WCM for Uncle Sam

The DigitalGov team at the US General Services Administration (GSA) maintains a handy list of Web CMS tools used by federal government agencies. As you might expect the list shows a great diversity in systems deployed, but also suggests some aging platforms. What to make of it?

Some Caveats

Note that the list is based on self-reporting and in several cases has not yet been updated with the latest information. For example, the Department of Defense appears to have moved from DotNetNuke to Progress/Sitefinity. NOAA has replaced DNN/SharePoint with Drupal, and HHS and DHS have also adopted that platform. NIST has left PaperThin (CommonSpot), also for Drupal.

Drupal 7 is probably the closest thing to a common platform across the US government, and there are a couple of federal-specific distributions floating around. Having advised some efforts to unify CMS platforms at national government levels, I'm skeptical that a single system can meet the needs of such a diverse set of agencies. And indeed Drupal will likely never completely predominate. The platform does have good support for sites with huge volumes of information that need to get displayed based on metadata. On the downside, Drupal comes with greater security overhead and extra community services that for the most part need to get turned off in a federal government context.

As an alternative, GSA helpfully provides WordPress as a shared service, though they seem to have to work to keep that version hardened.

The Undead

A sizable number of federal agencies still deploy what Real Story Group calls "legacy" WCM tools. For the most part you can still get technical support for these systems (i.e., they're not dead), but the vendor is in long-term decline or simply playing out the string with maintenance revenues.

snippet from site
Fig 1. DoD snippet from GSA list of WCM systems. I hope no one still has to use Documentum...

So for example, you can see:

  • Some lingering CommonSpot - the last of the Cold Fusion-based WCM products
  • SharePoint - including the Treasury Department's main public site
  • Oracle Portal + WebCenter at HUD
  • Several agencies still running TeamSite

As a decoupled system TeamSite can persist behind a modern delivery architecture, but that doesn't mean it's a high-functioning solution. In fact, quite the opposite.

Some Perspective

I won't criticize federal agencies running older technology. Converting over a site like Treasury.gov is a major capital expense and huge migration effort, at a time when federal digital teams face manifold demands. And for some legacy systems, you can still make newer standards work, though I imagine more than a few digital leaders have struggled to roll out responsive, CSS-based designs — particularly under SharePoint.

Still, there's a huge mountain of accumulated technical debt there. In an era of unprecedented need for citizen-government engagement, I hope that federal digital teams can get the tools necessary to succeed.

If your agency is re-examining its WCM environment, let's chat.


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