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To Drupal or not Drupal… Drupal versus all those other Digital Experience Platforms

· Drupal,DXP,Open Source,Acquia

The organization where I work is building a Digital Experience Platform (DXP), and one of the platform's products they chose is Sitecore. We are migrating away from Drupal to Sitecore and this move away from Drupal inspired me to write a series of blog posts about whether I should continue "to Drupal or not to Drupal."

Considering how much I have contributed to Drupal combined with my overall experience with Content Management Systems, I hope to provide a unique perspective as to whether or not to use Drupal as part of a Digital Experience Platform.

What is a DXP?

A Digital Experience Platform (DXP) is simply a platform for providing rich cross-channel personalized digital experiences. It consists of multiple pieces of software, which generally include a CMS, CRM, and a personalization engine, working together to create and manage digital user experiences. In the meantime, how we define a digital experience and how we provide it, is continually changing.

I began my career building static HTML pages and then moved on to building Content Management Systems. Over the years, I have iterated through many versions of the same website with my current organization. With each iteration, we strive to improve the user's digital experience. In order to understand the value and approach to building and leveraging a DXP, I had to stop seeing everything as web pages and instead, view everything as user engagements and experiences.

How a user engages and experiences an organization's brand and information is changing rapidly. For example, supporting voice applications and machine learning is now a priority. We need to prepare our content, webforms, and applications for the future. Being ready to meet current and future digital experience requirements is essential to consider when choosing a DXP.

Choosing a best-in-class or all-in-one DXP

I read the recent Gartner report "Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms." The pros and cons of Acquia and Sitecore are relatively straight forward. The most important pro to Acquia's offering is the notion of an Open DXP. Acquia's Open DXP suite of products and services are built on top of Drupal and other open-source products.

To understand the value of an Open DXP, it helps to think about the two approaches for building a DXP: Either you choose the best-in-class for each product, or you go all-in with one vendor who provides all the products in one offer. Selecting a vendor that includes everything "working" out of the box is very appealing. Still, at this point in the evolution of the internet, integrating multiple products from different vendors to build a Digital Experience Platform can be accomplished. To be competitive, every open-source product and proprietary vendor provides APIs using open standards to share and consume data. APIs allow organizations to pick and choose the best-in-class for each product in their DXP. The best-in-class approach leans towards a more open system vs. an all-in-one approach, which creates a closed system.

Open vs Closed DXP

When I started to research Drupal vs. all those other DXP articles. I noticed that most of the articles about one DXP vs. another DXP are written by and for a DXP vendor trying to distinguish themselves from the competition. And then I found Tom Wentworth's post title on What is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP) on Acquia's website. Wentworth’s post is so focused on discussing Open vs. Closed DXPs, that there is no mention of the competing products and Acquia is only mentioned once, at the outset: "At Acquia, we believe in DXPs." Tom's post adeptly focuses on explaining a DXP and the difference between an Open and a Closed DXP. For anyone researching DXPs for their organization, I recommend reading Tom's blog post.

For this post, I can state that an Open DXP allows you to pick and choose the best-in-class and more easily adopt new software as your DXP evolves. A Closed DXP means you are all-in with a vendor and locked into their software. Acquia's Open DXP is built on Drupal, which is open-source. This means anyone can develop their customized DXP on top of Drupal. DXPs are so complex and ever changing that the key to a successful platform is to have a reliable, flexible, and open foundation. Flexibility and openness are where open-source and Drupal excel. It is fascinating that Acquia with Drupal and Liferay are the only open-source DXPs in Gartner's report. Maybe this means that other software companies don't feel building an open-source DXP is a viable approach. At the same time, open-source has continually managed to grow and thrive in closed spaces, especially when the open-source software/system is offering a viable alternative to closed proprietary software/systems.

Proprietary DXP vs Open Source DXP

My experience with Sitecore's proprietary licensing approach and costs is that small and mid-size companies will neither be able to afford nor have the flexibility to evolve with the product. With Drupal as the open-source foundation to a DXP, any size organization can freely select the best-in-class products to integrate and build their platform. For example, a small organization may want to start and integrate its Drupal site with a CRM. SalesForce is the dominant player when it comes to Consumer Relationship Management (CRM). Most organizations want to leverage SalesForce as part of their DXP. For a small organization that wants to use SalesForce with Drupal, there is a suite of modules. For large organizations, Acquia makes it easy for organizations to use SalesForce with other Acquia services.

An Open DXP powered by open-source products allows organizations to architect, build, and expand their digital experience and home.

Architecting a DXP is like building a house

The best analogy I can see for planning and architecting an organization's DXP is approaching the decisions as if you're building a house. Rooms in the house are the different consumer channels; the hallways and staircases connect or integrate each room to create a digital experience. The reality with architecting and building a Digital Experience Platform is that the house you're building will forever be expanding.

At the outset, you might not know if you are building the Taj Mahal, Graceland, or Disneyland. With a Digital Experiences Platform, you have to accept a certain degree of the unknown regarding what the look your final home will look like. Additionally, you’ll want a continuous need/ability to expand and improve your house to be part of your mindset. You want to build our house on a solid foundation with flexible and modular architecture.

Drupal is a flexible and modular architecture that is endlessly extendable. If you want to upgrade your digital house's windows, you can uninstall the old windows, or in Drupal's case, uninstall a module, and then install a new one. You can even create completely custom windows. Drupal is a framework that provides a solid foundation for you to build, own, improve, and live in your digital house.

Own vs Renting

When you think about Drupal vs. all those other Digital Experience Platforms, it’s not worth making a one-to-one feature comparison because it is more important to look at the overall structure and home that a DXP provides for your organization. Frankly, Proprietary DXP's start to feel like you are renting an apartment. You are not building and owning a home. As such, it’s hard to justify any substantial investments. With rentals, you have to wait for the landlord to make repairs and improvements. The landlord can raise the rent at any time. Additionally, building your home using Drupal comes with the added bonus that your home and team are members of the largest open-source community.

Drupal versus all those other Digital Experience Platforms

Hmm, I guess I did write one of these Drupal vs. that other product blog posts and succeeded in reinforcing why I have been so committed to Drupal.

For now and probably forever, I recommend using Drupal as your open-source foundation for your organization's Digital Experience Platform.

For this blog post, I decided to use an image of Elvis's Jungle Room from his Graceland mansion because standing in that room with its green shag carpets was an unforgettable experience. I hope we can use Drupal to build memorable digital experiences.

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