So popular has a little-known open-source program become within federal government agencies that there is now a shortage of expertise in Canberra, according to federal government chief technology officer John Sheridan.
Mr Sheridan said two factors were combining to drive the popularity of the Drupal content management system software program at the expense of proprietary software: the emergence of commercial entities able to give government the confidence to use open source, and the increasing cost and complexity of proprietary software.
Addressing a Forrester Research CIO Summit in Sydney recently, Mr Sheridan said previous resistance to open source was gone. "When people asked me why we were not using more open source I would say, imagine fronting Senate estimates to explain why your system failed and having to say: 'I was just relying on help by posting to the bulletin board on the internet and nobody came back to me fast enough.' Now the development of companies that provide support to those open-source solutions changes what we can do."
Mr Sheridan said the emergence of one such company, PreviousNext, had been responsible for a surge in popularity of the Drupal system in government.
"[It] has a free Drupal open-source distribution that supports the particular requirements governments have in terms of accessibility, security and related matters. So popular is Drupal in Canberra at the moment that we are starting to see challenges in getting properly qualified staff because there is such high demand."
He said the avoidance of lock-in associated with proprietary software was also contributing to the popularity of open source.
"Often it is the most advanced features of proprietary solutions that make a really big difference to the business, but they require so much investment of time and are so hard to get people to do, that they became prohibitively expensive or impossible to get out of once you got in."
PreviousNext is a partner of Acquia, a US-based company. Acquia's regional director, Chris Harrop, told IT Pro that the company's product, aGov, had been downloaded more than 3600 times since its launch last year.
"What PreviousNext did was to take all the requirements from government tenders and build those into a Drupal distribution that meets all government requirements for web accessibility."
He said the popularity of Drupal was spreading.
"A lot of federal government agencies are starting to build websites using Drupal and we are seeing that replicated at a state level. The NSW government's new portal service is built on Drupal. SBS is planning to shift everything onto Drupal."
It is one of the top three open-source content management systems, the others being WordPress and Joomla.
"Numerically WordPress dominates, but many WordPress sites are blogging sites or things where security is not a priority," Mr Harrop said. "If you focus down onto the top 10,000 sites, Drupal then becomes the dominant player because enterprises are very concerned about security and scalability and WordPress and Joomla don't offer those."