As I blogged about on October 26 on itbusinessedge, the Associated Press (AP) is providing the only independent primary-source for a report dated October 24 that whitehouse.gov has changed its underlying content management software (CMS). This is a category of software that includes EMC Documentum, IBM Filenet, Oracle (ORCL) Stellent, OpenText (OTEX), dozens of open-source-licensed products and projects, and software sold as services associated with Microsoft (MSFT) Sharepoint. For most IT staffers, the whole subject is kind of yawner—IT shops change underlying software every day.
No one would probably even write or blog about the change except for the mangled set of facts put out on the AP wire, and the difficulty trying to clear them up. Neither General Dynamics (GD), the large federal contractor that did the work according to the supplier of the new CMS software, or the supplier itself can or will say what the old CMS was or what other new CMS options were looked at by GD or the White House or even answer simple questions about how or when the contract to do the work was awarded and how much the new change cost.
- Acquia, which is funded by North Bridge Partners, Sigma and Partners and O’Reilly Media’s venture arm, is the developer of the new CMS. But it deflects questions to its PR agency which says, we’re not “at liberty to say” in response to the above questions.
- “I will forward your question to our customer (presumably meaning the White House) as they have requested,” says the General Dynamics’ spokesperson, the prime contractor for the White House Communications Agency but better known as the tanks and submarine manufacturer that did over $12 billion in business with the U.S. government in its Fiscal 2009 just ended. (General Dynamics got into the information technology business by acquiring Anteon in late 2005.)
GD won't even say if it has ever done a press release about the subject. Acquia won't even say how many developers it has working on the product.
So falling back on the AP report, here’s what we know--or more appropriaely don't know--with some educated-guess commentary:
- “White House opens Web site programming to public.” -- Presumably that headline, which appears hundreds of time on the web in publications that picked up the AP story, refers to the fact that the new CMS is an open source licensed project supported by Acquia, in the way that Fedora is an open source project supported by Red Hat (RHAT). It is unlikely that the White House is inviting random programmers to change its code base.
- “Security is fundamentally built into the development process because the community is made up of people from all across the world, and they look at the source code from the very start of the process until it's deployed and after." -- We don't know from the AP story what the security issue was at the Bush White House that General Dynamics had to fix.
- “It will be a much faster way to change the programming behind the Web site. When the model was owned solely by the government, federal contractors would have to work through the reams of code to troubleshoot it or upgrade it. Now, it can be done in the matter of days and free to taxpayers.” -- Presumably the revenue loss to General Dynamics will be minor as federal contractors will be replaced by thousands of volunteers.
- “It didn't let the tech-savvy Obama team build the new online platform it wanted. For instance, 60,000 watched Obama speech to a joint session of Congress on health care. One-third of those stayed online to talk with administration officials about the speech. But there are limits; the programming used to power that was built for Facebook, the popular social networking Web site.” -- As with other sections of the AP article, the antecedents of the many “its” and “thats” are hard to follow but apparently the open-source-based Facebook was not up to the challenge that the Obama team wanted or needed to tackle. (However I don’t believe the AP meant to say that Facebook was the outdated CMS technology used by the Bush administration, since the AP refers to that technology as the 'proprietary Bush technology.')
- “It comes more cheaply than computer coding designed for a single client, such as the Executive Office of the President. It gives programmers around the world a chance to offer upgrades, additions or tweaks to existing programs that the White House could - or could not - include in daily updates.” -- I am almost certain that the Obama administration does not want programmers sending upgrades or tweaks to the White House—send them to Acquia.
-- Dennis Byron