Tuesday, 04 February 2014 08:44

Open source driving digital innovation

Written by    Volume: 20  Issue: 2
Rate this item
(5 votes)

The same power of digital communication that is disrupting the commercial marketplace is empowering direct citizen participation in government. Whether enabling on-demand assistance, real-time information, or communications with legislators, much of what is empowering this new wave of citizen participation has its roots in open source.

In the last few years, governments across Canada have turned to flexible open source solutions. Open source software is freely distributed, and its open codebase provides an engine for innovation, as any developer can create improvements and share their work back with the larger community of users.

Municipalities like St. John and Ottawa are using the Drupal open source platform to provide government services online with greater speed and flexibility. Ottawa moved to Drupal in November 2012, introducing a responsive design that enables an optimal experience across mobile devices, tablets and desktops.

Use of Drupal has increased dramatically among provinces and federally, particularly in light of the Open Government Strategy, which encourages federal departments to adopt solutions that promote open information, open data and open government. Open source apps are enabling people to explore the wild, get updated train arrival times, access government research and publications, and bid on government contracts.

The agility that open source provides helps speed government digital initiatives to market. This provides a network effect that’s unmatched, and not limited to a department’s IT team or project budget. With open source, projects can be prototyped and tested inexpensively and quickly, which can help get a public sector site launched in a fraction of the time. In Drupal’s case, more than 30,000 developers have contributed code. That’s why open source can be a critical asset for capturing the opportunities that new technology presents.

Driving innovation
The crowd-sourced efforts of the contributor community are helping improve citizen services. The Web Experience Toolkit is an open source code library developed to help federal departments build websites that are accessible and optimized for mobile devices. Those using the toolkit are standards-compliant and aligned with Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat's Web Standards protocol, which helps them get ahead of the game as seeks to consolidate information and resources with a common, open framework. Health Canada and Statistics Canada recently implemented sites with the toolkit.

At the provincial level, is using the toolkit to deliver a highly engaging, attractive and easy to use site for citizens. In 2013, Ontario introduced a bold, streamlined portal that dramatically improves the user experience. Instead of offering a large menu of options on its home screen, presents visitors with one simple search bar, putting the onus not on the visitor, but on the platform and systems to make it easy for constituents to find what they want.

Empowering collaboration
Canada’s Open Data initiative makes all kinds of government-sourced data available freely to everyone, making the creation of civic apps possible. The innovation isn’t limited by the capacity of government or private sector workers. Intra-governmental collaboration creates efficiencies that lower total cost of ownership for everyone. Scores of apps have already been developed based on open data – many delivering real-time information – making it easy to find out the wait times at border crossings or access home buying advice and resources. Apps exist to deliver transit line updates, share city snow plowing and trash collection status, or enable citizens to report incidents to law enforcement.

Security through transparency
No doubt security remains a core issue for IT departments at all levels of government, and open source offers greater transparency and ability to audit security processes than can be found in proprietary counterparts. Having your code open to anyone can result in greatly improved security. Simply put, anyone can find and fix a problem; that puts thousands of developers in play to ensuring application security.

With Drupal, changes to the core application go through an extensive peer-review process before they’re committed. The Drupal Security Team, a volunteer team of dozens of security experts, assists in handling security issues across the Drupal project and its contributed, plug-in modules.

Getting started in open source is as easy as connecting with members of the community and downloading the software. Seek out a MeetUp or head to a one-day training session.

Read 10285 times
Todd Akers

Todd Akers is vice president of public sector at Acquia, which helps organizations succeed using Drupal (

1 comment

  • Comment Link Robin Galipeau Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:07 posted by Robin Galipeau

    Great article Todd... as a Drupal Integration firm, I have to say it's the most dynamic and capable platforms we've worked with, having worked with many others.

    We've been seeing a great deal of activity at our end for the public sector, at the federal, provincial and municipal level... both for websites and collaborative intranets. (As the lead Drupal integrators to the City of Ottawa and Health Canada referenced herein).

    We also just launched the Government of Canada's official languages site at :

    And just won a year long project to migrate the entire Prince Edward Island Provincial Government to Drupal.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. HTML code is not allowed.

Share this article

copy link

 bookmark article



Related Articles

Don’t blame Silicon Valley
Following the tragic events in Paris, American politicians of all stripes have engaged in the worst form of opportunism: exploiting the death of more than 120 people to further the American global surveillance agenda.  read more...

Overcome cultural resistance to integrate analytics
A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that governments around the world can unlock $3 trillion in economic value by leveraging data more effectively.  read more...

Four ways for CIOs to communicate with CFOs
How can you convince your chief financial officer (CFO) that spending money on a much needed unified communications upgrade is a better choice over getting new trucks for the company? What is the ideal approach of raising security concerns posed by executives that insist on getting access to the corporate network through their personal devices?  read more...

Mobile data usage to grow exponentially by 2021
Mobility is driving at such a rapid pace that itu2019s difficult to even look into the rear view mirror to see where we were 5 years ago, 3 years ago, or even 1 year ago. At such breakneck speed, itu2019s fairly easy to surmise that the growth of mobility will continue to increase in the years to come.  read more...

Steer toward security
In July 2015 Fiat Chrysler issued a recall impacting 1.4 million cars and trucks in the U.S. after two security researchers were able to take control of a Jeep via the Internet. Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek spent months studying the systems, reverse engineering software, and developing exploits.  read more...

Copyright © 1995 - 2015 1618261 Ontario Inc. O/A Navatar Press