Stuffed Drupal-logo heads on a TV-stand post at Acquia Engage.
Drupal was on the minds of Acquia Engage attendees this week. PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

BOSTON — Acquia Engage this week was no exception to the usual excitement and hype that is typically packaged with vendor technology conferences. Don't get us wrong. The Acquia product demos at the Boston company's fourth annual customer conference at the InterContinental Hotel were impressive. Digital journeys powered through voice-enabled commands and integrations with backend CRM, marketing automation and web content management systems looked powerful. Plus, Drupal, the open-source web content management system for which Acquia provides hosting, talked about the number of Drupal users, which is impressive.

Mastering DX Challenges

However, it's the users who always tell a more complete story than the vendors, right? It's only natural. Even the vendors will tell you it's a good thing users get together and discuss success stories and challenges. The marketers, IT engineers and user experience strategists were all there. We caught up with a few Acquia Engage attendees who shared their technical and strategical digital experience efforts.

Users, Implementers Discuss the Digital Experience

Nicole Beaudoin, Web Producer, Rocket Software

headshot of Nicole Beaudoin, who discussed digital asset management at Acquia Engage.
Nicole Beaudoin

Nicole Beaudoin was impressed with Acquia’s announcement it now has a native digital asset management (DAM) offering. She just wishes her team could leverage it at this time. Her team at Rocket Software had just implemented a third-party digital asset management system to integrate into its Drupal ecosystem. She would have loved to get in on the Acquia DAM party but fears it’s too late. “It would have been easier, but I don’t think we can take it back,” Beaudoin said. “It’s implemented into our tool that we buy images from, so it’s all one. We’re all using it, and it is what it is at this point. Contractors are using it, and they can download images they need. So that works for me.”

Working with DAM in general has not been easy, she said. While some companies have advanced to implementing artificial intelligence into DAM to help with arduous manual tasks, it’s not yet the reality for Beaudoin. “DAMs are very difficult,” Beaudoin said. “They are hard to use. There is so much categorizing and tagging. And it doesn’t always work because then you have an image repository that you download images from because you need to find them for creative work. There’s an integration with Drupal and it takes a lot of work depending on what installation of Drupal you’re on.”

Beaudoin said she likes working with Drupal generally because it's customizable but there is a learning curve. Make sure developers are familiar with your own version of Drupal, though, said Beaudoin. 

Ultimately, the world of DAM for Beaudoin and fellow marketers boils down to this: DAM is file management and that's always challenging. “It’s a database. Are things easily downloadable? Can you send a link to someone?” said Beaudoin. 

Brian Tanner, Senior User Experience Designer, Pegasystems

Headshot of Brian Tanner, who discussed getting better analytics from digital customer experiences at Acquia Engage.
Brian Tanner

Brian Tanner told CMSWire that the time has come to go beyond basic web metrics like page visits. Even simply knowing a digital path is no longer enough. Marketers and those focusing on digital customer experience must get the “why” in DX, according to Tanner. “The thing that our front end guy talks about all time is headless Drupal,” Tanner said. “I want to take my content and drop it in. I want it to be a component that I can literally put anywhere I want. It’s about getting the components to talk back to you.” 

This cloud-first headless CMS model decouples content and presentation. No matter how content's deployed, Tanner's holy grail is a deeper understanding of visitor sentiment and why they chose particular journeys.

“It’s great to have the metadata on the usage of one thing,” said Tanner, whose team is on Drupal 7 and is migrating to Drupal 8. "But it’s knowing how the user is interacting with the content and the behavior they express beyond the click after the fact. You can look at sequence and say it performed this way, but it doesn’t tell you why. Did you aggravate the person? You can see they completed task in a certain amount of time, but it doesn’t get at the issue of does this person like what I’m showing them? Is it engaging? Does it create a cognitive overload in their brain while they were doing this task? And could it be better? Could it be optimized?”

He’d like to learn more on how Drupal can get his team to this point. Tanner also yearns for more data on customer journey mapping and how organizations are leveraging that. While a lot of organizations see mapping as "extra work," Tanner said it’s an important investment that, from a UX designer’s perspective, will only help with customer sentiment analysis.

Manish Patel, Senior Director, IT Engineering, Crain Communications

Headshot of Manish Patel, who discussed migrating to Drupal from an old web content management system.
Manish Patel

Manish Patel’s company has only been on Drupal for about six months. Why did they make the switch? His company was acquired by a private equity firm that stalled development. His team owned a proprietary, niche CMS. “The primary CMS we were using was very specialized, and the company we got acquired by decided they’re not going to continue to develop on that,” Patel said. “And our old platform was very restrictive. The future roadmap was Drupal-based, but we didn’t have the time or patience to wait.”

Though it’s too early to recognize the impact of the Drupal installation, Patel told CMSWire he’s excited that Acquia as a host can accelerate development of the Drupal platform. He was happy to hear themes of working in smaller teams during Acquia Engage.

“Our teams are sometimes stuck in the waterfall traditional project management,” Patel said. “There are requirements and everything needs to be pixel perfect before it’s gone to a developer. Nothing irks me more than when a developer comes to me and says, ‘I don’t have enough to do.’” 

Kasper Retvig, Senior Sales Manager, Ameex Technologies

Headshot of Kasper Retvig, who discussed integrations in Drupal vs. other web content management systems at Acquia Engage.
Kasper Retvig

Kasper Retvig and Ameex come at DX execution from the implementer side, helping marketers and CX teams work with technologies like Acquia’s. He and colleague Ranga Srinivasan, president, CTO and co-founder, discussed the importance of integrations such as commerce and content. With Drupal, they agreed, users can choose their own commerce platform instead of having to live with a proprietary vendor solution.

“The big beneift of the Drupal Community is you can uses tools and components you want to integrate,” said Retvig, who was formerly with Episerver. "It doesn’t make sense to integrate a commerce solution to a solution that already has commerce.” Although, Srinivasan cautioned that not all integrations will be easy since it depends on which version your CMS sits.

Holly St. Clair, Chief Digital Officer, Mass.Gov

Headshot Holly St. Clair, who discussed Mass.Gov's migration to Drupal web content management system.
Holly St. Clair

Holly St. Clair came into a project where her team’s government website was operating under a CMS that was “sunsetting.” It went with Acquia and Drupal and embarked on a complete redesign for the Bay State’s website. They plan to migrate to Drupal 8 from Drupal 7. 

The big appeal? Open-source. Further, the state government’s digital team could collaborate with other state governments that were also Drupal shops, such as Georgia’s. "The collaboration aspect was huge," St. Clair said.

When asked about challenges with the current platform, St. Clair shared that most of the digital team’s challenges come in the people and processes arena, not technical.