycles in government. Agencies tend to favor vendors over solutions. But Drupal is as much a framework as it is a product. It is highly customizable and doesn’t necessarily fit within a known purchasing system.”
All that said, however, the “bully pulpit” of the White House is immensely powerful, Croft said. That project helped to spawn a talent pool of Drupal engineers, qualified to work on complex government projects.
With big federal government success stories, state and local governments are finding that they too can ride the Drupal wave. One reason Drupal can be so easily tailored to very large and small deployments is that it works on a modular system. “Distributions” are sets of bundled modules, features and functionalities, geared toward a specific audience. OpenPublic, an open source CMS based on Drupal developed by the team at Phase2 Technology, is the most popular example tailored to the needs of government.
The Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Cultural Trust (OCT) recently launched new sites using Drupal, in a move away from using Dreamweaver as a platform. Shannon Planchon, assistant director for the Oregon Arts Commission, said Drupal’s attractiveness is in the freedom it allows, the level of staff involvement and its sophistication. The original sites could not be managed in-house, and for the OCT in particular, as a marketing site that needs to be refreshed and updated frequently, it was critical to move to Drupal.
Although cost savings for the commission and OCT are hard to quantify at this stage, Planchon said that with Drupal, they have more control and a more responsive site. Georgia’s enterprise CMS, by comparison, is expected to result in enormous cost savings, through reuse of much of the initial development, reduction of redundancy and lack of licensing costs. “We had to justify the migration with a business case,” said Georgia.gov Interactive’s Deshpande. “Over the next five years, [total cost of ownership] savings will be approximately $14 million.”
Today, Drupal is a proven solution that has been leveraged at the federal, state and local levels to address key challenges. Structured in a way that supports integration with proprietary systems and third-party solutions, Drupal allows real and powerful access to system functions, as well as enormous customization, without changing core code.
The outlook for Drupal is positive, considering its tremendous growth within the public sector. “Just look at the White House and now the state of Georgia,” said Forum One’s Voelker. “Once a technology starts making those kinds of inroads, you’re looking at a time horizon of half a decade, at least.”
Editor’s Note: After being interviewed for this article, Treehouse Agency and Phase2 Technology merged. Phase2 CEO Jeff Walpole will remain CEO, and Michael Caccavano, CEO of Treehouse Agency, assumed the role of president of Phase2.