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Joomla! in South African government

Written by | Monday, 01 August 2011 00:00 | Published in 2011 August
Due to its simplicity, ease-of-use, scalability and popularity, Joomla! CMS seems to be gaining some ground in South African government. Despite having immense human resources and skill in Joomla! CMS, our government’s willingness to adopt this popular CMS has been a bit slow.
Joomla! in South African government http://www.voorhes.com/wordpress/?p=237

To use the term government is only because one lacks a proper one. The resistance does not come from the “government”, but from some people in government. You see, CMS is highly misunderstood in the high echelons of many governments. There are a variety of reasons for this — lack of understanding and appreciation of web standards, lack of working experience in Joomla! CMS, lack of proper advice from most service providers (mostly who are unscrupulous and chasing after a quick buck) but most of all, not seeing the web as a primary communication channel for government communication imperative.

Misunderstanding of terms

It has become clear to me at least, since I have started working for government, that there is a serious misunderstanding of web technology, web standards and web trends in South African government. Our government — and some of its officials — has been sold the idea that a content management systems is / must be bulky, expensive and a private reserve of the few chosen techies. They have been convinced that only programmers and web-savvy techies can be in charge of their CMS needs. They are not aware that Joomla! disputes this — in fact, it flushes this misinterpretation down the internet toilet. Let me hasten to mention that there are few visionary government departments, Chapter 9 institutions, local government and other state-owned entities that have woken up to the wisdom of Joomla! CMS and have taken full advantage of it.

These departments and government entities include www.cogta.gov.za, City of Johannesburg, Northern Cape, and others (refer to www.joomlagov.info).

Joomla! has benefits that would be important to governments

These few government branches have realized the multiple benefits of using Joomla! CMS. Some of the most important benefits of Joomla! CMS are:

  • Cost effectiveness: there are many service providers in Joomla! who can offer the government a seriously cost effective service. This is because the service provider will charge no license fees, they will not charge for CMS development. They will only charge for web development on top of a robust, tested, professional and already-functional CMS.
  • Existing technology: Joomla! CMS is an already existing technology that works with other already-existing technology (such as MySQL, Apache and PHP). This means very little product development – the service provider can hit the ground running.
  • Web standards: Joomla! meets most the web standards and trends – HTML, XML, PHP, CSS, W3C – you name it. It is also compatible with most (if not all) major web browsers. Using Joomla! CMS means that the developer’s work in terms of ensuring adherence to these web standards has been cut in half.
  • Usability: because Joomla! CMS is built for the average user, its graphical interface is easy, approachable and comprehensible. This means that even the junior government officials with very little web development experience can be inducted into Joomla! in no time at all. Furthermore, it means even the septuagints in the government employ, can also use, understand and appreciate Joomla!

CMS is bulky, expensive and for programmers only

CMS technology has been a reserve for the few for a long time. It has been known to be a home for the programmers and techies. The unfortunate circumstances in South Africa have ensured that it remains advertised that way — as a bulky, expensive and highly-technical technology that can only be understood and operated by highly trained technical people. Many departments of our government have not been woken up to the fact that Joomla! CMS is the exact opposite. It is not expensive; thanks to its free and open source model. It is not bulky (Joomla 1.6 is less than 9Mb). It is scalable — you can add, remove, append components, modules and plugins according to your requirements. It is easy to operate, to install and to customize. It is not commercially-licensed; therefore it has tons of knowledge material and immense support online.

Monopoly of web development

The monopoly of web development service for government, is in the hands of either government’s own entities or in the hands of the private sector. The private sector becomes extremely expensive when it deals with government, while the preferred state-owned entity that provides ICT and web services face various problems from leadership, to old technology, to dysfunctional work ethic, impaired workflow and lack of knowledge of CMS technology. Since some government departments rely on the state-entity to be provided with this web development, they are stuck to the state-entity’s internal incapacitation and inability. Where there is a private sector service provider, the costs to government are often high, support is sometimes poor and the solution provided is almost always commercial enterprise software.

What is this open source thing?

Many government departments are still unclear about this concept of open source. They are unsure what it means — its implications in terms of licensing, renewals of such licenses, where does their freedom start and where does it end! You see, the mentality in government circles is that “if it is free, it is probably not as good”! This is another important misunderstanding that stands in the way of adoption of Joomla! CMS in many government departments. Officials need to be educated in the business logic of open source software in general (not in the case of Joomla! only). At a briefing that I was invited to attend (to advise the advisor to a minister of a national department), a senior government official asked me to speak to him about the concept of open source and how his department can harness its power. That conversation is still to happen.

Fear of change

Many government officials do not have training in Joomla! and other open source CMS solutions. Some of them have not been exposed to the concept of open source. Some have been working with government websites in their little corners and silos. Because of this, many are not exposed to the current and / or new web standards and trends. Some are just downright stubborn. Their mentality is “we have been doing it this way for the last 20 years and we are not going to change today”. Problem is; Joomla! CMS as an open source solution, was not there 20 years ago, nor were they popular in this country. Another challenge is that; lack of change means the dearth of whatever you are doing. So if government does not run with the changes in web standards, it means those departments’ websites will also die.

CMS streamlines the operations of any web development team. It seems that some government departments are afraid of this streamlined approach, as it may render some officials redundant. But it also challenges the very foundations of how they have been “doing things for the past 20 years” and many people in the public sector are threatened by this.

Poor perception of web development and departments’ websites themselves

Web development in government is not viewed as a core product of respective departments. Web site people are seen as peripheral officials in most departments. Departments’ websites are seen as sub-projects of the department, not as an integral part of the department’s mandate. Therefore, any efforts to the benefit of web development department are usually seen as peripheral as well. Instead of taking advantage of the cost effective benefit of Joomla! to remedy this situation, senior managers are often oblivious to the fact. This poor perception of web development and how it affects web strategy for government is beginning to show itself in the various poorly developed government websites. South African government (and other countries’) officials in charge of various departmental websites, need to wake up to the fact that the websites they are in charge of, need an integrated, well-structured and thought out development strategies. Joomla! CMS is a positive and impactful response to this urgent need. They need to look at open source CMS as a foundation for their integrated and streamlined web development strategy.

Conclusion

For as long as senior government officials (mostly who know little about web standards, new web trends and open source business model) do not understand or refuse to understand the idea of open source software, we still have a long way to go. As long as these senior officials refuse to open a dialogue about how they can take advantage of the internationally-recognised and widely used CMS (and other kinds of applications) software and practices, South Africa will take a long time before it can reap the sweet and rewarding fruit of Joomla! CMS. But we are on the threshold of change. We are fast-moving towards a complete mindset shift and a change of paradigm. This change is being fuelled by the power of open source, and Joomla! CMS is taking lead in that space.

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