ARN

Qld govt develops open source record-keeping CMS

In-house development now available to the world

A lack of a suitable record-keeping Web content management system has led one Queensland local government council to develop its own application which has since been released as an open source project.

Thuringowa City Council in mid-North Queensland was looking to deploy an enterprise content management system with the same capacity to keep records of Web content with the same integrity as other types of more regulated content like e-mail and financial documents.

However, when the idea surfaced three years ago there was no significant budget for such a project and council did not perceive the project as a huge requirement.

The council's Web developer Scott Barnett then evaluated a number of open source ECMs and discovered the main constraint among them was a lack of support for record keeping.

"We ended up saying it would be too difficult to modify an existing application as they couldn't publish binary files in a record keeping environment," Barnett said.

To solve the problem, Barnett, with support from his employer, began development of the Stronghold CMS with open source components to ensure records for Web documents were supported inside the application.

"We developed a beta and presented it to management and they thought it was cool and started saying we needed it yesterday," he said, adding Stronghold also had the framework for a legislative compliance system.

After an initial pilot phase, Stronghold went into product about two years ago and now has some 50 people using it throughout the council.

"It's been a frustrating journey from our perspective as a lot of content systems were designed with technology in mind, but we are concerned with publishing and business processes," Barnett said.

Stronghold is written in [ArtId:1241831333|PHP]] with the primary database being PostgreSQL and uses a Samba module for Active Directory integration and single sign-on, and the FCKEditor for WYSIWYG editing of content.

Support for Oracle, MySQL, and SQL Server - using a native database abstraction layer, not the popular PEAR-DB - will be in the next release which is due this month.

Barnett describes Stronghold as providing wiki-style editing of documents, but more user-friendly as wikis have no standard way of storing the data which may need to be retrieved in the future.

"Stronghold can manage multiple domains with the same interface which excludes a whole stack of products," he said.

Once developed, the council did not want Barnett to work on Stronghold full-time so, after some deliberation, the decision was made to release the application as an open source product under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3.

"The council was very apprehensive to release it as an open source project and approval had to come down from executive level," he said. "When you talk to management they ask how they can make money out of it, but then we would have to support other councils. Also, we really leveraged some open source components and we could release it to the public and the public could improve it."

Page Break

The project was then transferred to Sourceforge.net's application repository, but as it is still new most development is still being done by Barnett.

"We are waiting for a few big organizations to deploy it," he said. "It's really early days, but there is lots of interest."

Another motivator for creating a new CMS was accessibility as Barnett found a lot of existing systems "generally didn't know accessibility existed".

"We now have an installer and I've been approached by a lot of large government organizations that would like to investigate the technology further," he said. "It's technology that's relevant to government."

Stronghold is meant to be an encompassing system for all Web sites and is designed so it takes care of all Web technology for external-facing content.

It also features an import spider which can be pointed to an existing Web site to import it into Stronghold.

"For example, if council rates change three times in a day on the Web site we need to keep a record for that," Barnett said. "Every document version is available in the system which can then be used to compare documents. Our PR section does the majority of data manipulation and creation of content. It might take 10 minutes out of my day to administer it."

Dispute resolution was a big problem for the council as a person is entitled to the lower amount of a fee if there is a mistake on a public-facing Web site.

With record-keeping a council can prove a page was published or removed down to the exact second, including binary files.

Barnett said Stronghold abstracts the dynamically generated data from the presentation so an organization can have a completely different design standard that skins the site.

"There is nothing that it constrains you to. You can define the HTML and CSS and create plug-in modules that retain the same workflow system," he said.

Thuringowa is preparing to merge with the larger Townsville City Council as part of a local government amalgamation program and Stronghold is set to replace an in-house Web CMS.

"The amalgamation has already begun, but they [Townsville] were very hesitant to deploy anything open source and there is still a lot of fear," Barnett said, adding Townsville won't deploy technology unless it's Microsoft.

Stronghold will be deployed on Microsoft's SQL Server database on Windows Server at Townsville.

Barnett said the Web record keeping challenge is Australia-wide and there is nothing in Stronghold that is Queensland specific.

The Stronghold open source CMS is available online at www.strongholdcms.org.