Teaching Large Organizations How to Find Better Solutions and Higher ROI with Open Source Development
Large organizations are increasingly turning to Drupal to manage web sites and content structures because the open source platform can solve a host of problems right "out-of-the-box." But it's rarely the nature of large organizations to work openly, and that's another problem altogether — one that prevents many from realizing the full value of Drupal and its developer community. The Large Scale Drupal program was launched to solve that problem.
Websites running on Drupal today — more than 2% of all sites globally — represent some of the largest government, media, entertainment, and educational institutions in the world. Often they are selecting Drupal for its versatility: The core system offers features and flexibility that typically provide more than 85% of what enterprises are looking for. Drupal's capabilities are extended by more than 15,000 contributed modules, or building blocks, that can be incorporated or modified to support bespoke functionality — dramatically decreasing time-to-market and development costs.
As one of the most successful open source projects in the world, Drupal has attracted an extraordinary community; more than 10,000 active developers and 1,000 core contributors. To put those numbers into context, the Linux operating system powers over 30% of all Internet web sites, but counts fewer active developers than Drupal.
The speed and collective power of Drupal's development community has already helped Drupal sites adapt to changes that other enterprise platforms struggle to accommodate: the proliferation of internal and external websites and social media properties to manage and coordinate, and end users' demand for seamless experiences across new devices like tablets, gaming systems, and smart TVs. Meanwhile proprietary systems' investments in new capabilities can't match the needs of every customer, leaving many handcuffed to outdated solutions, while nervously eyeing their vendor's product roadmap.
The Catch: Lone Wolves Lose Out
So what's the downside? The value of Drupal's open source community stems from active participation and collaboration, but many large enterprises tend to work independently — even secretively. So some of the biggest Drupal users work alone, on the same problems that others have already solved. They lose out on cost savings, time savings, and often on the innovation that the broader community has created; and when these users develop a solution that could strengthen others' software, it isn't fed back into the platform.
On the other hand when Drupal users contribute code to the community, others use it, improve on it, and strengthen contributors' systems. Thousands of experienced eyeballs catch and fix bugs and security issues faster than internal teams can, which not only improves overall code quality, it extends the systems' lifecycles. The resulting cost savings can be impressive.
The Fix: LSD
To help solve these issues and enable large organizations to get the most value from open source software, Acquia launched the Large Scale Drupal membership program. Large Scale Drupal (LSD) is a strategic alliance of organizations that meet regularly to collaborate on and solve common problems. We provide a forum for enterprise users, listen to and prioritize their needs, and then figure out how to address those needs through knowledge sharing, training, and software development.
Large Scale Drupal members share their development costs with other members. For a fraction of the cost of developing independently, they get significantly better software built by some of the most talented people in the community. In turn, the Drupal community continues to develop and improve the solution, and welcomes an influx of expert talent into the contributor pool.
Networking is central to the LSD mission. Our quarterly private conferences allow participants from around the world to share what they're working on, identifying common problems or needs and areas of potential collaboration. One-on-one meetings, webinars, and white papers address everything from training teams in community engagement to providing frameworks and talking points for an executive sponsor to walk a corporate legal team through understanding, supporting, and approving the open sourcing of code. And while Drupal is at the core of what we all do, we also share approaches and best applications for other open source projects from Linux to jQuery.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of LSD, and certainly our biggest area of investment, is our collaborative development on projects. The process begins with the identification of common problems. We then search for generic and extensible solutions that meet the needs of LSD members as well as the broader Drupal community. I call these "85%+ solutions" because, like the out-of-the-box Drupal platform, they're not designed to address 100% of any one user's needs. Once these solutions are developed, our role is to facilitate individual users' development of the remaining 15% by connecting them to the teams that built the core modules. Ultimately participants can save 50% - 75% over the cost of developing these solutions independently, free up internal developers to focus on critical areas, and contribute meaningfully to building a stronger Drupal platform for the future.
We are also making strategic, long term investments in the platform. A portion of member fees go to our "future fund," which we are currently using to support three vital Drupal 8 initiatives (these are being led by the community, not LSD). This funding will accelerate the development process, helping to speed up release cycles for future versions of the platform, and ultimately increasing the pace of innovation.
Large Scale Drupal is searching for new ways to engage companies in the open source process and help them become even more successful with Drupal. This can radically change the way business works with open source software; the early results and potential we've seen so far is truly exciting. Right now we're working toward the launch of LargeScaleDrupal.com where we can communicate more details about the program, our mission and goals, and about the projects we are working on with the Drupal community. Stay tuned...