Colorado Dumps FatWire, Adopts Drupal CMS

After eight years of using the FatWire CMS to manage its websites, Colorado is migrating to Drupal to more easily serve content to an increasingly mobile user base.

by / December 13, 2013

Colorado government agencies and schools will now have reduced wait times and access to more functionality when it comes to launching new websites. The Colorado Statewide Internet Portal Authority (SIPA), the quasi-governmental organization that oversees, announced in November that it was adopting Drupal as its new content management system (CMS) and abandoning FatWire, which it had been using since 2005. The state is now planning a 12- to 18-month migration of all existing websites to the new CMS.

The change is no reflection on FatWire, nor does it reflect an altered relationship with NIC subsidiary Colorado Interactive, which provides SIPA with staffing and additional support, said SIPA Executive Director John Conley. The state’s needs have simply changed and new technology was needed to meet those needs. The open source Drupal CMS was just what they were looking for, he said.

“In October 2012, we took a look at our growth trajectory,” Conley said. “We were adding 40, 50 new sites a year on behalf of governmental entities and when we originally deployed FatWire, it really wasn’t architected for that amount of growth.”

They looked at the other options on the market with several criteria in mind. “One of the major criteria to be considered was, ‘Can you bring us into 2012, now 2013, with all the modern conveniences of a website when people on mobile devices and Google Chrome and Firefox think of when they think of a website?’”

Another criteria, he said, was that the chosen platform needed to have a large user base because staff wanted access to a lot of resources and documentation. And finally, they wanted the ability to easily make changes across a number of websites without a lot of tedious coding, Conley said. Drupal met all these needs.

FatWire is fine for certain organizations, but the state outgrew it, Conley said. “With FatWire, if an agency came to me for a website, it took my design and development staff approximately two to three weeks to provision the website in such a manner that the content editors could start uploading their content,” he said, but with Drupal, the design of a new website now takes two days at most.

Also, SIPA had dug itself into a hole with FatWire, where updating something like a simple banner across multiple websites could require editing the code of as many as eight codebases. One central change on Drupal can distribute changes across multiple sites, Conley explained.

One Drupal feature the state hopes to take advantage of is built-in functionality for creating sites with responsive design to meet the needs of an increasingly mobile user base. In October, the state’s websites had 48,500 mobile visits, Conley said, and that represents a 163 percent increase over the previous year, so responsive design is indispensable.

The state will also use many other core Drupal features found in a modern CMS, such as the ability to upload multiple files concurrently, the ability to create Web forms, the ability to create vanity URLs, the integration of user-customizable top-level menus, and the ability to integrate consistent theme and branding across all state websites.

All of these changes add up to more functionality and faster deployment for the state’s online presence, Conley said. “In 2012, we were barely keeping up with demand and our queue was growing exponentially with people wanting websites. As soon as we deployed five websites, 20 more popped up,” he said. “Now, once we get through the backlog, we’ll be able to meet and exceed the demand that’s placed on us because of this move to Drupal.”

SIPA now runs 192 Colorado websites on FatWire, and the migration of those sites to Drupal will begin in January. In the meantime, all new websites will be deployed using Drupal.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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