64: Meet Andrew Melck: "Drupal means best of breed solutions"

Andrew Melck, Solutions Architect on the Pre-Sales Team in Acquia Europe is the subject of the first Acquia podcast of 2013.

Andrew came to Acquia and Drupal from a German digital agency where he had experience with both open source and proprietary technologies. He was excited to encounter Drupal as a PHP project with global scope and for the fact that, "When I downloaded it the first time, it just ran. I grasped how this thing worked and how you could plug stuff together very quickly. It seemed very straightforward." Compared to Typo3's "dispiriting" back end, "I found it really interesting how you could even mod the Drupal back end for specific roles and specific purposes."

Regarding content reuse, Drupal's content-first model of site architecture was a positive change for him after dealing with the consequences of incorrectly architected Sharepoint or Typo3 sites – which a use hierarchy-first model – where users end up not being able to share content between multiple parts of a site.

What is a Solutions Architect at Acquia?

Andrew says, "Solutions architects support the Sales team on large projects. We help assess whether Drupal is a good fit and then work with the Sales rep to scope out how Acquia can make a meaningful offering and maybe bring in partners to complete the deal."

"If we can move through the initial RFI (Request for Information) phase, where there will often be a large number of vendors invited, we'll get to an 'RFP' (Request for Proposals) phase with fewer vendors. My colleagues and I will then help write documentation the explains what we can do technically and commercially for the proposed project. If we get into the final phase, we'll prepare demos, build sites and proofs of concept to demonstrate what Drupal can do. We've got experience with a lot of clients and can also provide the back-stories [needed to help choose a Drupal solution]. An anecdote is often worth a lot more than 500 lines of code as a proof."

Open source is about best of breed solutions

A solutions architect needs to have a deep knowledge of parallel and competitive technologies, to be able to assess "what the business case is for making a change [i.e. switching to Drupal] or making some kind of modification to the overall setup. For example, if you've got a situation where Sharepoint is being used as a document management system, Drupal can be put on top of Sharepoint as the web interface, and you can surface your Sharepoint documents using CMIS - a standard integration that can be used with Sharepoint, or its open source alternative, Alfresco."

"Alfreso.com – a Drupal site – is a good example of how you can do this. Alfresco have moved away from providing their own web platform; they now recommend using Drupal as their front end. This is another great example of the way that Drupal and open source is all about using a best of breed approach. In this case, the backend technology is Java, the front is end PHP, and we're using standard connectors to put those together."

What's hot in the enterprise?

Responsive design aka "mobile first" is huge. "The way Drupal 8 is going to be responsive out of the door for the back end as well. People are really interested.

"Companies are interested in the whole Web Experience Management and Engagement Management (WEM) area. The way that different authors can work with a system, the way that you'll be able to edit content in place with true WYSIWYG; that kind of stuff is really important. That's one of the areas that people really care about."

Drupal distributions - accelerators and conversation starters

A distribution is a preconfigured instance of Drupal, ready for a particular use-case: eCommerce, schools, musician websites, conference management and so on. Acquia maintains a couple of Drupal distributions, including Drupal Commons is one such distribution. "Acquia likes to call Commons an accelerator. Commons is a great way of communicating what value Drupal can provide to a company and the way we can help to boost the initial development phase. Commons is a toolset for any social business collaboration platform." If Commons fulfils 80% of your needs out-of-the-box, your project is going to be faster and cheaper to get to full implementation; especially because you can leverage the broad landscape of thousands Drupal contributed modules and tested solutions.

"Commons is a great story for people when they are first learning about Drupal, first learning about what Acquia does. We're bringing people in, who then get into a conversation with us, where we can work out if Commons is the solution they need. We don't see Commons as THE PRODUCT that we just put on the table, take it or leave it. We see it as a door opener, a conversation starter that allows us to provide them with what should be the optimum solution."