Drupal Universe

Short and safe array iteration

Short and safe array iteration

One reason to follow development mailing lists is you sometimes pick up on some very neat tricks. Here's one that I spotted on the PHP Internals list recently to simplify array iteration in PHP 7.

Larry 22 October 2017 - 5:50am PHP PHP7
Categories: Drupal Universe

The 3 paragraph pitch

The 3 paragraph pitch

Earlier this week a fellow PHP public figure tweeted saying that I write great session proposals for conferences. After I finished blushing I reached out to him and we talked a bit about what it was he likes about them. (Whatever I'm doing right, I want to know to keep doing it!)

Based on that, I figured it would be educational to dissect how I go about writing session proposals for conferences and hope that conference organizers don't catch on to my tricks. :-)

Larry 20 October 2017 - 6:21pm PHP Community Conferences
Categories: Drupal Universe

Acquia Engage 2017: Day 1, Part 2

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-10-18 16:56

Engage team, back again. Check it to wreck it, let’s begin. Picking up where we left off, after lunch (graciously sponsored by Accenture), attendees headed back into the ballroom for second general session of the day. First up was Nadine Stahlman, managing director of Accenture, with her presentation Challenges and Opportunities in the New Content Era.

Accenture

To get a true sense of what marketers are dealing with in terms of content marketing challenges, Accenture conducted global content survey of 1,000 marketing leaders across 18 countries and representing 11 industries. One of the biggest takeaways from that survey was content is bigger than marketing; it's the voice of a company, it’s the mission. If you think about it, in some instances, content can be the only interaction you have with your customer. Ninety percent of marketers surveyed said the C suite executives should be responsible for content. Seventy-seven percent agreed that the most innovative companies are investing heavily in content. In addition, all your content needs to matter. Credibility, authenticity and relevance are the key drivers of customer engagement.

But with such a high demand for quality content, driven by personalization, new platforms and technology, how can you scale?

In the new content era, Accenture has three rules of content transformation:

  1. Let your audience lead the way
  2. Know your content, know yourself
  3. Live outside the vacuum

Adhering to these three rules can help organizations deliver quality content while providing a seamless experience with speed, efficiency and at scale. Credibility, authenticity and relevance of to drivers of engagement.

Communities: Making a Difference with Drupal

Next up was a fireside chat Communities: Making a Difference with Drupal hosted by Lynne Capozzi and featuring Nathan Maehren, senior vice president of digital experience for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, and Dr. Jeffrey Burns, chief of critical care and chairman of the iCU Governance Committee at Boston Children's Hospital. If you know anything about Lynne, you’d know that the nonprofit space is near and dear to her heart.

In the U.S. alone, YMCA serves about 20 million consumers in all 50 states. The YMCA isn’t one singular organization but a loose federation. This structure creates a lot of autonomy to support local community but also digital waste and redundancy. The OpenY initiative was created to solve the YMCA’s digital challenges but also provide a better digital experience for their customers.

Before the OpenY project, there were 870-plus YMCAs all doing digital different ways. Drupal, in particular Drupal 8, gave the YMCA access to the evolving platform and a dedicated community of developers. In addition, the OpenY project allows for digital equity, which really matters when budgets and talent access can vary. Each YMCA can now are share capabilities (OpenY is actually a Drupal distribution) and serve up progressive and ambitious experiences. In fact, Drupal helped OpenY hit the digital trifecta; being able to do digital better, faster and cheaper.

Switching gears, Burns was part of a team with a very serious mission: Where can doctors go to get peer-reviewed information on how to care for a critically ill child. Experts from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were recruited to build a platform to do just that, and OpenPediatrics.org was created. OpenPediatrics.org is now used in every territory in the world, including North Korea. It provides critical medical information to global organizations including the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders. For OpenPediatics.org, Drupal was chosen by the Harvard team because the project required a platform that was secure and scalable but also open to other applications that shared the mission.

The Next Journey

One of the highlights of ever Acquia Engage conference is what is affectionately known as “The Mother of All Demos.” This year, Chief Products Officer Chris Stone took us through Acquia’s The Next Journey. Using the fictional organic grocery store brand Freshland Markets, he and his engineering team walked through Acquia’s product roadmap in the context of an actual customer journey.

We’ve talked about new technologies and channels infiltrating the customer journey throughout the day, so what better way to show that than an Alexa demo. Chris, a self-proclaimed “octopus fanboy,” was in the mood for a recipe for grilled cephalopod (which would be a running joke throughout the presentation -- more on that in a minute). Alexa delivered a recipe for charred octopus with arugula. But how did Alexa know? Because the recipe had been classified through machine learning. Katherine Bailey, principal data scientist for Acquia, walked us through how that happened.

“The Alexa skill you saw demonstrated was accessing Freshland’s thousands of recipes as managed by their CMS,” she said. “As it happens, they have not categorized these recipes in any way; no keywords, no classification whatsoever. Normally, unless we impose some structure on content through the use of keywords or fancy indexing, to a machine these pieces of content are just a big chaotic jumble.

“But we’re using a powerful technique called word embeddings that allows us to represent the recipes as high-dimensional vectors. We’re talking about 300 dimensions, but that’s pretty hard to visualize so here we’re taking just three dimensions. Given that we’re talking about recipes, we can imagine there’d be dimensions for things like meatiness, sweetness and healthiness,” she added.

Katherine Bailey Data Scientist

As Katherine walked us through her 3D visualization, Chris received a push notification for free home delivery for his charred octopus ingredients. This was another piece of the customer journey that Product Strategist Dave Ingram.

Through Acquia Journey, Acquia Lift, and Acquia DAM, Dave was able to map out Chris’ journey and select the right offer, on the right channel, with the right content … all with a healthy dose of witty banter.

Chris Stone and Dave Ingram

Next on deck was Acquia Product Manager Sonya Kovacic to walk us through how the recent addition of Node.js support on Acquia Cloud can create awesome decoupled experiences for things like mobile and commerce.

“Putting an entire grocery store on a mobile phone might be difficult to navigate quickly for a customer on the go so Freshland decided to use their recipe library to help customers create shopping lists and have the recipe items added to their cart. When they open the app, recipes are displayed by most popular first,” Sonya said.

After diving into the backend technology that makes this particular mobile experience possible, Katherine returned to the stage to talk content classification. Why should you manually classify content when machine learning can do that for you?

“The content owner simply has to manually tag a few items in each category, and then our similarity engine can automatically tag the rest. This is an example of ‘human-in-the-loop’ machine learning, where we provide a UI for humans to get in on the action and fill in gaps in our machine learning,” she said.

Rok “Roktopus” Zlender (even though I didn’t say it, I apologize for the terrible pun) wrapped up the product showcase with the latest from Acquia Cloud.

“We have thousands of customers on Acquia Cloud today and we’re always working to improve it and create a better experience for our users,” Rok said. “Some of the ways we did that in the past year was with an improved user interface, addition of pipelines, CD environments and a lot of other improved and added functionality.”

Closing out the guest presenters was Acquia’s Vice President of Product Management Girish Bettadpur with some good news: many of the products show are GA. Several are in beta. And what’s not available yet will be in 2018. But the finale was when a peppy member of the kitchen staff delivered an actual octopus to Chris, just before Alexa kicked him off the stage.

Grilled Octopus Acquia Engage Awards

In lieu of acceptance speeches thanking everyone’s team, family and/or deity, for the Acquia Engage Awards, we decided to do something a little different. Joe Wykes, our senior vice president of channels and commerce, took the stage to host a series of “lightning round” panels. Finalists from each category took the stage to showcase their expertise in less than eight minutes. Every awards program needs winners right? Here our the 2017 Acquia Engage Award winners:

Congratulations to all winners, finalists and nominees!

Day one ended with a chilly but fun night at The Acquia Blue Drop Lounge. Guests mingled, roasted marshmallows and even partook in a game or two of ping pong. It was a great end to a great first day.

Acquia Engage Party

We’ll be back with day two, coming your way shortly. Stay tuned.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Acquia Engage 2017: Day One, Part 1

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-10-18 12:15

Acquia is back at the InterContinental Hotel, and Engage 2017 is in full swing. This year has been especially important as Acquia celebrates our 10th anniversary as a company. The theme of this year’s conference is transformation; more specifically, transforming the customer journey. Our open source and cloud foundation has taken us and our customers far, but the landscape is changing.

This change isn’t internal. The change is driven by external forces, the culmination of 10 years of pioneering open source website management from the cloud. The forces of change are happening on many levels. From proprietary to open. From hosted to cloud. From static to dynamic. From websites to experiences. From experiences to journeys.

Lynne Capozzi, Acquia’s CMO, kicked it off, setting the tone for this year’s conference. For Lynne, this was personal as a fellow marketer; the decisions she makes and the challenges she faces daily as the head of Acquia’s marketing team are the same decisions and challenges our customers wrestle with.

Acquia Engage 2017 From Content Management to Customer Journeys

Next on stage was Acquia’s founder, CTO and Drupal project lead Dries Buytaert. Dries doubled down on the need to transform the customer journey. Acquia was started in 2008 to be the “Red Hat of Drupal.” Initially the business model was focused on providing commercial level support to Drupal, a level of 24/7 professional services that would make Drupal a viable choice for organizations who needed support and services they could depend on.

Dries Buytaert

Fast-forward to today, where what is categorized as “digital experiences” has grown far beyond a traditional website. Customer journeys include mobile, social, even digital signage. As we look to the future, new technologies (that we’ve actually been investing in for a few years now) like augmented reality, chatbots, sensors and commerce experience will expand the customer experience even further. These aren’t just concepts; Acquia Labs has already been using Drupal 8 to build these types of experiences. This presents a huge opportunity Acquia and our partners and customer to reach the holy grail of marketing: B2One.

B2One, by definition, is adopting a highly flexible and dynamic approach to digital experience assembly that is driven by customer data including location, device, demographics, and their history with you. B2One brings organizations that much closer to the coveted 1:1 customer relationship they’ve been striving for since the early days of personalization.

Dries was also joined on stage by Holly St. Clair, CDO at Mass.gov. For Mass.gov, digital is more important than ever. 76 percent of constituents engage with Mass.gov through the government’s website. With the majority of the commonwealth interacting with the government digitally, they need a secure, solid platform. We’re happy to announce that Mass.gov has recently moved to the Acquia Platform, and we’re excited to, as Dries put it, welcome them to the family.

Holly St Clair Mass.gov Less Dogma, More Transformation

Later in the morning, Brandon Geary, POSSIBLE's global chief strategy officer and John Cunningham, POSSIBLE's global chief technology officer took the stage to talk about transformation happening within the agency space. GroupM forecasts that 2017 may be the first year digital advertising drops as a share of total ad spend. How can agencies combat things like dissemination and commoditization in their industry? Radical collaboration, affecting the effect and specialization.

Brandon Geary, global chief strategy officer, POSSIBLE John Cunningham, global chief technology officer, POSSIBLE

Agencies need to connect data to creative output to help customers better leverage investments they've made. They need to prepare the creative work for platforms and create simple frameworks for strategic initiatives.

The biggest affect to effect is Amazon. This is not going away; on the contrary, Amazon continues to grow. The way agencies can make this work for them is by expanding their consulting practice around Amazon and ensuring clients are using every leaver they have available to them.

Lastly, when it comes to specialization, digital agencies need to return to digital roots. It’s not enough to have “soft skills”; hard skills are needed to be competitive and agile. Things like certification aren’t just for developers anmore. Agencies need to be able to pivoting when needed, thinking not just about creativity- on- demand but skills on demand, considering the marketing landscape and what customers need.

With so many great presentations and insights this year, for the sake of your eyeballs, the second half of the day will be covered in a follow up post.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Professional Services Debuts Node.js Application for Acquia Engage

Acquia Blogs - Mon, 2017-10-16 20:02

Last month, Acquia announced that it expanded Acquia Cloud to support Node.js, the popular open source JavaScript runtime.. As a member of Acquia’s Professional Services team, it’s been exciting to learn more about the new Node.js hosting offering and the technical opportunities that it offers. The PS team also learned that the timing of the Acquia Engage conference was going to align nicely with Acquia’s new offering, and we viewed this as an opportunity to create something unique for the conference.

Acquia’s Node.js hosting gives developers the ability to create a fully decoupled Drupal architecture. We took a step back and reviewed options for creating an application that would make use of Node.js’ strengths and relate to the conference. The core focus of any conference is the presentation lineup, so we focused our efforts around building an application that could provide attendees with real-time schedule lineups and agenda logistics. To do this, Acquia’s Professional Services team set out to build a Node.js application that would control the content displayed on digital signs throughout the the conference center.

What is Decoupled Drupal Again?

A decoupled architecture allows developers to utilize any technology to render the front-end experience (“the glass,” where a user interacts with an application) in lieu of the theming and presentation layers that come with a coupled CMS out-of-the-box. In a decoupled Drupal architecture, the Drupal back end exposes content to other front-end systems, such as native mobile applications, conversational UIs, applications built in JavaScript frameworks, or digital signs.

At a high-level, a “headless” or “decoupled” Drupal website utilizes a secondary application to present data visually. The second application introduces a new level of technical freedom and opportunity on multiple levels. For example, decoupled projects provide the freedom to choose JavaScript frameworks, where real-time data and speed are a major strength. This gives technical leads flexibility to choose the tools that best suit the scope of their project.

Some of Acquia’s customer’s have already been taking advantage of decoupled Drupal to support a variety of use cases. POWDR Resorts is using decoupled Drupal to power JavaScript front ends, while Princess Cruises is using a decoupled Drupal build to serve content to digital signage onboard their ships.

How the Acquia Engage Node.js Application Works

The architectural workflow of the Engage Node.js application consists of two separate codebases. One is a Drupal backend and the other is a Node.js application using Ember to present the UI.

The Drupal 8 back-end application was built using the Lightning sub-profile “headless Lightning”. The “headless Lightning” distribution extends the efforts of the Reservoir and Contenta projects, by focusing on the ability to quickly serve API content for ingestion by decoupled applications. Acquia’s marketing team can use the intuitive and familiar Drupal UI to create and manage content, including session presentations, case studies, and testimonials. With an emphasis on authoring experiences, marketing teams can easily manage Drupal content without extensive technical expertise.

Drupal UI
In the Drupal UI, Acquia’s marketing team can create content for Lynne Capozzi’s “Welcome” presentation. This content will be displayed on digital signs throughout the conference through the Ember.js front end.

The front-end application uses Ember for its UI and Ember Data to consume data the Drupal API. Node.js serves the Ember application and pre-renders the application’s HTML. For example, Engage attendees can learn more about Lynne Capozzi's ‘Welcome’ presentation, which is displayed on the top left section of the screen. This is the same piece of content that was being created in the Drupal UI. Now, it’s being displayed by Ember.js the front end.

conference screen

This separation of concerns allowed us to rely on the respective strengths of both Drupal and Node.js to build the application. The end result is a superior experience for both conference visitors and Acquia’s marketing team.

What should Engage conference attendees expect to see?

Attendees of the conference will be able to see the Acquia Engage application on various screens throughout the InterContinental Hotel. The application will display real-time session information, such as the time and location of presentations. The session and speaker information will be the main focus of the left content rail, and this data will be animated according to the active sessions. The main content area will feature award finalists, case studies, and interesting facts related to the conference. The content footer will present session data in a scrolling ticker, which is animated for a fluid display.

If you are interested in learning more about the Acquia Engage Node.js application, check out Beth Linker’s presentation at Acquia Engage: Decoupled Drupal and JavaScript: The What and Why of the Trend. Beth will be taking the stage at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday to share how you can get the most out of Acquia Cloud by using Node.Js.

Special thanks to Brian Reese and Dane Powell for helping to write this blog, and thank you to the Professional Services’ Node Tiger team for developing our Engage Node.js application.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Ask GeorgiaGov, an Alexa Skill for Citizens of Georgia by Acquia Labs

Acquia Blogs - Thu, 2017-10-12 13:49

Ask GeorgiaGov, an Alexa Skill for Citizens of Georgia by Acquia Labs

Conversational interfaces like chatbots and voice assistants have gained increased momentum in the omnichannel landscape due to their hands-free usability, implications for accessibility, and widening ubiquity. In partnership with Digital Services Georgia, Acquia Labs — the innovation arm of Acquia — built an ambitious digital experience for users of Amazon Echo: Ask GeorgiaGov, an Alexa skill built for citizens of Georgia.

Recently, Acquia Labs launched the Ask GeorgiaGov skill on the Alexa marketplace, meaning that anyone can now use their Amazon Echo device to learn how to renew their driver's license, how to enroll in pre-kindergarten programs, or how to find affordable housing simply by asking Alexa. It's yet another striking example of how Georgia is reaching its citizens in novel ways.

This blog post describes some of the motivations behind Ask GeorgiaGov, how it works, and what it means for conversational experiences in general from the standpoint of user experience, editorial workflows, and content strategy. Our project kickoff post has more information about the underpinnings of the project.

Accessible content, reinvented

A grand transition is happening in governments at all levels — local, state, and federal — to engage citizens in ways that go beyond the impersonal phone call or agency visit. Ask GeorgiaGov continues Georgia's longstanding tradition of providing information in an accessible way for Georgians with disabilities while not compromising on pushing the forefront of emerging technologies.

Connecting citizens with the government information they want in ways that work best for them has become a hallmark for Georgia. The GeorgiaGov Interactive team – now Digital Services Georgia – has been leading the way in embracing inclusive, citizen-centered technologies for more than a decade. With this exciting next step, we bypass the screen altogether and embrace conversational interfaces that allow users to simply ask for the information they need. — Calvin Rhodes, CIO, State of Georgia; executive director, Georgia Technology Authority

With the foundations built by Digital Services Georgia, the state government of Georgia has long been on the cutting edge of not just connecting citizens with information but also, more importantly, the accessibility of its information. In the early 2000s, Georgia pioneered a text-to-speech telephony service, which would enable any citizen to listen to a readout of website content. Today, screen readers are commonplace, and GeorgiaGov's web properties all adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

Along that same vein, we found that many users who rely on accessible technologies are also beginning to employ assistants like Amazon Echo — allowing them to avoid screen readers and other unwieldy systems. Acquia Labs and Digital Services Georgia aimed to discover the right way to reach all Georgians with the information they need to succeed in their work with government. Our goal was to meet every user where they are, regardless of ability or socioeconomic status. By empowering citizens to take more control with Amazon Echo, we found that we could get the right information to them faster.

The content and the criteria

The Georgia.gov website houses dozens of pages as part of a "Popular Topics" section, which is the most visited. Each page concerns a single topic, with titles such as "Driver's Licenses" and "Finding a Job," including frequently asked questions and a "What You Should Know" section. Our goal was to provide a conversational — and conversationally legible — means to access all of this content by simply chatting with Amazon Echo.

To ensure the smoothest transition possible for Digital Services Georgia staff, we followed two important criteria for the project. First, the editorial workflow of Georgia.gov's editorial staff would not be burdened by the addition of conversational content. Second, editing a web-based piece of content and conversational content would be indistinguishable from an editor's standpoint.

To fulfill these criteria, we adjusted existing content to make topics easier to access and comprehend in a conversational way. For instance, certain topics had titles that did not adequately describe the information was that was given in a topic. Because an Alexa user only hears the title of a topic while navigating to the information they’re seeking, these titles were tweaked to more clearly label the content. In other cases, calls to actions were reformulated to be less reliant on the user sitting at a keyboard. Throughout the process, we learned that undertaking a channel-agnostic approach would later provide unforeseen dividends.

How Ask GeorgiaGov works

Ask GeorgiaGov is a unique Alexa skill in that it integrates with a Drupal website in an unconventional way. To provide the most flexible experience possible for users, we opted for an approach that uses search capabilities to isolate the most promising results from the site’s content.

When an Amazon Echo user asks a question regarding a popular topic, this vocal input is converted into a text-based request that is sent to the Georgia.gov website. From there, a combination of custom code and modules from the Drupal contributed ecosystem performs a search against indexed site content, much in the same way a typical web search is conducted. These matching search results are fed back to the Amazon Echo user in a convenient form navigable using a conversational flow. Here's a video demonstrating a typical interaction:

In a testament to the promise of open-source innovation, Acquia Labs developed a Drupal 7 backport of the open-source Alexa module, originally built for Drupal 8. This allowed us to create a functional system in a fraction of the time that would have been necessary if starting from scratch.

Conversational content strategy and usability

As with any innovative project, our collaboration revealed some fascinating areas for exploration when it came to conversational experiences, particularly in the areas of content strategy and usability. From the standpoint of voice assistants, the issue of how to author and structure content can be a significant hurdle when implementing conversational content successfully.

Traditional web-oriented information architectures, whose telltale signs include the sitemap or hub-and-spoke structure for page navigation, don't apply to the more unidirectional and guided decision trees that conversational interfaces require. In addition, web-based content, because of its very nature, trades in hyperlinks and reference-rich prose, written under the assumption that the user can simply click on a link for more information.

In a voice assistant context, users can only experience content aurally, and links are often impossible to follow. This points to a need to attach greater importance to a channel-agnostic content strategy to avoid juggling content destined for multiple form factors in an unmanageable way. We worked extensively with the Georgia.gov content team to make sure that their content would be legible not just on a browser but also on an Amazon Echo.

From a user experience standpoint, conversational interfaces present new challenges. Traditional approaches in usability testing, such as think-aloud or concurrent probing, both of which involve the user being able to respond verbally to questions in the midst of the process, aren't possible on voice assistants. As a result, we employed the retrospective probing approach, or questions after the fact, despite its acknowledged flaws and limitations.

Conclusion

Ask GeorgiaGov opens up state government for all, across more modalities than we could have imagined a mere decade ago. Crucially, it means Georgians don't have to visit an agency location or call a hotline to get answers to their easiest questions — and they don't have to open up their laptop, either. But most importantly, Ask GeorgiaGov means Georgians of all backgrounds and all abilities can access the information they need to become a more engaged citizen.

While brands are now exploring conversational interfaces in droves to reach their customers better, we're especially excited about the potential for other public-sector experiments in conversational content, because it could pave the way forward for a more democratic and innovative approach in the way we handle that most essential of American responsibilities: being a well-informed citizen. With Ask GeorgiaGov, we endeavor to show that providing government information conversationally is not only eminently possible; it's compelling, timely, and fundamentally important in an age of accelerating technological advances.

Categories: Drupal Universe

The evolution of Acquia's product strategy

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-10-11 20:26

Four months ago, I shared that Acquia was on the verge of a shift equivalent to the decision to launch Acquia Fields and Drupal Gardens in 2008. As we entered Acquia's second decade, we outlined a goal to move from content management to data-driven customer journeys. Today, Acquia announced two new products that support this mission: Acquia Journey and Acquia Digital Asset Manager (DAM).

Last year on my blog, I shared a video that demonstrated what is possible with cross-channel user experiences and Drupal. We showed a sample supermarket chain called Gourmet Market. Gourmet Market wants its customers to not only shop online using its website, but to also use Amazon Echo or push notifications to do business with them. The Gourmet Market prototype showed an omnichannel customer experience that is both online and offline, in store and at home, and across multiple digital touchpoints. The Gourmet Market demo video was real, but required manual development and lacked easy customization. Today, the launch of Acquia Journey and Acquia DAM makes building these kind of customer experiences a lot easier. It marks an important milestone in Acquia's history, as it will accelerate our transition from content management to data-driven customer journeys.

A continuous journey across multiple digital touch points and devicesIntroducing Acquia Journey

I've written a great deal about the Big Reverse of the Web, which describes the transition from "pull-based" delivery of the web, meaning we visit websites, to a "push-based" delivery, meaning the web comes to us. The Big Reverse forces a major re-architecture of the web to bring the right information, to the right person, at the right time, in the right context.

The Big Reverse also ushers in the shift from B2C to B2One, where organizations develop a one-to-one relationship with their customers, and contextual and personalized interactions are the norm. In the future, every organization will have to rethink how it interacts with customers.

Successfully delivering a B2One experience requires an understanding of your user's journey and matching the right information or service to the user's context. This alone is no easy feat, and many marketers and other digital experience builders often get frustrated with the challenge of rebuilding customer experiences. For example, although organizations can create brilliant campaigns and high-value content, it's difficult to effectively disseminate marketing efforts across multiple channels. When channels, data and marketing software act in different silos, it's nearly impossible to build a seamless customer experience. The inability to connect customer profiles and journey maps with various marketing tools can result in unsatisfied customers, failed conversion rates, and unrealized growth.

An animation showing Acquia's journey building solution

Acquia Journey delivers on this challenge by enabling marketers to build data-driven customer journeys. It allows marketers to easily map, assemble, orchestrate and manage customer experiences like the one we showed in our Gourmet Market prototype.

It's somewhat difficult to explain Acquia Journey in words — probably similar to trying to explain what a content management system does to someone who has never used one before. Acquia Journey provides a single interface to define and evaluate customer journeys across multiple interaction points. It combines a flowchart-style journey mapping tool with unified customer profiles and an automated decision engine. Rules-based triggers and logic select and deliver the best-next action for engaging customers.

One of the strengths of Acquia Journey is that it integrates many different technologies, from marketing and advertising technologies to CRM tools and commerce platforms. This makes it possible to quickly assemble powerful and complex customer journeys.

Implementing getBestNextExperience() creates both customer and business value

Acquia Journey will simplify how organizations deliver the "best next experience" for the customer. Providing users with the experience they not only want, but expect will increase conversion rates, grow brand awareness, and accelerate revenue. The ability for organizations to build more relevant user experiences not only aligns with our customers' needs but will enable them to make the biggest impact possible for their customers.

Acquia's evolving product offering also puts control of user data and experience back in the hands of the organization, instead of walled gardens. This is a step toward uniting the Open Web.

Introducing Acquia Digital Asset Manager (DAM)

Digital asset management systems have been around for a long time, and were originally hosted through on-premise servers. Today, most organizations have abandoned on-premise or do-it-yourself DAM solutions. After listening to our customers, it became clear that large organizations are seeking a digital asset management solution that centralizes control of creative assets for the entire company.

Many organizations lack a single-source of truth when it comes to managing digital assets. This challenge has been amplified as the number of assets has rapidly increased in a world with more devices, more channels, more campaigns, and more personalized and contextualized experiences. Acquia DAM provides a centralized repository for managing all rich media assets, including photos, videos, PDFs, and other corporate documents. Creative and marketing teams can upload and manage files in Acquia DAM, which can then be shared across the organization. Graphic designers, marketers and web managers all have a hand in translating creative concepts into experiences for their customers. With Acquia DAM, every team can rely on one dedicated application to gather requirements, share drafts, consolidate feedback and collect approvals for high-value marketing assets.

On top of Drupal's asset and media management capabilities, Acquia DAM provides various specialized functionality, such as automatic transcoding of assets upon download, image and video mark-up during approval workflows, and automated tagging for images using machine learning and image recognition.

A screenshot of Acquia's Digital Asset Management solutionBy using a drag-and-drop interface on Acquia DAM, employees can easily publish approved assets in addition to searching the repository for what they need.

Acquia DAM seamlessly integrates with both Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 (using Drupal's "media entities"). In addition to Drupal, Acquia DAM is built to integrate with the entirety of the Acquia Platform. This includes Acquia Lift and Acquia Journey, which means that any asset managed in the Acquia DAM repository can be utilized to create personalized experiences across multiple Drupal sites. Additionally, through a REST API, Acquia DAM can also be integrated with other marketing technologies. For example, Acquia DAM supports designers with a plug in to Adobe Creative Cloud, which integrates with Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator.

Acquia's roadmap to data-driven customer journeys Some of the most important market trends in digital for 2017

Throughout Acquia's first decade, we've been primarily focused on providing our customers with the tools and services necessary to scale and succeed with content management. We've been very successful with helping our customers scale and manage Drupal and cloud solutions. Drupal will remain a critical component to our customer's success, and we will continue to honor our history as committed supporters of open source, in addition to investing in Drupal's future.

However, many of our customers need more than content management to be digital winners. The ability to orchestrate customer experiences using content, user data, decisioning systems, analytics and more will be essential to an organization's success in the future. Acquia Journey and Acquia DAM will remove the complexity from how organizations build modern digital experiences and customer journeys. We believe that expanding our platform will be good not only for Acquia, but for our partners, the Drupal community, and our customers.

Acquia's product strategy for 2017 and beyond
Categories: Drupal Universe

Announcing Acquia Journey: Orchestrate The Best Customer Experience

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-10-11 17:03

Acquia Journey journey orchestration solution
Acquia is proud to announce the release of Acquia Journey, a journey orchestration solution that enables your brand to plan, orchestrate, react to and trigger real-time customer experiences. Acquia Journey enables brands to map out ideal customer journeys and connect disparate marketing technology serving different journey touchpoints. Plus, it unifies all sources of your customer data to create a centralized profile that helps overcome one of the most painful marketing challenges: truly understanding your customers so you can effectively serve their wants and needs.

Consumers expect highly engaging, personalized experiences when they interact with a brand -- every brand, your brand. Long gone is the one-size-fits-all website or email campaign. Today, the right information, offer or ad must be delivered, at the precise moment, via any number of channels: website, mobile app, commerce site, email, SMS, social networks (like Twitter and Facebook), even in-store and customer service channels.

Welcome to the customer journey, where customers weave their way over time, across multiple touch points, on a path of their own making. They take actions and steps that, in a perfect world, align with your goals: a conversion, purchase, download, or visit to your store that converts or maintains them as a satisfied and loyal customer. You know customers want to be understood. They want you to know who they are, and expect you to use that knowledge wisely when they visit your digital or traditional channels.

But in the pursuit of large-scale omnichannel personalization, organizations have introduced serious complexity. They’ve invested in many different, disconnected marketing and ad technologies meant to drive online and offline experiences. Yet, personalization across all or even parts of the journey has been elusive due to customer data being fragmented across different systems and channels.

It’s time to put the customer first and finally meet their expectations at each step. This is difficult but mandatory to meet the aspirations of your customers, satisfy their demands, grow sales, and build brand loyalty. Brands need to catch customers in the moment to deliver the best-next action at a precise time and on the right channel. But the customer journey isn’t one campaign. It requires a more informed approach.

Most organizations are asking, how can we better know our customers and make managing this journey easier? The challenge is in the execution, using journey orchestration to make delivering impactful, personalized experiences possible at every touchpoint.

Solving Omnichannel Personalization Challenges with Acquia Journey

We’ve heard countless marketers, brand managers, commerce leaders and digital technologists complain that they haven’t achieved the vision of delivering experiences that span multiple touchpoints and serve customers in a personalized, individual way based on the complete customer context.

That’s where Acquia Journey comes in.

Acquia Journey is technology agnostic; it connects all of your technology, campaigns, and customer touch points so you can achieve the omnichannel vision of the right experience or offer for customers at the right time.

Acquia Journey Map

With Acquia Journey:

  • Marketers can deliver contextual, individualized campaigns, offers and communications to visitors based on actions happening in real-time across any channel
  • Customer experience teams can build customer loyalty and lifetime value by ensuring they receive “best-next” contextual offers, triggered at the right step in the journey
  • Commerce managers can increase sales by targeting prospective customers with offers, abandoned cart reminders, recommendations, and other trigger actions based on real-time data and analyze results instantly.
  • Digital marketing agencies can orchestrate journey-centric marketing strategies that achieve or exceed conversion and other metrics for their clients.

Acquia Journey Metircs

We’re excited about this new addition to our platform portfolio, which builds on a decade of helping thousands of customers create, manage and deliver ambitious digital experiences.

For too long marketers have been sold monolithic solutions to cope with an ever-complicated array of demands. In truth, the customer journey is the only thing that matters. With Acquia Journey, marketers can focus on guiding their customers to the most appropriate outcomes.

The power of Acquia Journey lies in the ability to connect a company’s martech stack with unified customer profiles and a journey-orchestration engine that turns marketing theory into action, delivering the best-next engagement opportunity for each customer. - Christopher Stone, Acquia Chief Products Officer

Acquia Journey allows organizations to cross the chasm from siloed campaigns and advertising to connected, contextual journeys that meet individual customer's needs. With journey-based experiences, organizations can create higher relevance to achieve more results and drive higher conversion, revenue and loyalty.

To learn more about our journey orchestration solution, visit Acquia Journey or contact our team for a demo.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Announcing Acquia DAM

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-10-11 14:31

Acquia Digital Asset Manager

Today, Acquia announced the release of Acquia DAM, a modern digital asset manager designed to centralize, organize and find approved creative assets used throughout your organization.

Acquia DAM directly connects designers with digital marketers and connects both with Acquia’s digital experience platform; this allows assets to be created and approved faster, campaigns to be launched sooner and ensures that branding remains consistent at every point in the customer journey.

Creative assets are the fuel that lights an organization’s brand. They entice prospects and customers to interact with websites, applications, mobile apps, social, facebook video ads, presentations, and even physical advertisements and product packaging. But every single one of these assets originates from the desk of a graphic designer, artist, or videographer; they create the physical files that ultimately make their way into the hands of the marketing and sales organization.

The entire process is dragged down by inefficiencies. During the actual process of building these files, companies typically rely on tools such as email, messaging apps, cloud storage, local drives, Google Drive, etc. for asset review, comments, feedback and approval. Version control is non-existent, formal processes for approval are often ad-hoc for each asset, and there is no history of changes made.

On top of the significant discrepancies in the approval process, final assets are often left in cloud storage leading to multiple, outdated, off-brand versions in circulation internally and being shared with customers and prospects externally. This also becomes an issue when assets need to be retired for limited-time licensing purposes. Failure to know which assets have an expired can result in hefty fees and sometimes fines in regulated industries.

Now, multiply these potential complications by the number of assets -- which can be in hundreds or thousands -- strewn across the virtual collective of employees and you’ve now got a digital asset nightmare.

Acquia DAM exists to solve these issues before they become serious roadblocks for an organization. There are three key aspects to Acquia DAM that remedy the headaches of DIY asset management:

  1. A centralized cloud repository that keeps all creative assets organized, tagged and searchable throughout the lifecycle of those assets.
  2. An easy to use workflow and collaboration capability that let marketers and designers work, review, mark up, approve and publish assets faster than ever
  3. Interfaces for people and systems to use approved assets. For Acquia customers, a seamless integration with Acquia’s digital experience platform lets the marketer embed assets from within the DAM directly into their Drupal site. A configurable portal makes it simple and fast for them to find and download the files they need.

Acquia Digital Asset Manager Dashboard

The power of Acquia DAM is a host of capabilities that work out of the box to get customer experiences started faster:

  • Seamless Drupal 7 & Drupal 8 Lightning integration: Quickly and conveniently build and deliver digital experiences that incorporate captivating rich-media assets that are centrally managed and governed across the organization.
  • Adaptable creative workflows: Use project briefs, approval routing and proofing tools to build a system of record and deliver better content, faster.
  • Centralized content distribution: Schedule or instantly publish to sites in the Acquia Platform and social channels to make it easier to share new content and promote your brand.
  • Scalable cloud infrastructure: Leveraging a global cloud infrastructure, Acquia DAM bakes in multiple layers of security and easily scales to satisfy the needs of any rapidly growing organization.
  • Brand management: Use drag-and-drop templates to build and publish brand guidelines via a customized brand portal.
  • Secure sharing: Control user access to assets with highly configurable download rules, link expiration and permissions.
  • Enhanced search: Find what you need – quickly – with advanced search capabilities. Search content by file type, within folders and documents, or use advanced filters and custom metadata to hone in on the perfect asset.
  • Integrations: Connect your entire organization with seamless integrations for Adobe design tools, Box, Dropbox, Shutterstock image libraries, and more.
  • Precision proofing: Speed up creative cycles by pinpointing feedback to even the most-minute details with review and markup on any file type including video.
  • Local languages: Acquia DAM is available in more than 10 languages to create a more intuitive workflow for users across the globe.
  • Mobile productivity: Work on the go and use the complete power of Acquia DAM to access, manage and share assets from any mobile device.

The production of creative assets has been growing over the past few years as the modern world expects everything to be interactive and engaging. The management of creative assets has never been more critical. Acquia DAM alleviates the process and asset management challenges and reduces the risk of outdated content. The focus returns to creating the best possible customer experience.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Acquia Lift Enables Faster, More Efficient Personalization and Reporting

Acquia Blogs - Tue, 2017-10-10 21:18

Acquia Lift Enables Faster, More Efficient Content Authoring, Personalization and Reporting

Today’s consumers expect highly relevant, personalized experiences that are tailored to their specific interests. They expect to find the right content and information they are looking for in real-time, from whatever device or channel they are using. As a result of consumers’ evolving expectations, personalization has become a necessity for marketers to stay competitive and engage their audiences across all digital touch points.

Unfortunately, most marketers struggle to effectively deliver personalized content. Marketers spend a lot of time and resources creating and distributing personalizations across multiple channels to each of their audience segments. They are constantly under pressure to prove the impact of their marketing programs, and are encouraged to make data-driven decisions to drive strategy and justify budget allocation.

To be successful in their personalization strategy, marketers must have a deep understanding of what their customers care about, and be quick to react and present relevant content at the right place and time. Acquia Lift helps marketers get a holistic view of their audience’s interests and behaviors across multiple channels and devices, and they can easily personalize and deliver contextualized experiences across any channel or device.

Now, we’re making it even easier and more efficient for marketers to create personalized content for their customers and analyze the impact of their personalization campaigns. We’re excited to announce the following new additions to Acquia Lift:

  • Improved Content Authoring (in beta): With an improved content authoring environment to Acquia Lift in beta, marketers can easily and quickly model and author reusable content for immediate use within personalization campaigns to streamline content marketing processes. Our powerful content authoring environment is preconfigured with ready-to-use content built in, decreasing the the time it takes to structure and tag materials to be used in personalizations, while making it easier to discover, repurpose, and distribute relevant content. Customers can start tracking data, creating content, and delivering personalized experiences without ever integrating into a specific CMS.
  • Acquia Lift content authoring

  • Enhanced Testing and Personalization (in beta): We’ve enhanced our content personalization capabilities to enable marketers to optimize, automate, and scale personalizations for their audiences to improve productivity. With these new additions currently in beta, marketers can more efficiently test, target, and recommend the most relevant content at the right time to engage their visitors. Leveraging Acquia Lift dashboards, teams can easily determine the type of content and topics that are converting to help inform their future content marketing strategy so they can spend their time creating or repurposing the most impactful content assets.
  • Advanced, Custom Reports (generally available): To better help marketers measure and analyze the effectiveness of their marketing programs and demonstrate ROI, we’ve added advanced custom reporting options to Acquia Lift. With custom reports, our customers have greater flexibility to build the reports they need to understand key insights and data for strategy and business success. Customers can access a variety of marketing analytics across tools, and visualize data through one business intelligence interface available from within Acquia Lift. Acquia Lift’s custom reporting and dashboards offer data and visualizations for ad-hoc analysis around individual personas, segments, content, customer engagement, customer conversion, and more.

Acquia Lift content authoring

With these new updates, we continue to empower our customers to speed productivity, scale content and simplify their personalization efforts so they can make the most of their time and focus on driving conversions and bottom-line results. To learn more about our personalization solution, visit Acquia Lift or contact our team for a demo.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Best of Breed vs. All in One: Why Is This Still a Debate?

Acquia Blogs - Mon, 2017-10-09 22:18

acquia_digital_experiences_freedom.jpg

The eternal debate of open vs. proprietary technology solutions took a turn towards the past recently, and we’re a bit puzzled at the nostalgic direction some analysts are taking it with respect to “digital experience platforms” or the DXP market.

I’ve been in the marketing and technology world for sometime now, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that marketing isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago. The definition of marketing has changed, its far more technical and quantifiable than ever before, but consumers have changed the most, especially in how they regard digital touch points and their relationships to the brands and organizations in their lives.

As purveyors of all things digital within our companies, we’re expected to own the “customer experience” or the “customer journey.” The CMO and marketing team are given the Big Data function and looked to for insights into the market and customer expectations. Yet somewhere along the way in this evolution, we’ve all evolved but our approach to our systems and tools have not. A decade or more ago big proprietary enterprise scale vendors like IBM and Oracle could do it all, and there was actually a grain of truth behind their claims. After years of acquisitions, proprietary vendors may continue to claim to do it all, but I beg you to consider, at what cost to you? And at what expense of quality, control, agility and future options?

A few well-known vendors offer all-encompassing, proprietary marketing cloud solutions. These range from Hubspot and their SMB and mid-market targeted suite, to Salesforce.com, Oracle, IBM, and Adobe. Each one has its own blend of marketing applications from metrics to CRM, but they vary based on what the vendor has deemed most important or closest to its core value. While an integrated bundle of basic marketing tools might seem like a cost-effective, time-saving solution, it’s often not the case.

The typical “integrated” suite of marketing technologies isn’t usually built and developed by the vendor, but acquired as they scoop up small point solution specialty companies and cobble them together into a Franken-stack with the illusion of seamless integration. A proprietary marketing cloud is designed to fence you off within a defined set of marketing tools instead of what you’re currently using—or patching together—even though the vendor’s suite of tools is not itself entirely integrated in its own back end.
Adopting an all-in-one “marketing cloud” is like a religious conversion. It means that you will have to discard some specific applications you currently use and perhaps depend on. To be sure, some marketing suites may have one or two products that are considered best-of-breed, yet one all-star does not make a winning team.

If you want to use the marketing tools you’ve already invested in to optimize the customer experience — the ones that best suit your business needs, meet the needs of your customers, and can even help you accomplish a new strategy you’d like to try — you’ll likely run into one of a couple scenarios:

  • The technology you’d like to use, although on the vendor’s roadmap of future integrations or connectors, won’t be ready for months, or even years.
  • You can integrate the technology you’d like now, but it will require expensive custom code developed in-house by your corporate developers — and likely consume much more time than you can afford if you want to remain competitive as your developers wrestle with proprietary APIs.

This all begs the question -- Would you rather invest in a proprietary technology platform, in which you are at the mercy of the vendor’s roadmap and integration calendar? Or would you rather invest in an open, cloud-based technology platform that liberates you from vendor lock-in and puts you back in the driver’s seat?

It shouldn’t be a hard question to answer, yet here we are. There are some people who simply get it. When I saw this Twitter thread with Scott Liewehr, the CEO of the Digital Clarity Group, and Tom Wentworth, CMO of RapidMiner and my predecessor as Acquia’s CMO, I’m certain I have never hit the RT button so fast.

digital_experience_platform_acquia.png

digital_experience_platform_forrester.png

Scott and Tom are spot on. Because the world I live in, and the world Acquia’s customers live in, is a world where API-first solutions reign supreme. Instead of rip and replace, Acquia liberates. Instead of being held hostage by a single vendor’s roadmap, we offer an open platform that enables you to integrate deftly with the legacy customer data systems and the best-of-breed martech solutions you need to succeed. We believe the only way to manage a customer-centric digital experience platform is to implement a digital factory model, and the best way to do that is to adopt an open platform that allows you to build and orchestrate customer journeys on your terms.

Don’t just take my word for it. McKinsey published the following definition of what a digital factory means when done right:

When executed well, the digital factory provides a blueprint for the future of work that energizes the business and excites employees. It creates a vortex for innovation and creativity that attracts the best talent from inside and outside the organization. And it delivers results. The best digital factories can put a new product or customer experience into production in as little as ten weeks. The innovation can then be introduced and scaled up across the business in eight to 12 months.

Try building such a factory with a proprietary marketing cloud.

In the digital world, standing still is the fastest way to go out of business. The pace of change is only accelerating, and I think it’s about time we settle this debate once and for all. You know your business best; and your customer won’t wait around while a vendor you depend on reacts or not.

At Acquia, we believe the best way to see what tomorrow holds is to build it. Build it with a digital factory approach, one that values open APIs and innovation. Build it with Acquia.

Categories: Drupal Universe

DrupalCon Vienna: Behind the Scenes of the DriesNote

Acquia Blogs - Fri, 2017-10-06 13:26

Drupalcon Vienna 2017 Dries Buytaert keynote
It was an early morning, and my alarms started going off at 5:30 a.m. The early wakeup would be worth it; this morning I would be shadowing Dries Buytaert, creator and project lead of Drupal and Acquia’s founder and CTO. I had the opportunity to sit down with him during the final rehearsal for his keynote presentation at DrupalCon Vienna.

Sitting down on the stage before the prenote, I asked Dries how he was feeling about his presentation. Every “Driesnote” requires a lot of preparation and several late nights to get it all done but Dries’ goal this year was to present a balanced presentation. He was, of course, planning to highlight the growth of the Drupal community and its accomplishments but also what needed to be fixed. Much has changed in the 18 years since Dries created the first Drupal framework while finishing his masters degree.

“I originally built Drupal for myself. After I first open sourced Drupal, I could review every feature request, every bug report, every patch, and now I only see a fraction,” he said.

This is part of the importance of DrupalCon; to be a rallying cry to the community at large to tackle some of the biggest technical challenges, as outlined by Dries in his presentation.

“We're lucky to have a large community of contributors in the Drupal community. The community can only help solve our most important challenges if they know and understand them, he said. DrupalCon is like an internal meeting, in a way, to align on our goals and to accelerate collaboration around important initiatives. But it’s also external; part of DrupalCon is targeted at people new to Drupal or people considering to adopt Drupal. It's unusual to combine both internal and external topics in one keynote. On the one end, you end up exposing your dirty laundry to evaluators, on the other hand you end up selling Drupal to some of its most loyal users and contributors. I think it can be refreshing though - but keynotes aren't sales pitches like those of our proprietary competitors.”

DrupalCon, the annual conference of Drupalists worldwide, is full of energy. Recently, the community had struggled with things like the slow release cycle of Drupal for example, but there seems to very little residual negativity from that floating around (or perhaps all the singing and lederhosen in the pre-note blasted it out of the room). DrupalCons have always been a generally positive and highly anticipated event.

“If you think about it’,” Dries said, we're a global community of thousands of contributors across more than 250 countries in the world. This means that nearly all the work is virtual. So when we come together, people are happy to see each other and collaborate in person. It almost makes it more like a family reunion than a conference.”

One of the points of pride of the Drupal community for Dries is that it’s not just made of impassioned developers. For Drupal to succeed, there is a need for a large number of non-developer contributors, from designers to marketers to documentation writers, to project managers, to event organizers, sales people and much more. Even the Drupal core committer team has diversified with the addition a UX designer.

“I spoke to a person once, invited him to contribute a bug fix, and provided some help along the way,” Dries said. Now he runs a Drupal shop with more than 30 employees that gives back to Drupal a lot. Getting people involved with small way can pay huge dividends, which is why onboarding new contributors is so important.”

Dries at DrupalCon is very different from Dries at Acquia. While he may be our fearless leader, he’s pretty much a celebrity in Vienna. Walking the halls with him, he’s stopped every few feet by fellow Drupalists. Conversation range from ideas and pitches to genuine thanks for creating Drupal and leading the community.

And of course, there are several selfies taken (despite my offer to take the photo). But Dries himself, despite his leadership roles, considers himself as an introvert at heart and often more of a consultant, helping to gather other brilliant minds to combat technical challenges. He helps to guide the ship that way. Dries created Drupal as a creative outlet for himself and still at times, seems genuinely surprised and elated at how much it means to people today.

The Driesnote always starts with the State of Drupal as a whole. I won’t recap the entire thing because Dries already did that, but here are the highlights. Drupal is growing; from the 2017 Drupal Business Survey, surveyed 239 executives from Drupal agencies, 38 percent reported they are exclusively using Drupal 8. In regards to D8, it has become much more mature with 1400 stable modules, a 2x increase from year. In addition, there are 4,000 Drupal 8 modules in development. In parallel, the growth of headless or decoupled CMS has been rapid, with some agencies reporting a 500 percent growth year over year.

Why does this matter? Because it means Drupal itself has, in Dries’ opinion, no longer become the platform for simple sites. This declaration rattled some in the community, as Drupal hosts many blogs, portfolio and small business sites. But this is becoming the lower end of the Drupal market, as many more mid-market to enterprise level companies are looking toward open source frameworks to create what Dries calls “ambitious digital experiences.” This doesn’t mean Drupal is only for global mega-brands. Drupal is for anyone looking to create something unique, be it an art museum looking to engage art lovers in cool ways or a start-up with a big idea that expects their website to showcase something totally new and innovative.

There were several calls to action Dries made to the Drupal Community, but the two big ones were:

  1. Adding a JavaScript framework to Core: The reality is really good user experience is built with JavaScript. Not only do developers want to use JS but as mentioned above, headless / decoupled is taking the world by storm.
  2. Automatic Updates: Industry leaders like Apple and Microsoft have already figured out how to do automatic updates; Drupal should as well. Automatic updates would serve as security best practice as well. We all know hacks can severely damage a brand

.
These changes have already begun. Since his presentation a week ago, Drupal's core committers proposed and JavaScript maintainers have proposed to go with React. However, Dries started sowing the seeds of JS more than two years ago; at the time, despite knowing it was the right decision for Drupal, the idea was not well received by the community. However, Dries has learned that listening, adjusting, and conviction have ultimately lead to the changes he has wanted within Drupal.

The negativity or reluctance to adopt something he has proposed doesn’t really deter Dries; he understands that with any major change Drupal, it can mean developers having to completely re-learn something they’ve already invested sometimes years in. It can be frustrating. Though he’s sympathetic to that frustration, Drupal would not continue to exist without the continued innovation from release to release.

When I started Drupal, Google was only a few years old. SEO wasn't a thing yet, Dries said. Text messaging was invented only one year before Drupal. The mobile web didn't exist. JavaScript was a dirty word among web developers. Open source was distrusted. Layouts were table based instead of CSS based. Many technology waves have come along and forced us as a community to adapt, and even reinvent ourselves at times. But with Drupal, we thrived on invention, and the ability to help build the future.

So what does Dries hope to see in Drupal’s immediate future? It’s pretty simple really; The transition from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 be completed and the for the community to continue on a positive trajectory. The good news is, those things seem to be on their way.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Website Redesign: Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth

Acquia Blogs - Thu, 2017-10-05 21:00


Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
-Mike Tyson

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was referring to boxing, but I believe his advice is applicable to any complex endeavor. No matter how well you plan, surprises are always inevitable.

Process, however, can be your saving grace.

Here’s a brief look at the process that the Acquia Professional Services team is using to deliver a newly redesigned Acquia.com. No headgear required. I’ll cover our methodology, why we prefer agile to waterfall, and how process helped us overcome an unexpected obstacle.

Waterfall vs. Agile

If you’re interested in website development, you’re probably familiar with the two general approaches to software development: the traditional waterfall approach, and the more modern agile approach:

  • In the waterfall approach, you do all your planning up-front and then the work cascades from team to team (design, development, quality assurance, user-acceptance testing) in a single direction.
  • Agile takes an iterative approach, which allows teams to build and refine with constant feedback from product owners throughout a series of time-boxed “sprints.”

In other words, agile is designed to roll with the punches. As both challenges and opportunities arise, an agile approach allows teams to react quickly. With waterfall, teams are not provided the flexibility need to think on their feet.

Our methodology

Jeff Reed gave a great overview of professional services and our process in a previous blog post about the Acquia.com redesign. In the post, Jeff describes how teams move from discovery to implementation to testing and, finally, launch. However, I wanted to provide more detail on how a project moves from our professional services solutions team to delivery team.

The professional services delivery team uses an agile approach, with roles and ceremonies that would be familiar to anyone who knows agile development. This includes daily standups, weekly backlog grooming and sprint planning meetings, demos and retros. We work in time-boxed, two-week sprints. If scope changes during a project, we track it with a change request.

We’ve also fine-tuned our process for our platforms (Drupal, Node.js,), products (Acquia Cloud, Lift, etc.), and the constellation of technologies that surrounds them. Everything from the choice of dev-ops tools to CSS formatting to Varnish configuration is optimized for technical compatibility. And tried-and-true methods have been established for enterprise-level concerns like launch readiness, security and CDN-integration.

The professional services solutions team works with clients in the early stages of discovery, helping to define a project’s scope, scale and approach. Then they hand off to the professional services delivery team -- my group -- to transform these plans into working digital products.

Building a New Acquia.com

The day-to-day building of the new Acquia.com includes three groups:

Our day-to-day professional services delivery team includes:

  • Product owner (from the marketing department)
  • Technical architect
  • Program manager
  • Project manager/QA
  • Two senior developers
  • Two back-end developers
  • Front-end developer
  • And program and technical leads for oversight

Normally, our client is a customer, rather than a colleague. However, we used our standard process because it’s the best way we know to build enterprise websites, and because it provided the marketing team the chance to experience the same journey as an Acquia customer. We’ve been documenting this journey, through a series of blog posts.

Our main objective for the redesign was straightforward: build an MVP with Drupal 8 that better showcases Acquia products and services. Other functionality included personalizing content with Lift, and presenting users with an easy-to-use tool to help determine which Acquia products are right for them. All of this needed to be delivered to the world in a beautiful, modern design, and maintained via efficient, streamlined content-administration tools.

We weren’t without our challenges. The biggest was an aggressive schedule which featured parallel design and development work. Huge was finalizing designs as the professional services team started building the foundations of the website. This required close coordination with Huge to ensure that the design and code assets were delivered “just in time” for the Acquia development team to work on them.

With an aggressive timeline in mind, we outlined a sprint plan:

  • Five two-week feature sprints
  • One two-week bug fix sprint
  • One one-week UAT sprint
  • One one-week launch sprint

We had our marching orders, team and schedule.

What could possibly go wrong?

The best laid plans...

Fortunately, no one has punched in the mouth (or anywhere for that matter) during the redesign of Acquia.com. Regardless, we have had to deal with some unexpected jabs.

One jab took the form of a bright idea.

We knew the new site would have a tool to help users explore Acquia products. We had a preliminary design when we wrapped discovery. However, inspiration struck during the design process and the tool’s functionality evolved significantly.

Huge went back to the drawing board and came back with a design that everyone loved, but rebuilding the tool didn’t fit into the schedule. Our plans had been punched in the mouth.

Rolling with the punches

When dealing with shifting project scope, you generally have two options:

  1. You can trim scope (do less)
  2. You can add time and/or resources (do more)

Since the new Acquia.com was already designed to be an MVP, the marketing team didn’t want to cut the scope. Professional services recommended we add another feature sprint, which would push back our launch date by two weeks. We also beefed up our development team with a couple of resources to ensure we’d keep our velocity up.

The marketing team agreed, so we implemented a change request (see, we really did stick to the process), extended our deadline and added the new-and-improved tool to the project scope. However, you’ll have to wait until the new site launches to check it out.

We’re currently in our fifth feature sprint, so the story isn’t over yet. There may be some more surprises in store for us, but we’re confident we can roll with anything that comes our way.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Making Peace Between Marketing and Front-End Teams

Acquia Blogs - Mon, 2017-10-02 20:11

Previously in this series, Jeff Reed, Senior Solutions Manager, explained how Acquia Professional Services is leading the redesign of Acquia.com. Catch up and read Jeff's blog, here.

Over the past 17 years, Drupal has evolved from a tool used to build hobbyist sites to a content management system that powers large and sophisticated use cases. Today Drupal is defined as the best CMS for powering ambitious digital experiences. Dries Buytaert recently shared that “Drupal is no longer for simple sites. Instead, Drupal's sweetspot is sites or digital experiences that require a certain level of customization or flexibility.”

For users only interested in building “simple sites,” services like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace have prioritized pleasant drag-and-drop building experiences over ambition. These software-as-a-service providers make it easy for non-technical people, ranging from hobbyists to Karlie Kloss, to publish a blog or personal site. Wix makes it fun and cheap to build a simple site. However, these online publishing platforms can’t deliver the more complicated use cases that Drupal thrives on. The ability for a Drupal user like NBC Sports to stream over 3.3 billion total minutes of Rio Games or the City of Boston to migrate more than 20,000 web pages and 1 million words to a new Boston.gov would not be possible when using services like Wix or Squarespace.

These ambitious experiences require specific front-end expertise in order to be successful. This means relying on developers to modify CSS templates, implement modules, write HTML, and build templates. In some respects, this can make Drupal more difficult for marketers to take advantage of. The tradeoff between simplified content authoring and technical proficiency is something every organization with serious digital needs has to consider.

What organizations do have control over is how work is balanced between the front-end teams that build sites, and the marketing teams that give them color. Lack of visibility between front-end developers and marketing teams can amplify the challenge of building a site. Even when marketing and front-end teams share a universal goal for a site, the strategy to get there can differ drastically. Front-end teams want to build a reliable experience that scales well, and marketers want to control site content without the fear of drowning in HTML.

For three months, Acquia’s internal teams have had to face this challenge when tackling the website redesign for Acquia.com. Our team is using the redesign process as an opportunity to share how content authoring responsibilities are divided between technical and creative team members. A primary example of this will be transition from Drupal blocks to the paragraphs module. This transition will not only strike a better balance between front-end marketing teams, but will dictate our content authoring strategy on the new Acquia.com.

What Does a Digital Marketing Team Look Like?

Acquia’s digital marketing team is responsible for developing a strategic roadmap, maintaining performance effectiveness, and managing all ongoing content programs for Acquia’s public-facing sites. Under our vice president of digital marketing, our team includes content authors and editors, a web producer, a web analytics manager, and front-end developers.

As a team, we are responsible for:

  • All content, messaging and information that is featured across the site
  • Page development
  • Site building
  • Managing third-party integrations
  • Building custom sub-themes

The list goes on, but you get the picture. For our team to be successful, we require the right mix of left and right brain to build engaging sites that work. This means being able to translate the creative ideas that fuel marketing efforts into site wireframes and code. Some tools support this mission better than others.

Our Problem with Blocks

On our current site, a majority of the pages are built with Drupal blocks. Blocks are created in the Drupal admin page, and allow pieces of content to be reused across multiple pages. This can be extremely useful tool because front-end developers don’t have to recreate content types that already exist. At Acquia, site administrators can also choose to turn blocks “on or off” across product, resource or industry pages.

The last time Acquia tackled a website redesign was in 2012, which means that the block strategy has been in place for over six years. Blocks can be placed on pages in a variety of ways, including through the context module, template files, basic block configuration, and the insert block module itself. Ultimately this strategy has resulted in a high level of technical debt, as every block that is created gets listed on the Drupal admin page. An extensive list of blocks can become endless and difficult to manage. At one point, the Acquia development team had created so many blocks, it could no longer load the blocks page.

blocks gif

Blocks also require a user to have a higher baseline of technical knowledge to properly build pages. Instead of allowing content authors to alter pages directly in the UI, front-end developers have to make adjustments in the block admin page. This strategy would require content authors to use the foreboding div tag.

Ultimately, the block strategy introduces challenges for both front-end developers and marketers:

  • Front-end developers have to allocate time that could be used to build a reliable, scalable and engaging site towards assisting marketers make content edits.
  • Marketers don't have the ability to edit content and build pages without extensive involvement from technical teams or writing loads of HTML.

These various challenges not only make content authoring a laborious task, but hamper innovation as content creation is too interdependent.

Give a Rouse for Paragraphs

After vetting a couple methods for content creation, the digital marketing team has decided to use the paragraphs module for content creation on the new Acquia.com. With the paragraphs module, content authors can take advantage of flexible, responsive and modular page construction to build landing and product pages. All content can be edited directly in the node without having to navigate to a block admin screen.

Previous versions of Drupal may have projected an air of developer exclusivity, but the release of Drupal 8 has debunked the myth that working directly with Drupal is only for the technically savvy. An easier authoring experience for content authors is now a default in Drupal 8 core. This means that content can be created and published without having to navigate Drupals’ administrative interface. Content authors can take advantage of in-place authoring, WYSIWYG editing, and content workflows. With due diligence, any marketer has the capacity to build a page in Drupal.

Removing the Friction from Content Authoring

By moving to paragraphs, the digital marketing team has found a solution that meets the needs of both marketing and front end development. The arduous process of creating content with blocks, has also influence how our marketing team partners with our front-end developers. For example, the front-end team has created documentation that will make marketers more self-sufficient. By following this landing page documentation, any marketer can easily build an entire landing page:

documentation
choose your adventure

Giving content authors and web producers more agency is an advantageous for two reasons:

  1. It removes the friction from content creation by reducing the number of steps (and people) are are required to spin up a page or edit content.
  2. It liberates front-end developers from aiding in rudimentary content tasks, allowing them to tackle cooler projects, such as improving site UI or capitalizing on personalization.

Throughout the each version of Acquia.com, the purpose of the site has evolved. As Lynne Capozzi noted, a decade ago, the purpose of Acquia.com was to “convert leads and to move them through the funnel.” Although demand generation will still be an essential component of the new site, the next iteration of the site will deliver an engaging showcase of our products and services. Throughout our company’s tenure, the purpose of our site will continue to change. However, no matter the end goal of the site, making peace between front-end and marketing teams is a prerequisite for success.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Acquia Partner Summit Kicks Off DrupalCon Vienna

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-09-27 21:29

Acquia Partner Summit Kicks Off DrupalCon Vienna

DrupalCon Vienna didn’t officially started until Tuesday, but that didn’t mean Monday was devoid of festivities. In anticipation of a week full of featured sprints, training and sessions, Acquia kicked off DrupalCon with a partner summit.

It was fairly quiet around the Messe Wien Exhibition & Congress Centre until we made our way up the stairs. There, Acquia partners from all over the world talked over coffee and tea. After casual introductions and conversation, the attendees made their way into the main room, where Joe Wykes, Acquia’s senior vice president of global channels and commerce, began the afternoon programming. Wykes highlighted our continued investment in the EMEA region, and reviewed Acquia’s rankings in the Gartner Magic Quadrant and Forrester Wave. But the key message – the top priority – was how can Acquia help our partners navigate the tumultuous waters of digital?

To answer this question, Wykes had us look back on Acquia’s first decade. Ten years ago, web content management was the bread and butter of our business. Since then, digital experiences, including ones outside of the traditional website, have become the forefront of marketing. This has created a huge opportunity for Acquia and our partners. It’s time to explore new adoption models for customers.

From personalization to digital asset management to multisite solutions, Acquia not only enables partners to extend their business with Acquia and Drupal, but create significant value for their clients amidst a changing landscape.

The partner summit serves as a reminder that partnerships are relationships, and there are friction points. This is an opportunity not just to talk about wins and the great things on the horizon, but also issues and concerns that need to be resolved. This summit is designed to be ongoing dialogue.

What would a partner summit be without treating our partners to the Acquia product roadmap? Shannon Holmes, senior manager and solution architect for EMEA, discussed “The Journey to Awe-Inspiring Digital Experiences.”

“It’s a lofty title that sets the bar pretty high, but this is how high the bar has already been set by customers,” Holmes said.

Details of the presentation will be revealed in the near future. Being an Acquia partner grants you a first look of what products are coming soon.

In the Q&A portion, it came as no surprise that privacy was the subject of the very first question. Holmes walked the room through Acquia’s GDPR compliance and how we are handling it.

Commerce was also a top priority for the partners in attendance. Our commerce strategy has evolved to support commerce in a headless / decoupled fashion; that’s what our customers want. Decoupled also came up when asked about our Node.js support. Decoupled has become a standard in conversations with customers and we’re going to continue to invest in it.

After a short intermission, partners were given their choice of breakout sessions along business and tech tracks. Business tracks covered deep dives in products on our roadmap, Acquia’s marketing message and how to navigate the competitive landscape. On the technical side of the house, partners could learn about enablement tools and best practices, multisite management and decoupled Drupal.

In reviewing the feedback later that night, several partners chose a mix of business and tech tracks; technical knowledge is not just limited to developers and engineers anymore as business and marketing folks also bring a level of technical expertise to the table. In fact, one of the main comments that kept coming up was they understand the Acquia vision, they understand the what and the why, but now they want to know the how. How to they take this vision and make it a reality for their customers?

Acquia Partner Summit Kicks Off DrupalCon Vienna 2017

Breakout sessions offered a two-way conversation between Acquia and our partners. It wasn’t so much about what we wanted to get across to the partners in each group but what we can do to enable them and their customers for success. Questions and comments were thoughtful and gave us insight into how to improve our partner relationships. Like relationships in general, communication is key. One thing was clear; our partners were on board for the journey.

But perhaps the highlight of the event came at the very end, when departing Acquia CEO Tom Erickson took the stage. Many excellent questions were solicited from the audience, but most focused on Tom’s insight over his last 10 years at Acquia. However, in the interest of time, we’ll cover Tom’s DrupalCon send-off in a following post. Stay tuned.

Categories: Drupal Universe

State of Drupal presentation (September 2017)

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-09-27 11:55
Group photo

Yesterday, I shared my State of Drupal presentation at DrupalCon Vienna. In addition to sharing my slides, I wanted to provide some more detail on how Drupal is evolving, who Drupal is for, and what I believe we should focus on.

Drupal is growing and changing

I started my keynote by explaining that Drupal is growing. Over the past year, we've witnessed a rise in community engagement, which has strengthened Drupal 8 adoption.

This is supported by the 2017 Drupal Business Survey; after surveying 239 executives from Drupal agencies, we can see that Drupal 8 has become the defacto release for them and that most of the Drupal businesses report to be growing.

Drupal agencies report that most Drupal projects are using Drupal 8 now

Most Drupal agencies have growing businesses

While the transition from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 is not complete, Drupal 8's innovation continues to accelerate. We've seen the contributed modules ecosystem mature; in the past year, the number of stable modules has more than doubled. Additionally, there are over 4,000 modules in development.

We saw a 2x increase in stable contributed modules

In addition to growth, both the vendor and technology landscapes around Drupal are changing. In my keynote, I noted three primary shifts in the vendor landscape. Single blogs, portfolio sites and brochure sites, which represent the low end of the market, are best served by SaaS tools. On the other side of the spectrum, a majority of enterprise vendors are moving beyond content management into larger marketing suites. Finally, the headless CMS market segment is growing rapidly, with some vendors growing at a rate of 500% year over year.

There are also significant changes in the technology landscape surrounding Drupal, as a rising number of Drupal agencies have also started using modern JavaScript technologies. For example, more than 50% of Drupal agencies are also using Node.js to support the needs of their customers.

What other technologies do Drupal agencies use?

While evolving vendor and technology landscapes present many opportunities for Drupal, it can also introduce uncertainty. After listening to many people in the Drupal community, it's clear that all these market and technology trends, combined with the long development and adoption cycle of Drupal 8, has left some wondering what this all means for Drupal, and by extension also for them.

Drupal is no longer for simple sites

Over the past year, I've explained why I believe Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences, in both my DrupalCon Baltimore keynote and on my blog. However, I think it would be valuable to provide more detail on what I mean by "ambitious digital experiences". It's important that we all understand who Drupal is for, because it drives our strategy, which in turn allows us to focus our efforts.

Today, I believe that Drupal is no longer for simple sites. Instead, Drupal's sweetspot is sites or digital experiences that require a certain level of customization or flexibility — something I refer to as "richness".

Drupal is no longer for simple sites, but for sites with medium-to-high richnessAmbitious is much more than just enterprise

This distinction is important because I often find that the term "ambitious" becomes conflated with "enterprise". While I agree that Drupal is a great fit for the enterprise, I personally never loved that categorization. It's not just large organizations that use Drupal. Individuals, small startups, universities, museums and nonprofits can be equally ambitious in what they'd like to accomplish and Drupal can be an incredible solution for them.

An example of this could be a small business that manages 50 rental properties. While they don't have a lot of traffic (reach), they require integrations with an e-commerce system, a booking system, and a customer support tool to support their business. Their allotted budget is $50,000 or less. This company would not be considered an enterprise business; however, Drupal would be a great fit for this use case. In many ways, the "non-enterprise ambitious digital experiences" represent the majority of the Drupal ecosystem. As I made clear in my presentation, we don't want to leave those behind.

Drupal is for digital ambitious experiencesAddressing the needs of smaller organizations

The Drupal ecosystem majority are organizations with sites that require medium-to-high richness, which SaaS builders cannot support. However, they also don't need to scale at the level of enterprise companies. As the Drupal community continues to consider how we can best support this majority, a lot of smaller Drupal agencies and end-users have pointed out that they would benefit from the following two things:

  1. Powerful site building tools. They want easy-to-use site building tools that are simple to learn, and don't require dozens of contributed modules to be installed and configured. They would also prefer to avoid writing a lot of custom code because their clients have smaller budgets. Great examples of tools that would improve site building are Drupal's upcoming layout builder, workspaces and media library. To make some of Drupal's own administrative UIs more powerful and easier to use, I proposed that we add a modern JavaScript to core.
  2. Easier updates and maintenance. While each Drupal 8 site benefits from continuous innovation, it also needs to be updated more often. The new Drupal 8 release cycle has monthly patch releases and 6-month minor releases. In addition, organizations have to juggle ad-hoc updates from contributed modules. In addition, site updates has often become more complex because our dependency on third-party libraries and because not everyone can use Composer. Many smaller users and agencies would benefit tremendously from auto-updates because maintaining and updating their Drupal 8 sites can be too manual, too complex and too expensive.

The good news is that we have made progress in both improving site builder tools and simplifying updates and maintenance. Keep an eye on future blog posts about these topics. In the meantime, you can watch a recording of my keynote (starting at 22:10), or you can download a copy of my slides (56 MB).

Categories: Drupal Universe

On the Frontline of Website Redesign with Acquia Professional Services

Acquia Blogs - Thu, 2017-09-21 21:26

The Acquia.com redesign project provides a unique opportunity for Acquia to walk in our customer's shoes, and for Professional Services to showcase what we do for customers every day. As Lynne Capozzi (Acquia’s CMO) previously noted, this project will allow Acquia’s marketing team to “undergo a full customer journey where we’ll get to experience what it’s like to work with Acquia and Drupal at every touch point.” This means working directly with Acquia’s Professional Services team, which will own the project throughout every stage of development, build and launch.

The Professional Services team is a key partner in the redesign project, so I wanted to share some background on the team, our approach and how we are helping to build a new Acquia.com.

Who is Acquia Professional Services?

Acquia is building technology that supports business transformation across the board, and many of our customers also rely on Acquia for more than our product offerings. Boston.gov, Nasdaq and Wilson Sporting Goods are just a few examples of organizations who have worked with Acquia Professional Services to build ambitious digital experiences with Acquia’s products and Drupal. Professional Services provides unparalleled expertise to help customers plan, implement and accelerate business value with the Acquia platform.

Acquia’s Professional Services includes an impressive roster of Drupal talent. The team has more than 120 of the industry's top Drupalists and boasts more than 250 combined years of Drupal and web content management system experience. Many members of the PS team are also module and core contributors to Drupal with thousands of commits.

In addition to offering immense Drupal expertise, the PS team also provides implementation, workshop, and speciality services for the Acquia Platform. Our services align with customers who need someone to help them build their digital experience on Acquia products. We accelerate value and time to market by either building it for them or by providing services that help enable the customer’s internal team or preferred partner to achieve success with Acquia products.

What’s our approach?

Acquia Professional Services has one basic goal for all its customers: bring our unparalleled expertise with the Acquia platform and Drupal to fuel amazing digital experiences. We offer our customers a variety of approaches so that they can reach this goal in a manner that works best for their organization. While our methodology can be catered to fit our customers specific needs all projects have discovery, implementation, testing and launch phases:

The discovery phase focuses on developing a plan for project success. A solid framework for requirements definition, dependency planning, risk management, and Drupal project sizing is created. Success metrics are defined plus project timelines and budgets are established. During this phase we work with our customers to structure the JIRA backlog and issues that facilitate the initial development sprints. Issues will include the demonstrable acceptance criteria expected out of each piece of work.

The implementation phase prioritizes delivering a MVP (minimum viable product). The aim is to first develop the feature set that provides the highest return on investment with the least amount of risk. Solutions are developed in an Agile manner via sprints, which is optimal for a successful change management, providing great flexibility for reacting to new priorities in each sprint while staying within budget and timeline constraints. The composition of a sprint includes planning, development, validation, and demo & deploy. Each sprint is scoped to include a set of features mutually agreed to by the customer and development teams. The conclusion of each sprint is supported by demonstrations, feedback sessions, prioritization discussions, and backlog analysis. Following a sprint demonstration the customer team will perform user acceptance testing of the work completed, providing appropriate feedback and approval.

The final User Acceptance Testing (UAT) phase follows the last development sprint. Delivery of the completed application and the period directly following results in high value feedback that will include adjustments and developments a customer may want to act upon immediately or plan for future development. After final UAT is complete and all critical bugs are fixed the application is ready to launch. During this phase Professional Services assists our customers in final preparations and making the site live for external audiences.

Building a New Acquia.com

This project is a first of its kind for the PS team because instead of working with external clients, we are providing project support and consultation to our colleagues. However, throughout the project we’ve maintained the tried-and-true approach that we provide to every customer. With this in mind, I wanted to share a few of the key takeaways we’ve uncovered thus far:

Don’t cut corners on discovery
Professional Services kicked off the project by leading a planning session with the Acquia marketing team. This session allowed Professional Services to provide program and technical leadership that will influence the direction of implementation. The purpose of this is to ensure a successful transition when the Acquia’s marketing team takes over the new site.

The session's goal was to narrow in on high level goals and objectives for the project. One of the primary objectives of the new site is to present a new user experience to our visitors. In addition, we wanted the content to reach beyond developers and speak to a digital marketing communications audience. It became clear in the planning session that Acquia’s marketing team should bring on an outside UX design partner to chart a new visual direction for the website. Professional Services participated in the evaluation and selection of a design partner. In partnership with Acquia’s marketing team, we landed on Huge.

Having a thorough discovery period and planning session enabled Professional Services to determine what the Acquia marketing team required to be successful. By understanding their goals and challenges, we were able to make recommendations that will minimize project risk and improve project outcomes.

Prioritize key features and functionality for MVP
In parallel to selecting a design partner, we began to lay out a timeline and schedule to deliver a MVP for the new Acquia.com. Based on discussions during the planning sessions we were able to estimate the effort required to deliver the key features and functionality desired. Additional discovery time was planned to validate requirements with new designs prior to starting development.

For the redesign of Acquia.com, the team is prioritizing the following features for MVP:

  • Upgrade to Drupal 8 with a new and modern UX
  • A revamped information architecture that better shows off Acquia and our products and services
  • Enhanced personalization of case studies with Lift so we can present the right content at the right time to potential customers
  • An updated administrative interface to make content publishing and site maintenance more efficient
  • A tool that helps customers determine the Acquia products they need that will also help generate leads for the sales team.

Bring Professional Services in early
With a timeline laid out, we assembled a PS Delivery Team composed of a Program Lead, Technical Program Lead, Program Manager, Technical Architect, Front-end Developers and Back-end Developers. The PS Delivery Team will take the UX designs created by HUGE and translate them into a fully functional Drupal application.

In the redesign of Acquia.com, Professional Services is an active participant in the creative process as we provide consultation on the complexity of implementing design directions. We attend all the regular creative meetings with the Huge and the Acquia marketing team so that we can provide feedback in real time.

Establishing clear communication between HUGE's design team and Acquia’s Professional Services from the start is important because this project calls for an aggressive timeline. This is particularly challenging due to the "just in time" delivery of the UX to the development team. In a typical implementation, the UX for the whole site would be mostly complete and approved. In this instance, we have set a tight timeline for launch that requires the PS Delivery Team to develop without completed designs. This requires careful coordination by the Program Manager and Technical Architect with Huge to ensure development work done is inline with the creative direction being approved by the Acquia marketing team.

Involving Professional Services in the early stages of the project will also allow us to build a site that best fulfills the marketing team’s use cases. For example, leveraging Acquia Lift is a big priority for the new site. By understanding the marketing team’s goals for Acquia Lift, Professional Services can recommend best practices that will fulfill the site’s personalization needs.

What’s next?

We are currently in the fourth of 5 two-week sprints. The PS Delivery team has made excellent progress translating HUGE's UX direction into a fully functioning Drupal 8 site. As with any project there have been changes in project scope and prioritization. Because we are developing using an agile process the team is able to adjust on the fly. We keep the Marketing team informed of the impact of their changes and provide different options to the approach. We're on track to deliver the MVP to the marketing team later this fall.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Confessions of a Non-Technical Drupalist

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-09-20 21:52

Next week I’ll have the honor of presenting a session at DrupalCon in Vienna titled “Confessions of a Non-Technical Drupalist.” As the CEO of Acquia, I’ve been involved with Drupal since 2007, when Dries Buytaert invited me to join the company. I am an engineer by training, with a keen interest in computer science, software and technology, so my session’s title may be a wee bit disingenuous. But semantics aside, I am not what one would consider a “core contributor” to Drupal, yet, as I hope to show in Vienna, I am a devout member of the Drupal community.

As I make the transition from CEO back to my original role on Acquia’s board, I want to use the pulpit of my DrupalCon session to urge the community to consider the crucial role non-technical contributors have made and are still making on Drupal’s success. As anyone who has attended a DrupalCon or DrupalCamp may have observed, Drupal may be coded and extended by developers, but it flourishes because of the passionate contributions of the business community that both supports it, but which also depends on it for their economic success. The lack of a true business track at DrupalCon has long been a disappointing omission and lost opportunity to my way of thinking, yet despite a deserved focus on technical discussions, code sprints, and other “coder” topics, the biannual gathering of the community has attracted not only companies who profit from Drupal, but also the end-users and customers, the designers and facilitators, the salespeople and marketers who have propelled Drupal to the top of the list in any significant content management selection process.

The Drupal ecosystem encompasses a broad palette of contributors, some of whom have never written a line of code in their life. It includes individuals and teams at some of the world’s premier digital agencies, system integrators, design shops, PR firms, and midmarket and global 2000 brands who rely on Drupal to build and deliver the digital experiences the framework is so excellent at supporting. I believe, after 10 years of working within the Drupal ecosystem, that the true concept of an ecosystem is lost on a big segment of the community, the developers who value others only by their code contributions.

The success of Drupal over the past 17 years is a credit to the leadership of the community, at many levels, as provided by individuals such as Phase 2’s Jeff Walpole, who exhorted many people to help develop the distributions which make Drupal so appealing to the organizations who adopt them. My co-founder at Acquia, Dries, brought to Acquia a lot of the leadership principles so essential to the governance and culture of open source, and I can say that on multiple occasions, Acquia changed its strategy for the betterment of the Drupal community. It isn’t easy building a company predicated on free software, but I’m proud that Acquia has been one of the most successful commercial open source companies along with Red Hat and a small handful of others.

The influence and impact of the commercial interests aligned with the Drupal project are, I would argue, as significant as the most technical contributors. Would Drupal be powering the government of Australia, NBC Sports, Pfizer, the BBC, and Nestle if not for the efforts of marketers, solution architects and salespeople who pushed those clients to take a chance on an open source solution over so many entrenched proprietary ones? Would Drupal be on the consideration list of some of the Global 2000 were it not for the analyst relations efforts who keep it top of mind with the most influential industry analysts and experts? One thing an open source project like Drupal lacks is a marketing budget, a PR team, and a squad of dedicated salespeople pushing it to the top of the list when a prospective user is considering a fresh approach to the way they manage and deliver digital.

Those functions are shouldered by the commercial side of the Drupal ecosystem, the companies (yes like Acquia) which pay the salaries of not only talented developers but non-technical talent who market Drupal and keep it relevant to the broad swath of organizations who receive calls and solicitations daily from Drupal’s many competitors. There are facilitators, marketers, salespeople, analyst relations experts constantly working on Drupal’s behalf but who receive little, if any credit for their contributions. Yes, Drupal’s strength is great code, and that certainly drives a lot of adoption, but without communications and marketing, event planning and press coverage, that code on its own could have faded into obscurity as so many open source projects have.

Drupal represents a very special opportunity for all of us inside of its ecosystem because it is driven and led by developers. Steve O’Grady, in his 2014 O’Reilly book The New Kingmakers, makes the case that the way software is procured and deployed today is because of the developers who choose it, and who prefer open source every time:

The success of these projects and others like them is thanks to developers. The millions of programmers across the world who use, develop, improve, document, and rely upon open source are the main reason it’s relevant, and the main reason it continues to grow. In return for this support, open source has set those developers free from traditional procurement. Forever...Armed with software they could obtain with or without approval, developers were on their way to being the most-important constituency in technology.

From the rise of the RESTful API to their rejection of classic marketing techniques, developers are in the driver’s seat at most major organizations when it comes to selecting technology. But I know, firsthand, that it is salespeople and evangelists who bring big brands like Pfizer and NBC to an open source community like Drupal for the first time, and in the case of Pfizer, help them become one of the top 30 contributors to the project.

Is Drupal a “developer’s CMS?” Absolutely: sometimes to its detriment when it gets compared to far easier solutions from Squarespace to Weebly. I’ll be provocative here and say that the Drupal community has failed miserably to understand the end user. Marketers struggle to use the product whereas developers thrive with it. Perhaps this will play out in its favor in the end. The current trend towards headless or decoupled offerings takes the need for Drupal developers to understand the world of end users away. It places that burden on the JavaScript developers who are creating the user experiences.

As developers continue to push for open, API-first, decoupled solutions, Drupal has an opportunity to take center stage, ahead of the aging architectures that Adobe and Sitecore deploy. Yet to make that happen, the commercial ecosystem around the technical heart of Drupal needs to develop a healthier appreciation for each other. Oh, and let’s include the other vital non-developer and non-commercial contributors too, like project managers and designers. While we are at it, let’s celebrate the finance, HR and legal people in that help pull the whole of the community together as well, they believe in Drupal as much as developers and marketers.

Yes, I have a great deal of respect for the technical community behind Drupal and I believe the integration of the technical and non-technical constituencies has come a long way in the 10 years I’ve been privileged to be part of Drupal. Now is the time to create products that are easier to use; to build contributed modules that make users more successful; to focus on ease-of-use, easy installation, and finding people in the community to support its developers with the overall user experience. More testing, more Q/A, focusing more on addressing issue queues and soliciting and addressing user feedback to help improve Drupal … that’s my parting advice to the community: bring in, embrace, and celebrate more non-technical talents because Drupal definitely needs designers, product managers and marketers to make sure Drupal 8 and future versions are well received.

Categories: Drupal Universe

Announcing Node.js on Acquia Cloud

Acquia Blogs - Wed, 2017-09-20 14:48

Today, Acquia announced that it expanded Acquia Cloud to support Node.js, the popular open-source JavaScript runtime. This is a big milestone for Acquia as it is the first time we have extended our cloud beyond Drupal. I wanted to take some time to explain the evolution of Acquia's open-source stack and why this shift is important for our customers' success.

From client-side JavaScript to server-side JavaScript

JavaScript was created at Netscape in 1995, when Brendan Eich wrote the first version of JavaScript in just 10 days. It took around 10 years for JavaScript to reach enterprise maturity, however. Adoption accelerated in 2004 when Google used JavaScript to build the first release of Gmail. In comparison to e-mail competitors like Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail, Gmail showed what was possible with client-side JavaScript, which enables developers to update pages dynamically and reduces full-page refreshes and round trips to the server. The benefit is an improved user experience that is usually faster, more dynamic in its behavior, and generally more application-like.

In 2009, Google invented the V8 JavaScript engine, which was embedded into its Chrome browser to make both Gmail and Google Maps faster. Ryan Dahl used the V8 run-time as the foundation of Node.js, which enabled server-side JavaScript, breaking the language out of the boundaries of the browser. Node.js is event-driven and provides asynchronous, non-blocking I/O — things that help developers build modern web applications, especially those with real-time capabilities and streamed data. It ushered in the era of isomorphic applications, which means that JavaScript applications can now share code between the client side and server side. The introduction of Node.js has spurred a JavaScript renaissance and contributed to the popularity of JavaScript frameworks such as AngularJS, Ember and React.

Acquia's investment in Headless Drupal

In the web development world, few trends are spreading more rapidly than decoupled architectures using JavaScript frameworks and headless CMS. Decoupled architectures are gaining prominence because architects are looking to take advantage of other front-end technologies, most commonly JavaScript based front ends, in addition to those native to Drupal.

Acquia has been investing in the development of headless Drupal for nearly five years, when we began contributing to the addition of web service APIs to Drupal core. A year ago, we released Waterwheel, an ecosystem of software development kits (SDKs) that enables developers to build Drupal-backed applications in JavaScript and Swift, without needing extensive Drupal expertise. This summer, we released Reservoir, a Drupal distribution for decoupled Drupal. Over the past year, Acquia has helped to support a variety of headless architectures, with and without Node.js. While not always required, Node.js is often used alongside of a headless Drupal application to provide server-side rendering of JavaScript applications or real-time capabilities.

Managed Node.js on Acquia Cloud

Previously, if an organization wanted to build a decoupled architecture with Node.js, it was not able to host the Node.js application on Acquia Cloud. This means that the organization would have to run Node.js with a separate vendor. In many instances, this requires organizations to monitor, troubleshoot and patch the infrastructure supporting the Node.js application of their own accord. Separating the management of the Node.js application and Drupal back end not only introduces a variety of complexities, including security risk and governance challenges, but it also creates operational strain. Organizations must rely on two vendors, two support teams, and multiple contacts to build decoupled applications using Drupal and Node.js.

To eliminate this inefficiency, Acquia Cloud can now support both Drupal and Node.js. Our goal is to offer the best platform for developing and running Drupal and Node.js applications. This means that organizations only need to rely on one vendor and one cloud infrastructure when using Drupal and Node.js. Customers can access Drupal and Node.js environments from a single user interface, in addition to tools that enable continuous delivery, continuous integration, monitoring, alerting and support across both Drupal and Node.js.

Acquia Cloud now supports Node.js for Headless DrupalOn Acquia Cloud, customers can access Drupal and Node.js environments from a single user interface. Delivering on Acquia's mission

When reflecting on Acquia's first decade this past summer, I shared that one of the original corporate values our small team dreamed up was to "empower everyone to rapidly assemble killer websites". After ten years, we've evolved our mission to "build the universal platform for the world's greatest digital experiences". While our focus has expanded as we've grown, Acquia's enduring aim is to provide our customers with the best tools available. Adding Node.js to Acquia Cloud is a natural evolution of our mission.

Categories: Drupal Universe

How Acquia Uses Content as Data to Inform its Machine Learning Strategy

Acquia Blogs - Mon, 2017-09-18 20:05

In the past year, few trends have grown as rapidly as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). At Acquia, we are using ML techniques to make digital experiences more engaging. The trick is to understand how you can use content as data. The more we understand about our users and content, the more engaging and fruitful experiences will be. This might sound challenging, but there are a variety of approaches that have been developed by the ML field that make this strategy possible.

Enterprise data is (relatively) small data

IBM is trying to set itself apart from the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon by focusing on “enterprise AI” in contrast to what it refers to as “perceptual AI” or sometimes snidely as “cats and dogs.” What they’re getting at is that the deep learning approaches touted by Google and others, which work well with massive amounts of data uploaded by the general public (e.g. cat pictures), don’t always work for enterprise data.

Acquia supports a variety of enterprise customers and needs to be smart about working with smaller amounts of data. There are certain techniques that can help, such as transfer learning, few-shot learning and human-in-the-loop machine learning. I’ll explain what these are in a moment, but first, what type of data are we even talking about here?

Playing to our strengths

It is often suggested that companies looking to make use of machine learning techniques should begin with the data that defines them as a business and work from there. At Acquia, we’re looking to provide ML capabilities for products that are used by customers spanning a wide variety of domains of data. No matter the industry, all of our customers have a lot of content. The good news is that we can treat content as data.

This means the words making up blog posts, news articles or product description need to be understood by machines. The thing is, machines don’t understand words, they only understand numbers. This requires us to come up with numeric representations of the words that will somehow work for tasks like classifying content, delivering recommendations of similar content, identifying duplicate content, etc.

Word Embeddings

In 2003, Bengio et al. proposed an ingenious idea to learn representations of words that capture semantic meaning. In 2013, a team of researchers at Google made this possible with the Word2Vec algorithm. Word2Vec and other recent approaches (such as GloVe from Stanford) learn from massive corpora of text, e.g. millions of Google News articles or all of Wikipedia. The representations they learn after chomping through all of that text are numeric vectors of, say, 300 dimensions. Simply put, this means that the representation for a single word is a long list of numbers. The beauty of it is that the mathematical relationship between those vectors manages to capture the semantic relationship between the words. The classic example given is king - man + woman = queen.

What’s really neat is that once those representations have been learned from a massive dataset, they can then be used in other tasks like classifying content into categories.

Learn from the best, transfer to the rest.

The ML technique known as transfer learning is about knowledge gained through training on one task being reused in solving another task. Using pre-trained word embeddings is an example of that. We can take the word embeddings trained by Google or Stanford and transfer them for use in our own tasks.

One such task is similarity-based content recommendations. If we have numeric representations of our content that captures semantics, then we automatically have a measure of similarity between pieces of content. Even if two pieces of content are talking about the exact same topic but using different words, they will still be identified as similar due to the nature of these representations. This is not true of traditional approaches to representing words as numbers in machine learning because the numbers in question were related to counts of particular words in documents.

Similar docs
This technique can understand that while these statements are worded differently, they have the same meaning. Learning from very few examples

You may have already heard the phrase “data is the new oil,” however, someone took it a step further at the 2017 O’Reilly’s AI conference by proposing that “labeled data is the new ‘new oil.’ ” For classification tasks, few-shot learning is an approach that stands in contrast to standard deep learning approaches because deep learning requires enormous quantities of labeled data.

The key to being able to learn from very few examples is having great representations of your data. For this reason, transfer learning and few shot learning often go hand-in-hand. You transfer the knowledge from some previous task and use it to create representations of your data. Just labeling one or two examples then allows all the others to be labeled automatically. This is our approach to automated content tagging.

‘Human in the Loop’ ML

A solution to the problem of lack of labeled training data is to get humans to label your data. This is called human-in-the-loop (HitL) ML, a term that may well have been coined by the founder of a company called CrowdFlower, which specializes in a crowdsourced approach to this technique. They’ll take your unlabeled data and get humans to label all of it for you. Another company, Mighty AI, is focused specifically on training data for autonomous vehicles. Anyone with an iPhone can earn a few cents a go by labeling pedestrians, lamp posts, parked cars etc. in images.

Humans can be made part of the loop in other, less straight-forward ways than labeling entire training sets to feed into ML algorithms. Any application or service that explicitly asks users for feedback in the form of ratings - Netflix movie ratings for example - can be thought of as employing HitL. The company StitchFix, which provides a clothing service where they send customers a regular “fix” of clothing items selected by a stylist, gets a lot of upfront data from users by asking them to rate styles through a series of photos. The more data they can get from their users up front, the less they have to infer through purchasing behavior. This is important to the success of their service because without HitL initial “fixes” would stand a poor chance of being purchased. Companies that use HitL understand that the UI they present to the human in their loop is of vital importance.

Recognizing where UX and Engineering play their role

In the current wave of excitement over ML, a lot of advice is being offered to companies on how to incorporate these techniques to improve their business. Depending on who’s offering it, the advice differs greatly. Those in the business of training and recruiting data scientists will tell you you need lots of data scientists, whereas those in the business of selling “Machine Learning as a Service” (MLaaS) solutions will say you don’t need any data scientists at all. The reality of course is somewhere in between.

It is definitely important to have people who know how to frame your business’ problems as data science or machine learning problems and make sure the data needed to solve them is available. Simply getting your engineers to feed masses of data into Amazon or Google’s MLaaS is not going to achieve very much. On the other hand, data scientists alone probably can’t do everything. If you’re building a product, just one or two data scientists working with engineers and UX professionals will be far more effective than 10 data scientists. The right mix depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

At Acquia, we’re using ML to enhance our SaaS offerings and have built a team focused specifically on this area. It includes data scientists, data engineers, front-end engineers, and back-end engineers. The team also works very closely with our UX team. Where we’re using HitL, UX is absolutely vital to ensuring we get the data we need to support our learning algorithms to make them as accurate as possible. Other efforts don’t entail a HitL aspect but require skilled engineers to ensure that services delivering ML predictions are performant and scalable.

We don’t have anyone on the team with a PhD in artificial intelligence or machine learning. Perhaps, one day we will. In the meantime, we have smart people who are familiar with the types of solutions that machine learning research has developed (many of which are available in open source libraries) and the types of problems to which they are best applied. This expertise, coupled with strong engineering and UX skills, is what we need to execute our ML strategy. If we didn’t have a well-thought-out strategy on how to play to our strengths, make use of publicly available datasets and open source libraries, and incorporate the other necessary technical functions in our efforts, an AI PhD would struggle to add value.

Categories: Drupal Universe

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