187: Drupal replaces in-house CMS at Digital Agency - meet John Doyle

In April 2015, I was excited to talk with John Doyle, General Manager Technology & Solutions Architecture at the Australian full-service digital agency Komosion, to explore their decision to adopt Drupal to replace other technologies, including an in-house CMS they'd invested 10 years of work in. In this podcast, John very clearly lays out what Komosion's priorities were in making this decision, the benefits for the agency and its clients, and the future he sees using Drupal as the basis for future work.

The full-service agency

I wanted to get a feel for what a "full-service agency" is, what sort of technologies and solutions they offer, so that I would better understand what Drupal can do for Komosion and similar businesses. John explained, "We offer the full digital solution from strategy, customer experience, design, right on through implementation ... apps, websites, etc."

Meeting customers' needs PD (pre-Drupal)

"Komosion came about from the merger of two organisations," a Melbourne-based, product-focused company, "called Komodo CMS. They had a proprietary CMS which went through a couple of different iterations and came into being ten years ago. It's now up to version 7 and it's still our proprietary system. Over the years, it's won awards for innovation. It was one of the first SaaS based CMS offering in Australia. We offer a managed technology solution for our clients; we manage our whole infrastructure. Along the way, we've looks at a number of different technologies and trends, but we've kept everything in-house to date. It's on our proprietary system which comes with its own foibles."

"It's getting to the point now where we're saying, 'What else is there in the marketplace that is mature enough, enterprise ready, and able to deliver for our clients ... and for us ... what we need for our strategy, not just in technology. We deal a lot at the C-level, the executive level, with organisations, driving digital strategy, helping then shape their digital teams through content, through design, through our digital and technology solutions. We partner with them for the long haul ... and we need something to partner with for the long haul, too."

Becoming a Drupal-based agency

John sees parallels between Komosion's practice and Drupal's evolution from wanting to be the standalone solution to everything to integrating with and leveraging the best specialist frameworks and tools out there. Komosion went from building all of their own systems and infrastructure, "but it has got to the point now that for us to take the next step and extend out platform the way that we want to–we see our platform being much more than just the CMS, it needs to be a full marketing tool suite–we need to partner with best-of-breed. Bring them all together, package [and extend] them as a solution for our clients that is going to give them everything that they need day to day from a marketer's point of view."

"We just can't compete with the passion and the level of input and contribution that a project such as Drupal has behind it. We understand that. We agree with the direction it's taking. We think that the minds that are behind it are brilliant and we're jumping on board. That's how we've come to where we are."

"The best solution for our clients is the goal. For us, as a client, our best solution at the moment is Drupal. We're actually taking our proprietary platform and we're going to be converting that to run off Drupal." John is expecting to have features beyond the current set and have clients on the Drupal version of their platform within 12 months–"highly, highly rapid development." They're going further than using Drupal just as a CMS and are looking at everything that Drupal the framework is capable of, from decoupled Drupal applications, to integrations with marketing automation, EMD & CRM tools, and more. The solution will still be Sass-based and fully managed, but Drupal will be at its heart.

Agency advantage Drupal

"We just cannot scale to meet what we need to meet without taking on board the expertise that is in the Drupal community. We understand that and we embrace it. That's why we're here. To us as a digital agency, the biggest advantage is that we no longer have to be looking for Komodo CMS developers," which meant about a year of on boarding at the agency until now. "In the Drupal community, there's a massive wealth of expertise already. For me, that's huge."

"It's also the shift for us to being able to move in a much more agile fashion with our projects. With Drupal, we're looking at how we can prototype functionality very rapidly, get it in front of our clients, go through an iterative process, continually delivering working prototypes, and it makes a complete change to the way that they see us as an agency. It makes a complete change to the way that they see us as an agency. Now we're that agency that is sitting down with them, listening, making changes, they're seeing changes. It's no longer a black box. That's hugely valuable to an agency."

Choosing another proprietary solution (apart from its own) Komosion can't really influence its roadmap, "and that's what I love about the open source movement in general. We can contribute and give and–for me, running the tech team– I want to make sure my tech team grows. The best way for your tech team to grow is to be around experts and people who know what they're doing and have a passion for it just as they do. That's a huge advantage for us as well. We're no longer a silo'd set. We're a part of something much, much bigger. And now I can see the growth path for our team as much as our product."

Client Advantage Drupal

"With any proprietary solution, the client feels locked into it. They feel that they're with you regardless through the good and the bad. They can't bring in any internal expertise. They feel as though you're holding something over them, which is a very uncomfortable place to be." Through open source Drupal, "They get not only the trust in us as their provider, but they also get the trust in the efforts of the Drupal community, in the incredible groundswell in Australia of Drupal talent and initiatives like GovCMS [running on Drupal]. That makes a massive difference to the thinking of open source in general, but certainly Drupal in the enterprise. They get a base level of comfort out of going with a platform that is regularly maintained, always security tested, has been out there in the trenches for a long time, and is delivering some huge sites."

"With the huge number of contributed modules [in Drupal] that are really high grade, all of a sudden they have a feature set available to them that we just cannot provide as a small agency. We just can't do it." John add that Drupal contributed modules will generally provide any given functionality a client needs, and, "It goes back to that prototyping discussion. You can prototype these things rapidly in front of them," and get their feedback then and there. "You can get 80% there and the 20% might take some time, but they at least have the knowledge and the comfort that you're going down the right path."

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