We recently celebrated the launch of San Mateo County's new and improved web platform using Drupal and OpenPublic. The San Mateo County digital team had a vision of a new web platform that would accommodate all departments with intuitive administrative functions as well as a well designed end user interface to efficiently deliver information to the County's citizens. We new we could deliver this with our Drupal distribution OpenPublic. OpenPublic is an open source distribution built with Drupal, developed to address commonly recurring challenges faced by Government agencies when managing their web content. With the successful launch of the San Mateo County platform, I finally got the chance to sit down with Beverly Thames, Content and Collaboration Manager at San Mateo County to chat about the web platform redesign and OpenPublic, here is out Q&A:
Q: What was is the goal or mission of the San Mateo County digital presence and why did you need a redesign?
A: Between departments and central IT, the website was a multi-million dollar per year enterprise, and yet, County leaders were dissatisfied. The site failed to meet their needs or the needs of the public. Two goals of the redesign were to lower costs and provide better service to our departments and site visitors. We wanted to improve communications and to reduce or streamline in-person office visits.
We had major challenges with our old proprietary content management system’s inflexibility and highly technical nature. This made it difficult for departments to produce content and to organize that content in a meaningful way. The result was that much of the content grew stale while vital "evergreen" and fresh content was difficult for visitors to find via search or the site's menus. Beyond these functional shortcomings, the frustrating user experience on the CMS was made worse by the outdated visual design, which displayed poorly in most modern browsers--especially when viewed on mobile devices. Overall, the sites did not communicate the San Mateo County or department brand very well, a situation compounded by the sites' outdated content features. It was time for a change.
Q: What were the challenges and needs for San Mateo County’s digital presence and how did OpenPublic address them?
A: We chose to build our site on OpenPublic because it is tailored to the needs of government. County leadership could only be convinced to adopt open source if they were assured the system was secure and accessible. OpenPublic delivered both.
Each department’s identity and requirements are tied to their lines of business and the communities they serve. The County departments wanted to maintain their unique identities within the overall County brand. OpenPublic allowed the County to maintain a strong central brand while meeting user demand for autonomy and flexibility.
Q: Was using an open source platform an important factor in choosing a new content management system? If so, why?
A: San Mateo County was spending too much on annual licensing fees for a proprietary content management system that no one liked. There was little user support, and few developers knew the CMS, so when you could find one, their rates were high. Open source comes with a global community of support and many talented developers.
Open source is a natural solution for the government sector because we are constantly sharing our work with our peers and the public. Adopting an open source CMS allows the County to benefit from and contribute to the continuous improvement of the platform within the context of a larger user community.
Q: What is next for San Mateo’s digital presence?
Now that the site has been up for a few months, we will start digging into the analytics to see where we need to tweak search and to help us identify topics for curated pages. We’re also excited about exploring potential integrations with our Open Data portal, GIS mapping and enterprise content management.
Learn more about San Mateo County's new Drupal platform in our Portfolio, and get a deep dive look at how we developed an improved search functionality to better serve the County's constituents. If you are heading to DrupalCon Austin next week, don't miss our session "Drupal For Gov- Raising The Bar With OpenPublic."