Open Source Helps Drive Citizen Engagement With Minimal Cost

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Organizations continue to realize the value of ensuring that the customer is at the center of their strategy. And customers’ adoption of digital channels and technologies, and the expectation that they should be able to interact with an organization ‘anytime and anywhere,’ is becoming a driver for digital transformation in the public sector.

Public sector organizations are experiencing the need in how they manage engagement with the citizens they serve. At the heart of citizen engagement is how citizens experience an agency through digital channels.

Managing this expectation can become a daunting task, full of risks and large financial investments. However the open source community has been extremely innovative in developing digital solutions to improve citizen engagement. These open source technologies, along with cloud computing and an agile methodology, are enabling organizations to quickly try new ways of engaging with the client, get feedback and iteratively improve the engagement experience.

This quick realization of what technologies works and what does not work for an organization becomes a channel for continuous innovation.

The main advantage of open source software is the upfront cost. The software is mostly free, or costs only a fraction of any proprietary software’s price. Therefore, federal agencies do not have to experience a lengthy procurement process and contracts, nor do ‘bake-offs’ between products to find the best fit for their needs.

In addition, proprietary software requires a large upfront investment and an annual licensing fee before any ROI (Return on Investment) has been generated. However, in the open source world, the software can be acquired, installed on a cloud infrastructure and actually test-driven with minimal effort, making it easy for the organization to assess if it meets their needs as well as the bottom-line.

In addition, being freely available and truly not supported by a specific vendor (there are number of organizations that do provide support for open source software), open source allows the organization to avoid being locked down to a specific vendor, their products, or upgrade paths. Not being restricted to a single vendor frees the organization and enables it the opportunity to seek the best solution

Open source software drives innovation. People with great ideas have the ability to develop software and make it available for others to use. Agencies receptive to using open source software can take advantage of this innovation, learning new ideas about how technology is used and deployed.

For example, DevOps is a relatively new field in the federal market and there are number of open source tools that enable its implementation that will automate the task of code verification, automated testing, deployment, etc. thereby increasing adoption.

A typical starting point for developing a citizen engagement platform is a web content management solution (WCMS). An engagement platform developed on a WCMS allows an organization to create and publish content that is engaging to the audience and available to anyone on any device.

Some technologies, such as Drupal, have also extended their capability to integrate other open source technologies like JavaScript frameworks and search engines. They can be further leveraged to create the ideal experience that is needed for today’s audiences that use varying devices. Further, this content can be revised as often as needed without any need for IT involvement.

Drupal is one the more popular platforms, but there are a number of open source technologies that offer this functionality including Joomla and WordPress.

As agencies look to create a rich user experience and engage audiences, they should give serious consideration to the various open source technologies. Any organization that adapts open source technologies can save money and continuously evolve citizen engagement. Open source technologies are evolving with new ideas and techniques on how to drive the user experience, while the low cost impels adoption.

(About the author: Jay Jaiprakash is director of technology at Sapient Government Services. He has over 20 years of experience leading complex technology solutions implementations.)

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