Drupal as middleware in a digital experience platform
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 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.
Drupal in a digital experience platform (DXP)
I wish these email or phone calls were face-to-face meetings because I miss the chance to explain the multi-faceted solutions Drupal can provide, far and above a typical web development agency.
"You should stay with them" is my typical response to prospects already working with a website development agency performing well for them.
I say this because there is so much more Drupal, as a business solution, can provide without interacting with their website's front end. Drupal can be the pivot point for creating more than a web experience and improving a business' digital infrastructure. We often promote Drupal and its capability to create a complete digital experience platform (DXP), not just a website.
What is a digital experience platform?
A digital experience platform (DXP) is an integrated set of core technologies that support the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences. - Gartner.
As a growing business, you likely have a group of separate systems, platforms and applications that you use to run your business. If your company acquired those pieces of technology over time, they likely live in silos. They each have data and perform jobs you need to run your business. The problem is that each of those systems lives in a silo, and they don't share information easily without a ton of human intervention.
Digital experience platforms reduce disconnected systems and increase efficiency by bridging silos, unifying and coordinating your systems and customer touchpoints. A DXP will help improve digital experiences across websites, portals, mobile apps and other customer journey touchpoints while delivering useful, elegant and highly relevant experiences for your business needs. By building a DXP solution for your organization, you will create an agile, flexible and extensible technology foundation that will grow and scale with your company.
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”
Let me unpack that a little bit in my own words. Your website and mobile apps are at the forefront of digital marketing. Moving forward, more organizations have and will continue to create a more cohesive, single platform (DXP) to cater to all company stakeholders. These stakeholders include said organizations' customers, their teams and employees. This inclusion allows for a more comprehensive snapshot of the company inside and out. 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.
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 available at the time. So, 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. Now, in addition to your point of sale system (POS), you had to adopt an appropriate ecommerce platform and build a website to sell the gadgets online.
Once you sold gadgets online, you added new shipping and returns channels to replace 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, which highlighted the need for 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. To satisfy global demand, 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 diversifying your product line to make your business more resilient to market volatility. The diversification led to custom gadgets in addition to a gadget service and repair business.
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, you invested in a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system just under a year ago. This way, all your new departments have the information they need to operate efficiently.
Now in the present day, like many other businesses that experience rapid growth, you find yourself in a situation where all of your technology has become siloed. In this analogy, your data and information all exist but are 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 your teams can only access from a single source.
You can run a business this way, and many organizations operate this way without realizing there is a more efficient way to do things. Creating efficiency is where the DXP comes into play. Rather than individual silos, a better approach is to build a horizontal technology architecture with open lines of communication between everything. As one could imagine, this new architecture can save a tremendous amount of time and manual workflows, eliminating 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 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.
You can use Drupal as middleware through API integrations, also known as API hooks. As middleware, Drupal can act as a modular engine that connects all the data from the use case I posited earlier. 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; you can 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 functioning as long as you configure the drivers. So, as you outgrow software systems or no longer need that legacy POS, the job of replacing them is much simpler because you can just plug in the new software, install the drivers, and you are back up and running again.
Connecting it all together
To return to my statement at the beginning of this article, I wish I could sit down with those who responded so quickly to my first cold outreach because I do not want prospects to typecast Acro Media 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 a flexible, scalable ecommerce engine. But, we can also use Drupal as middleware that allows for a seamless information flow between your critical operational systems.
Let us know if you've read this and want a quick chat! We're happy to help. I also mentioned a Gartner report from 2019 that is an excellent introduction for anyone trying to nail down their digital experience platform.
Note: this report is no longer available for distribution. If you want to discuss how connecting your systems through middleware can improve your business operations and income, we invite you to contact us anytime.
1 - Gartner, "Don't Wreck Digital Engagement With Bad Deployment Decisions for Your Digital Experience Platform," 31 July 2019, Gene Phifer.