At a glance

2 to 4 months
GovCMS, Drupal
Federal government
Discovery & strategy, Build & migration
GovTech, Whole of government, Civic tech, Web development, Drupal Planet
Tools & systems, Security, Design, Open standards & common platforms

GovCMS’ challenge

Drupal’s timeframe to end-of-life (EOL) Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 created an immediate need to support GovCMS D9. Careful consideration was needed to communicate, plan and technically transform GovCMS for D9.

GovCMS’ transformation

Salsa and the GovCMS/Finance team created an automation process to upgrade GovCMS D8 sites.  After rigorous testing and iteration, and running test migrations on all GovCMS D8 sites, GovCMS was able to offer the service to its agency customers. 

The outcomes

  • A proven GovCMS D8 to D9 automation framework 

  • A proven GovCMS D9 upgrade service

  • One-third of agency websites upgraded to D9 (as at June 2021), with many more scheduled

The challenge for GovCMS— a plan for EOL was required

At the launch of GovCMS 2.0 in November 2018, many sites were on GovCMS SaaS D7 with some considering GovCMS D8.  As GovCMS SaaS D8 uptake increased, the program had to maintain two active distributions. This created increased operational and governance workload. 

Drupal’s timeframe to EOL Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 created an immediate need to support GovCMS D9. More than 100 sites were now running on Drupal 8 on the GovCMS SaaS platform, so careful consideration was needed to communicate, plan and technically transform GovCMS for D9. The Department of Finance is responsible for managing the codebases used on the SaaS platform,  the goal was to automate the process as much as possible, and minimise the need for site owners to undertake technical work.

GovCMS’ transformation — a rigorous D9 migration service 

The approach to the GovCMS D9 upgrade was broken into three main stages:

  1. Prepare
  2. Automate, test, iterate
  3. Change management and communication 


Salsa’s preparation involved creating a new, standardised codebase (v2.0) that could support multiple versions of GovCMS. This new codebase would pave the way for Drupal 9 by ensuring all system dependencies were met for the future upgrade, while still supporting the legacy/existing sites. All existing SaaS sites were upgraded to the v2.0 configuration prior to the Drupal 9 upgrade, which helped limit the scope of the D9 upgrade to a more manageable body of work.

Separate processes began to automate the identification and remediation of issues across all sites in the theme layer, as well as the distribution itself. Because the GovCMS distribution is centrally managed by the team at Finance, Salsa was able to collaborate closely with the GovCMS team and resolve issues in a coordinated way.

Automate, test, iterate

The Salsa/Finance team ran a tight loop of automation, test, learn, iterate. Hundreds of GovCMS sites were put to test, lessons learnt, upgrade automation refined and tests repeated.  Each SaaS site was test-upgraded to D9 multiple times using the GovCMS continuous integration (CI) pipelines. These deployment (CI) processes built each site using the same codebase and platform images as those used in production to accurately represent the upgrade process.

Common patterns were identified and lessons learnt fed back into the process. Automations were updated to resolve common issues in project codebases and tests repeated so we could be confident of the D9 upgrade. A number of site owners also participated in trial upgrades. As a result, the GovCMS community became more confident that the upgrades would be successful.

The process involved automated investigation and remediation of project code bases and working closely with the GovCMS team to tackle the GovCMS distribution updates in parallel. The learnings from trial upgrades would feed into distribution changes, and distribution changes had impacts on the upgrade process; close collaboration and good communication between teams was critical.

Through this collaboration, Salsa helped to meet the objectives of the upgrade project:

  • Easy upgrades — via streamlining and proving of the process

  • Less outlier issues — any outliers kept to a manageable level

  • A consistent process — confident, formal, repeatable process

  • No downtime — sites were updated using standard deployment processes

  • Security maintained — all updates were managed within the hosting platform

Change management and communication

The GovCMS team took communication and change management seriously. Dedicated resources were deployed to help agencies navigating D9 change management. Discrete windows were identified for agencies to update their sites. This provided structure to the process to ensure areas such as service desk and operational support didn’t get overloaded with queries. Agencies were allocated blocks of time to complete acceptance testing. 

From a customer point of view, all the communications and approvals were managed via the GovCMS Service Desk. This meant day-to-day BAU interactions with GovCMS were not interrupted, and people were familiar with the tools and processes being used.

The outcomes — D8 sites migrated to D9

Salsa helped the GovCMS Drupal 9 upgrade project to deliver: 

  • A proven and repeatable automated GovCMS D8 to D9 upgrade process 

  • A pathway for D7 sites with D8 migration projects already underway

  • An easy upgrade for government agencies to an updated and supported Drupal distribution

  • A successful engagement with more than 100 site owners, giving them ongoing confidence in the GovCMS platform 

As at June 2021, one-third of agency sites have been upgraded to D9, with the entire upgrade to be completed by September.

About GovCMS

The Department of Finance (Finance) owns the GovCMS platform, a whole-of-government digital platform for use across all levels of government in Australia. GovCMS is built on Drupal, an award-winning, enterprise-grade CMS that’s easy to use, stable, highly secure and open source (no license fees).