Rob Klause: From Whitehouse.gov to Siteworx

5 minute read
Dee-Ann LeBlanc avatar

Some people are never content to sit back and enjoy what they've accomplished. Rob Klause is one of these people. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about working with the Executive Office of the President, Drupal (news, site) and Siteworx.

Meet Rob Klause, Adrenaline Junkie

Certain patterns quickly became clear as Rob Klause, now the Senior Practice Manager of Siteworx, discussed his past adventures. Since the early 1990's he's moved back and forth between the private and public sector, being on hand for the rushing about of major changes and site launches and moving on when tasks boiled down to humdrum day to day operations.

Twice, his path into the public sector has taken him into the Executive Office of the President, working primarily with Whitehouse.gov and supporting the White House Communications Office. In the private sector, he's worked with an interesting mix of companies such as Ogilvy, the Christian Science Monitor, DuPont, the CDC and Quaker Oats.

A Government in Transition

Perhaps what Klause is currently best known for is being the man behind the move of Whitehouse.gov to open source Web CMS Drupal. He returned to the public sector during the run-up to the 2008 elections, and regardless who won, there would be a new administration.

Such an event requires that the outgoing administration's final message be archived for posterity. You can see the results today in the US government archives.

Returning to Government

Along with getting all of the outgoing administration's records management checkboxes attended to, there was the issue of the incoming administration's web presence. Would they use nine years' of legacy, homegrown code?

In looking at the potential that Obama would win the election, he was strongly engaging in social media. The current platform "wasn't at all social," said Klause. This was one of the challenges that drew him back to the Executive Office of the President, giving him a front row seat for the transition between these two administrations.

So, they chose a new platform to launch the new Whitehouse.gov. However, they didn't have a full set of requirements when they did so and it turned out that their choice wasn't flexible enough. Every time they wanted to do something new, their developers had to build custom code, causing lag times in their ability to react.

An inability to react quickly is simply unacceptable in a venue such as the White House Communications Office. Rolling out a new feature needs to take 20 minutes to throw together a new content type, view and module, not 20 hours to roll something custom.

Enter Drupal

Word came down from Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra that they should consider open source, and Klause was already familiar with the issues around using open source in both the private and public sectors. He says he's a fan of the intelligence and passion of the open source community.

In particular, he points out that in tech, your ideas are rarely unique. With the open source community, he enjoys that when he needs to do something, someone else has already thought about how to do it, and probably thought it through better and come up with a better solution than he might have.

Learning Opportunities

Klause isn't a 100% open source kind of person. He's a big believer in letting a project's requirements dictate the platform and solution. So, when looking at open source Web CMS options, the requirements were a big factor.

People on his team had positive experiences with Drupal. He did as well, from when he converted Ogilvy's site. With the requirements fleshed out, they kept coming back to find that Drupal met them perfectly, such as letting them use Organic Groups to manage subsites and microsites the way they wanted.

Even from a prototyping standpoint, Drupal was a win. They could rapidly throw together a proof of concept and see how it would work. In the end, Klause says that it was a combination of the strong Drupal community and its growing base of modules that sealed the deal. Thanks to those factors, the new site allows for easy extendability, such as when they used Google Moderator for a town hall. The only real custom work that was required was a bit to ensure the single sign-on worked for cross-authentication.

Klause honestly feels that when there is another change in the White House, whether it's three or seven years down the road, the IT team behind it won't have to scramble to change to a whole new system again. Whether he'll be the man behind that IT team is anyone's guess.

After Another Rush

With Whitehouse.gov settled and in capable hands, Klause was looking for something new. His neighbors went to work for Siteworx and after talking to them, he applied.

He's still in the learning phase, mind-melding with the others at Siteworx to grow more familiar with the depth and breadth of products they use in their solutions. In particular, Klause says he's looking forward to finding his own voice. Up until now he's been a behind the scenes player quietly getting things done and he's ready to step toward the front.

Patricia Mejia, the VP of Marketing at Siteworx, pointed out that they just received their approval for federal contracts. So, of course Klause also brings with him the inside knowledge of how things work in the federal government, such as how to get new software in the door and how best to guide solutions for federal clients.

When he's not working on federal contracts, he'll work with commercial accounts and non-profits, bringing as usual his focus on the requirements and assessing where open source is a fit and where a proprietary solution makes more sense. And maybe he'll manage a few good adrenaline jolts along the way.