105: "Give to Receive" - Drupal and the Digital Agency - Meet iKOS

Some benefits of open source contribution to your business.iKOS is a digital agency specializing in eCommerce and Drupal. I caught up with Myles Davidson, Managing Director and Richard Jones, Technical Director, at DrupalCon Prague where they had been busy getting up to speed on developments in Drupal 8.

Share More, Do More Business - Give to Receive

Buy This Book – Richard is the author of Getting Started with Drupal Commerce, a great resource for learning about Drupal Commerce, the powerful open source eCommerce toolkit. As he and Myles discuss in this interview, they believe deeply in doing business the open source way. Being experts in what they call "a niche within a niche" and sharing that knowledge and code–a possibility unique to open-source-based businesses–has helped build iKOS's reputation as a service provider and brought them more business as a result.

Richard explains that "giving all of our code away", eventually starts to pay off. Now other UK digital agencies come to iKOS, based on the integration work that iKOS has done with payment provider SagePay, for example. "That collaboration with other agencies, it's really interesting to me that they are our competitors, but [the journey has been] getting to the mindset that we're all working toward the same goal and that there's enough of a big pie out there. Giving back to the community has paid us back tenfold."

I put it to Myles that investing in code that is open for all to see and use helped iKOS's reputation and brought them more clients. He agrees, "Absolutely," but there seems to be more to it: "Honestly, that was kind of a byproduct. We were doing everything aligned with our business goals. Agencies always find it hard; we're chasing client work. But we started changing. If we were going to do this, we were going to do this right. We felt we had a coding standard and so many little byproducts have come out of this. We've had an incredible staff benefit." So one benefit came from exposing junior developers to the benefits of releasing early and learning from thousands of their peers in the drupal community. "Early on we'd have taken that. That would have been reason alone for us to keep contributing."

"Out of the blue, because we did one flavour of work in a speciality for one area, what do you know? We got a knock on the door from someone else saying, 'We've seen that module that you've done. It's really good. We need that level of quality in our area.' If there's one area where the code has to be peer reviewed and has to be secure and the right level, it's in transactions."

"The other byproduct and the absolute surprise is in that you can give to receive. Now we can say that's true. I think I was a little skeptical at first, but it's been transformational for our agency: not just to go to Drupal, but to adopt the community."

Roots: from proprietary to open source

iKOS's journey in a nutshell:

  • 2002: Enterprise Java business with its own CMS in 2001 (with a massive 31 modules!)
  • Maintenance of own system was hard, "critical mass" not achieved for that platform.
  • Drupal discovered: Their initial thoughts had nothing to do with community or open source's strengths beyond, "This is just another product, another tool. It happens to be free."
  • Since 2008: All Drupal all the time, starting with Drupal 6, contributions in and around Drupal Commerce.

They found out the true power of Drupal and open source when they were frustrated by the limitations of the Ubercart eCommerce package for Drupal (it was not initially conceived for sales tax and other variations in law and practice outside the US). Since open source lets you build and modify your product until you have your own, perfect toolset, iKOS began contributing and giving back started with working on Ubercart's successor, Drupal Commerce, for their own projects.

It was an awakening and transformation from the mindset of a proprietary vendor, "Keeping all your information to yourself and having that as your strategic advantage," to working with Commerce Guys and others on Drupal Commerce, to maintaining multiple Drupal Commerce modules themselves.

What's the Best Part of Drupal 8 for You?

Note - also read iKOS's post-DrupalCon post A DrupalCon Prague Retrospective - and why i-KOS are excited about Drupal 8.

iKOS brought 7 employees to DrupalCon Prague to get a feel for what Drupal 8 will bring to their business and when they can really start to dig in. I asked Richard how he's feeling about Drupal 8: "We're really excited. There are seven of us here and I wanted to go to as many Drupal 8 sessions as possible. This week has been about discovery. We're getting very good feedback. From what we can see, some of the key pain points of Drupal 7 and Drupal 6 are resolved now [in Drupal 8] for the type of sites and operations that we do."

"We were aware of the various initiatives, but now getting into the detail of them, we're excited about Configuration Management [CMI], which in the type of sites that we do, at the scale that we work at is very much a pain point for us at the moment."

"The other thing that we're very interested in is Mobile, because even when Drupal 8 was started, it was clear it was becoming big, but it's now absolutely massive and essential. We're seeing stats on some of the sites we're working on, which we wouldn't have believed a couple of years ago–the amount of traffic coming from mobile devices, especially in commerce. Really good support for mobile is absolutely essential."

OO - "oh no!" or "oh yes!" ... ?

On the shift to PHP 5.3 and object oriented code in Drupal 8, Richard says, "We're lucky because of our enterprise Java background, to be getting back into object oriented is really exciting for us. We've got some real advocates of Symfony as well, so everyone is very excited about this new challenge."