Digital Services Georgia

Building Georgia's Digital Future

Georgia

The state of Georgia's web infrastructure served nearly 10 million residents and included websites and services for more than 90 different programs and agencies. As their shared publishing platform aged — and the needs of Georgia's diverse state agencies evolved — meeting everyone's needs had grown increasingly difficult. Without a mandate to centralize web presence, the project required a system that addressed common functional needs while giving each agency its own visual appearance that remained identifiable within overall brand guidelines.

Together with Digital Services Georgia (DSGa) and the branding specialists from IDEO, we created GovHub, a next-generation platform that helps state agencies serve residents better, leverages new technologies more effectively, and simplifies the lives of overworked staffers.

Digital strategy for an audience of millions

DSGa needed a new content model that met the needs of their agencies while being flexible enough to be used in many different ways. While IDEO developed a new design language and pattern library that could stretch to fit dozens of agencies, we worked with the DSGa team to tease apart their most important content, workflow, and governance challenges.

We interviewed dozens of state agency staff, Georgia residents, and key governmental stakeholders. What were their pain points? How did the state's websites fit into residents' daily lives? And, what unmet needs did agency staff "in the trenches" hear about from Georgia's residents?

Meanwhile, extensive content inventories and audits were required to understand how real-world agency staff was using the current platform. The scale of Georgia's web ecosystem made it impossible to build manual lists of posts and pages, so we developed custom tools to:

  • Automate the initial inventories
  • Identify usage patterns across different agencies
  • Spot accessibility and design problems that would affect migration
  • Compile pre-populated "audit checklists" for each agency's staff

The result was a completely re-imagined content model that centralized key facts to ensure consistency and streamlined common patterns like step-by-step tutorials and legal announcements. A new landing page design tool, built on top of Drupal 8.7's Layout Builder, gave agencies the power to customize their home pages, landing pages, and programs without breaking the mobile-friendly responsive design. The platform's foundation of structured content made it possible to keep critical information up-to-date across agencies, and automatically expose rich metadata for search engines.

Georgia Design Strategy

Creating the Orchard Design System

IDEO created a fresh brand and identity to unite all of the agency sites under a shared look and feel while we fleshed out a complete pattern library using Pattern Lab to make it accessible to content authors. A comprehensive typographic system for Orchard was implemented, which improved readability across devices and contexts without sacrificing site performance.

The final product was a toolbox of components that agency staff could combine in novel ways without breaking the overall design. This allowed structured data from the content model to drive layout decisions whenever possible and eliminating the need for custom HTML and CSS hacks when building complex pages for unique events and state programs.

With 80-something state agencies grouped into verticals, such as human services and law enforcement, a key requirement of the project was to enable these agencies to utilize sites that aligned with their missions and individual presences but simultaneously adhered to the overall design system governance. To achieve this, we built a system of swappable color schemes based on Orchard's ten standard palettes. By combining dynamic CSS variables and in-CMS configuration options, every site built within GovHub can have a custom palette while running on the same shared templates.

Georgia Orchard Design System

Building a robust publishing platform

Content managers for each state agency are individually responsible for their content rather than having one centralized team. They're often juggling agency operations with content management tasks, so making publishing as simple as possible was a top priority.

The improved content model streamlined some tasks, but one-off content like sitewide landing pages and portals were a significant concern. We extended Drupal 8's Layout Builder, adding simplified controls for content editors, and integrating it with the Orchard design system. This made it easier for site managers to build custom pages but ensured that any one-off scenarios wouldn't break the design system.

Georgia Admin

Additionally, we built a custom asset management system on top of Drupal 8's file and media APIs to give site managers a way to store, distribute, and schedule the release of important state documents. The system also enables site managers to automate publishing before releasing new regulations and announcements, and it centralizes thousands of existing state documents for consistency.

To meet launch deadlines, we needed to work quickly in parallel on multiple features. To expedite that, we used Tugboat, a tool that spins up fully populated test environments for each new feature. Developers could review each others' code and provide immediate feedback without disrupting their development environments. And stakeholders could review new changes on a content-rich staging environment to approve new features for production quickly. 

With the platform prepared, a phased rollout began, starting with the MVP sites, and building to more complex sites in parallel with continued feature development. We are on track to use the platform to launch around 80 sites over 12 rounds, approximately 6 to 7 every three weeks. Each three-week cycle involves: standing up new sites, acquiring migration data, migration QA and bug-fixes, new feature development, coordination of final migration runs, and decommissioning sites that have launched - all while continuing the rolling planning effort for future iterations. Detailed planning, project management, and communication have been key to managing this complex rollout process.

Special thanks to Jason Pamental, Marlene Wanberg, and Amanda Luker for their invaluable contributions to this project.

Lullabot has been a solid partner in transforming Georgia's web presence. Not only have they excelled at technical implementation, but they were an effective strategic partner. I truly appreciate their partnership in creating GovHub, Georgia's official web publishing system, making state content easy to manage across 90+ websites, and accessible to Georgians in a fast, secure, and effective manner.

Nikhil Deshpande, Chief Digital Officer, State of Georgia