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LA Moves To Drupal To Improve Website Management

Los Angeles will move its 40 sites to the open platform and add features such as user notifications, subscriptions, and event registration.
White House Maker Faire: 10 Cool Inventions
White House Maker Faire: 10 Cool Inventions
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By any measure, the city of Los Angeles is a big place -- the most populous city in California and second only to New York in the United States. It's a sprawling 500 square miles in size and vulnerable to natural disasters ranging from earthquakes to wildfires. Residents speak many languages besides English. All in all, providing municipal services can be challenging.

To help Los Angeles not only provide its services over the Internet but also lay the groundwork for expanding services, the city's Information Technology Agency (ITA) is migrating more than 20 of its public-facing websites from its Oracle content management system to the Drupal open platform. The agency chose Acquia of Burlington, Mass., to assist in the migration.

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"There was an urgency to replace our nearly 10-year-old content management system," Ted Ross, assistant general manager of ITA, said in an email interview. "In a rapidly evolving technology like the web, it was not delivering enough value to those managing the websites or the citizens using them… We needed an enterprise CMS that could keep pace with the new capabilities and functions that are increasingly becoming available."

Ross said the ITA has received a great deal of support from the mayor's office and city council in making the change. "The biggest challenge was simply the education process about open source for the different decision makers -- legal, budgetary, etc."

Todd Akers, vice president of public sector for Acquia, said the move would aid in the city's long-term goals.

"They had a very aggressive [plan] to improve user services," Akers said. "It ultimately came down to what would provide the best total cost of ownership and what would allow them to innovate fastest to bring new services to their customers."

Ross said the first phase would involve moving three of "the most complex government access sites for this project." Those are LACity, the main portal for information on everything from online government services to municipal employment opportunities to business and tourism information; LACityview, the government access cable TV channel, which streams and rebroadcasts City Council meetings and original programming about city departments, events, and services; and LADOT.LACity, the city Department of Transportation website, where one can find information on everything from traffic conditions and bus schedules to parking permits and locations.

The ITA provides support for more than 40 websites, Ross said. Acquia's Akers said about 20 are in the work queue, with more to be added to the list.

Most of the city's current websites are English-only; there are critical exceptions, such as the city clerk's election site. "In the past, the primary impediment to providing a website that represents our ethnic diversity has been the resources required to manage it," he said. "We are in the process of researching the built-in translation capabilities within Drupal," looking to identify options that require no additional resources and options, such as passing key content through reviewers.

An important aspect of the migration project is that Acquia is not doing much of the hands-on work; instead, it is training and enabling city staff to carry it out.

"Staff will, of course, be learning the Drupal program," Ross said. "However, we are also stressing skills [and] training in PHP, responsive mobile design, and graphic design to improve overall site appearance and usability."

He said among the capabilities the city is looking to add in the future are user notifications, subscriptions, polling, event registration, embedding social media, and mashups of different media sources.

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