Drupal as Middleware: How to Patch Digital Gaps in a Growing Business
Due to the nature of B2B sales, one of my roles is cold outreach. Most of the time my first method of outreach garners no replies. However, every so often I will receive a prompt email message or reply over the phone. It usually goes something along the lines of: “We already have a web development agency.” or “We are not interested.” I often wish I was at a sit-down meeting when these situations arise. This is because I simply cannot describe the multi-faceted solutions Drupal can provide, far and above a typical web development agency. “You should absolutely stay with them” is my typical response to prospects that have an agency they are happy with. I say this because there is so much more Drupal, as a business solution, can provide without even interacting with the frontend of their website. What we often promote with Drupal is its capability to create a more complete digital experience platform (DXP), not just a website.
What Gartner has to say about the DXP
In a 2019 report, Gartner has this analysis about DXPs:
“Driven by digital transformation efforts, organizations are moving beyond the traditional audience engagement resources of websites and mobile apps. There is a growing acceptance of the idea of digital experience platforms as vital to these efforts. DXPs provide a scalable foundation for creating, optimizing, integrating, delivering and managing a range of digital experiences for different audiences, both internal and external.1”
So let me unpack that a little bit in my own words. Essentially, your website and mobile apps are still very much at the forefront of digital marketing. Moving forward, though, more organizations have and will continue to create a more cohesive, single platform (DXP) in order to cater to all stakeholders of the company. This not only includes said organizations’ customers but also their teams and employees, allowing for a more comprehensive snapshot of the company from the outside and inside. In the same report, Gartner estimates that:
“Through 2021, 85% of the effort and cost involved in a digital experience platform (DXP) program will be spent on integrations with internal and external systems, including the DXP’s own, built-in capabilities.1”
In my opinion, this assumption by Gartner indicates that organizations are already well aware of the advantages a DXP can provide. If you're interested, click on the banner below to read the report.
An imaginary business case for a DXP
Imagine you started a business selling gadgets. Your gadgets were better for target market X because they were less complicated than the gadgets that were available on the market at the time. So first off, you rented a storefront and sold the gadgets in your store, but you also realized you could scale your business by selling the same gadgets online. So in addition to your point of sale system (POS), you now had to adopt an appropriate ecommerce platform and build a website to sell the gadgets online.
Now that you were selling gadgets online you also had to have a shipping channel and a returns channel for replacing defective gadgets. As demand for your product began to grow you needed more gadgets on hand at any given time. The obvious solution was a warehouse, but you also needed a product information management (PIM) system to keep on top of your inventory and distribution channels.
As your product created a name for itself you opened a few more gadget stores and to satisfy demand across the globe you began selling your product through Amazon. With increased demand came competition, so in response, you invested in marketing software to stay on top of the industry trends. You began to diversify in order to make your business more resilient to market volatility. The diversification led to custom gadgets in addition to a gadget service and repair business.
In order to keep track of what your customers had purchased and to identify opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling, you invested in a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Finally, just under a year ago you invested in a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. This way all of your new departments had the information they needed to operate efficiently.
So we are now in the present day. Like many other businesses that grew at a rapid pace, you find yourself in a situation where all of your technology has become siloed. In this analogy, your data and information all exist, but it is locked away in separate silos. Each silo represents a piece of software, a distribution channel, a legacy POS system, or that missing Amazon integration that can only be accessed from one place. You can run a business this way, and many organizations do just that, without realizing that there is actually a more efficient way to do things. This is where the DXP comes into play. What you would prefer rather than individual silos would be a horizontal technology architecture with open lines of communication between everything. This, as one could imagine, can save a tremendous amount of time and manual workflows, eliminating what we call swivel-chair processes. Simply stated it is a more efficient way of doing business. The problem is many business owners and decision makers may not even realize this is happening because they live in their own silos and no one has pointed it out to them.
How does Drupal come into play?
Drupal is a content management system (CMS), but at the same time, Drupal can do so much more than a traditional CMS. Through API integrations, also known as API hooks, Drupal has the ability to be used as middleware. As middleware, Drupal can act as a modular engine that connects all the data from the aforementioned gadget business’ technology. Data can flow forwards and backward between the various pieces of technology and even integrate into legacy systems like the POS in the gadget example. Furthermore, the modular nature of Drupal middleware essentially future proofs your business allowing for business scalability.
To give an analogy, you can think of Drupal middleware as a computer with unlimited USB ports. The computer acts as the brain passing information back and forth between systems and the USB ports are the API hooks. USB ports are non-proprietary and you can, therefore, unplug cables you no longer need and replace them with new cables. You can also add or remove cables as necessary and the computer keeps on functioning as long as you configure the drivers. So as you outgrow software systems or you decide to replace that legacy POS, no problem because you can just plug in the new software, install the drivers, and you are back up and running again.
Connecting it all together
So to return to my statement at the beginning of this blog post, the reason I wish I could sit down with those who respond so quickly to my first cold outreach is that I do not want to be typecast as just another web development agency. In actual fact, because our expertise lies in Drupal we are far better positioned to provide solutions that lay beyond the scope of the traditional idea of a website. Sure we can develop an incredibly robust frontend experience and, likewise, a flexible scalable ecommerce engine. But, we can also use Drupal as middleware that allows for seamless flow of information between systems.
If you've read this and would like to have a quick chat, let us know! We're happy to help. I also mentioned a Gartner report from 2019 that is a great introduction for anyone trying to nail down their digital experience platform. Gartner has made this report available to us to share with our readers for a limited time, so check it out now while you still can.
1 - Gartner, "Don’t Wreck Digital Engagement With Bad Deployment Decisions for Your Digital Experience Platform,” 31 July 2019, Gene Phifer.
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