167: Explaining Drupal, the pragmatic choice – meet David Aponovich

David Aponovich knows the web content management business far beyond just the "Drupalsphere". I was thrilled when he joined Acquia from Forrester Research in 2014, since I believe his voice, experience, and insight can help convince more businesses of the benefits of using Drupal, especially given the upcoming release of Drupal 8. He and I sat down at DrupalCon Amsterdam – David's first Drupal community event – and talked about digital transformation from the "information superhighway" to today, corporations and open source software as a pragmatic choice, and how the definitions of cooperation and competition are changing in business today.

Taking the web seriously

"Any organization that takes itself seriously today, is taking the web and digital seriously. Digital being the manifestation of web, mobile, social, even commerce activity. To take this seriously means to be invested in technology, as well as strategy and planning, and other elements. The maturity of those companies has come a long way from those old days when they were trying to figure out what this meant to them and to their customers, to today where it's very strategic to the corporate and brand mission."

"This is where the winners and losers in business are happening today. The ones that get it are winning because they get it in the following ways: They get technology; that's going to underpin what they decide to from a business and a brand strategy. But they look at the digital channels through which they operate as the channel through which they talk and interact with customers, or prospects, or partners, or whomever. This takes maturity both from a technology standpoint, but from an organizational standpoint, too. Who is going to own it? Who is going to create content? Or who is going to think about the strategy that takes your business into the realm of these digital channels? How do best communicate? How do you best apply advanced techniques like personalizing the experience or giving people what they want in their moment of need whether they're on a website proper or on a mobile experience or on some other channel? These are things that take a lot of thought; take a lot of strategic planning. It takes a lot of smart people and takes technology underpinning it all, too."

Discovering Drupal: passion and sharing in the community

"I spent a lot of time at a digital agency in Boston and Portland where a significant amount of the work we did was in higher education. That was where I first started to encounter significant usage of Drupal as a platform for web content management. And I saw it in the spirit and the eyes of the people using it there; a kind of a devotion that you don't see often in software, where software is [usually] a tool to get something done. Drupal for these organizations was kind of a way of life almost. It was something they were devoted to both as a product, but also saying to themselves and those around them that they were part of a broader community of people advancing the technology to solve higher education needs. And then contributing back ideas or code to the Drupal community to say, 'Hey, this is how we're doing it!' Even their ideas, it was very open as a community, telling each other their strategies and their secrets to success. They were sharing that among themselves as they were sharing Drupal as a platform."

Business + Drupal: pragmatism and passion

"On it's simplest level, the ideal for any technology is that it serves your business needs very specifically. In this case, running a web platform, running websites, or mobile experiences, or commerce experiences. This is what companies need today from a digital standpoint. We're finding [Drupal] has crossed the chasm from [for example] higher education and non-profit into the world of true corporate brands, true enterprises that are using it, our [Acquia's] customers and others in the Drupal community. Our who's who of brands like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, or The Economist magazine.

These are organizations that on a global scale are making a difference. They're using digital technology to communicate, or to educate, or to promote, but at the bottom line, they're using technology that is open source, that is something that might not have been chosen several years ago when they were looking at a much different landscape for technology. The evolution of their thinking and of the platform has helped them to evolve how they think about open source. And given them an entrée into this community that says, 'Hey, it's okay to be an enterprise and to play in the open source world, too.

This is not without precedent. We've seen a lot of open source technology come from the bottom up in the enterprise technology stack. We have open source operating systems or data bases, I mean this is commonality across everybody's organization today. Why not business applications, [too]? Drupal is becoming a de facto standard for a lot of organizations where it might not have been several years ago."

I asked David whether large companies were basing their choice of Drupal on the fact that they can also make a positive difference in the world while also using some of the best web CMS software around. In essence, do they care about doing good while doing well? "Yes, I think that that has a place in what's going on right now with Drupal's move into organizations with global scale ... or large brand scale. I think, though, that any organization looks at what is the best tool or platform for what they are trying to accomplish. Business is a very pragmatic thing. Businesses make very pragmatic decisions. Often it is going to be what is the total cost of ownership: 'What's the best usability? What's the best extensibility? What's the best platform that's going to make me agile?' These are things that are top of mind as companies go through these digital transformations that every organization has to be thinking about today. If there's an added benefit of saying, 'Hey we can be part of something bigger that will then gain us some additional benefits?' Certainly, I think that opens their eyes to how they can get there faster, better, possibly cheaper, but certainly benefit from the ... let's call it "the greater good" of the open source movement.

"One thing I've been interested in is what is happening in Large Scale Drupal in this part of the overall Drupal community where we have some of the biggest brands and companies in the world using Drupal in very profound ways that they might not have done several years ago. They're finding inspiration from each other. They're finding very interesting ways of doing projects by listening and learning from each other. These are companies that may not have talked in a traditional, commercial software world; their business was their business. With Drupal, it's opened their eyes to say it's okay to talk across the aisle to a quasi-competitor or somebody who's not in my own market and say 'What are you doing right? What are you doing wrong? How can we help each other? The idea of Large Scale Drupal as an organization is great because it brings those thought leaders together. Not just to think things through, but to do things together ... meaning make Drupal better, make their own projects better, make their own businesses better."

"Drupal is many things to many organizations, it's part of their IT, or technology, or web infrastructure. The competition happens certainly at a digital level, but the business competition happens in products, in offerings, in services well beyond just the fact that they use Drupal. This is where businesses are won or lost: How well can they serve or help their customers? How well can they differentiate their products or their services? Great digital experiences are going to help them differentiate in the long term, but for a lot of the fundamentals for building the right web technology that underpins this, they find it okay to start sharing ideas and getting to a state where if they need something that's improved, they find working together to be a benefit, not a detriment to their overall mission."

Guest Dossier

  • Name: David Aponovich
  • Twitter: @daponovich
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Work affiliation and bio: Senior Director, Digital Experience, Acquia – David Aponovich is senior director of digital experience at Acquia, where he helps articulate the business and technical value of Drupal and Acquia solutions. In his role, David champions how organizations, through the power of open source innovation, are creating new revenue streams, lowering costs, and engaging audiences more deeply through content, community and commerce.

    Prior to joining Acquia in 2014, David was a senior analyst at Forrester Research, where he researched web content management and digital experience platforms and consulted to Forrester’s global clients on their web CMS and digital transformation initiatives. Earlier, he spent six years as web content management consultant at ISITE Design, a digital agency in Boston and Portland, Oregon, and before ISITE he was director of marketing at WCM vendor Ektron.

  • David in the media:

Interview video