202: Nudge, nudge: Drupal as pluggable enterprise resource - OnCorps

Beyond websites: Drupal as a rapid development and deployment platform for enterprise applications - Behavioral Science + Analytics + Collaboration + Drupal = OnCorps. I spoke with Laura Lafave and Peter Hallett, two-thirds of the founding team at OnCorps, after meeting them at the business day of Drupal Camp Bristol, 2015. I find their product concept--apps to improve team performance at companies--very interesting, but at least as exciting is how they are using Drupal to make it all happen.

Nudge, nudge ...

OnCorps builds "Nudge" apps. Nudge in this context refers to providing cues, rather than mandates, that can influence decisions and behavior towards desired outcomes. OnCorps nudge apps use diagnostic data and help extract more value from them by "nudging" team members towards actions that should improve those data over time ... As I type this, my definition sounds a little dry, but it is a hot topic in politics and economics these days. To even be able to address it, you need to have a handle on behavioral science, data (big and small), analytics, and be able to collect and deliver the nudges in some form. OnCorps is leading the field, working with global enterprises and consulting firms, and they're powered by Drupal. Go, team!

Laura and Peter describe an app for a sales team that can do a couple of valuable things. For all you tech-types, this reminded very much of agile methodologies for development teams:

  • Track goals versus achievements over time to determine what kind of targets--"home run" or incremental, for example--deliver the best results, then nudge team members towards pursuing the optimal target range.
  • Track what kinds of deals succeed and fail so that the app can nudge you into putting more energy into successful deal-types, and nudge you away from those that have been less-successful in the past.
  • Track sales cycles and calculate the odds of various sales succeeding based on how long the process is taking and nudge you away from a deal unlikely to ever close, "You might want to wrap that up or move onto something else."

Drupal, not just for websites anymore

As I put it in the podcast, "Drupal is this engine that is driving a huge amount of business that is not a bunch of websites." OnCorps chose it as a platform for rapid product development and deployment.

Peter explains, "I've used a lot of different technologies, across different parts of building applications and architectures. I don't do fashion code. I see a toolbox with tools in it and use the right one for the job I am trying to achieve. So we looked at it from that perspective. Drupal gave us flexibility; it gave us speed. As a startup company, we started with an idea. As we've come along in the last three years, we've pivoted a few times. We wouldn't have been able to make those turns as quickly if we had gone for a more bespoke, lower layer to the architecture. Drupal allowed us to be flexible. At a pace that allowed us to make those turns and land where we are with what we feel is a really good business offering and good technology."

"Secondly, we knew that when we settled, what we'd done to that date wasn't going to have to be replaced. [We knew] what we had built would then scale. You can make Drupal scale. As long as you have some good architectural principles in place, you can then really build on top of that once you lock it in."

"We've got the classic use of Drupal [as websites] with some marketing content, but for us that's a very small part, just to advertise our business. The actual deliverable that our customers end up with are HTML5 applications. Our platform-as-a-service built on Drupal basically spits out apps that we can configure very quickly. We've built 40 or 50 of these so far." Drupal manages group management for each enterprise customer and a lot of configuration data for a select administrative user group. "That's a perfect place for Drupal to sit," according to Peter. "We can use all of the built-in Drupal stuff, content types, lots of admin screens, a rich interface, easily adjustable as we grow and add to it and that's great."

When we need our high-performance data-analytics, we use Drupal in a headless way. The HTML5 applications are built on an Angluar.js framework on the client side, tons of Ajax, Drupal at the back end feeding data to those from external data sources or our internal analytics. It's like a three-headed beast with Drupal at the heart of it. It plays very nicely at the heart of it and we're very happy with it.""

Open source and Drupal in business

I asked about running a business in the open source context and how it had helped OnCorps as a start-up. Laura explained, "Open source works really well for a large variety of business-critical scenarios ... and especially Drupal. Drupal is such a professional platform. And you do have a lot of confidence when you are suing Drupal that you have a community of people that are just really switched on to making sure that this is a secure and enterprise-ready platform. There have been a lot of reasons, from that context specifically, that we're happy with being on the Drupal platform."

"I was responsible and involved in that decision early on to create OnCorps on Drupal. It allowed us to get our product to a prototype level very quickly. From there, we evolved it and we could grow."

More on nudge and using data effectively

  1. Read OnCorps' third co-founder, Bob Suh's September 15, 2015 article "Data Blindness: Why We See Data And Don’t Act - How To See Data More Clearly, And Use It More Effectively for more on Nudge Theory, data, and decision making.
  2. Wikipedia article on Nudge Theory

Guest dossier Laura Lafave

  • Work: CTO, Co-Founder, OnCorps
  • OnCorps's Twitter: oncorpsHQ
  • Laura's Twitter: @laura_lafave
  • LinkedIn: Laura Lafave
  • Google+: Laura Lafave
  • About: Laura holds a PhD in computer science and has worked a lot with safety critical rail, air, and process control systems. She was also an enterprise architect with Accenture and was responsible for data delivery at one of the three largest consumer credit agencies in the United States.

Guest dossier Peter Hallett

Interview video