Mar 17 2020
Mar 17

Like many companies, PreviousNext didn't expect the Coronavirus crisis to hit so hard or quick, nor did we anticipate the rapid effects on the global economy. However, we have always run our company based on sustainable principles, so feel well prepared to deal with what's coming over the next few months. We hope sharing our approach might help others weather the coming storm too!

First and foremost, the wellbeing of our team is our number one priority and our immediate steps were to ensure everyone is as safe as possible from contracting or spreading COVID-19, including:

  • While our team is already highly distributed with most working from home offices, we were quick to enforce a full work from home policy, including no in-person client meetings or unnecessary travel. This was communicated to clients, with video conferencing and chat tools becoming the standard form of interaction.
  • Making sure our team knew we were taking things seriously and reiterating official guidelines on personal hygiene and social distancing.
  • Noting that attending conferences and personal travel were likely to be affected well before official lockdowns started coming into force, and to plan ahead accordingly.
  • Understanding that many staff will have reduced availability due to school closures and having children at home.
  • Outlining clear provisions for staff to use personal and annual leave in the event they became ill themselves or needed to care for family members. We also made it clear that if leave allowances were exhausted due to COVID-19, leave credits would be extended until individual team members were able to return to work. The last thing we want is our team worrying that their personal finances or long term roles might be in jeopardy due to something completely outside their control.
  • Asking team members to privately notify us if anyone close to them becomes ill which may indicate their own health could be at risk in coming weeks if they've had exposure. This then allows us to forward plan potential contingencies for reduced team availability.

We also took a close look at the likely impact of an economic slowdown on the overall business, such as:

  • Identifying which clients may reduce budgets and starting conversations early with these clients around the likely impact to projects we're working on. This demonstrates that we understand things are likely to change and are willing to work with clients so that neither party is left in the lurch.
  • Working with clients to build larger backlogs of project work so that we can continue working if key people on the client side become unavailable to move a project forward.
  • Assessing what operational expenses can be reigned in the short and medium term to ensure our cash flow stays healthy. This includes evaluating current rental arrangements, subscription based services that may not be critical to operations and other non essential expenses.
  • Establishing a clear overview of our current project pipeline, what our break-even costs would be if projects are scaled back and how long we could maintain that state.
  • Understanding what trigger points we'd have to start drawing on our cash reserves to ride out a few slower months.

Another key consideration is our commitment to the Drupal open source project while the world moves into crisis mode. As we saw in the years following 2007's Global Financial Crisis, Drupal is well placed to thrive as a cost effective alternative to proprietary Content Management Systems and we expect similar things will occur this time around. Obviously, without a strong Drupal we don't have a strong business, so initiatives in this regard are:

  • Maintaining our open source contribution policy so that our team is consistently pushing code into the Drupal ecosystem. This is particularly important with the imminent release of Drupal 9. We would encourage other Drupal services companies to adopt similar contribution policies, especially if their teams are suddenly finding they have extra time on their hands due to the economic downturn.
  • Ensuring that the Drupal community remains strong and unified. There'll obviously be many cancellations or postponements of key conferences in coming months, but we can still collaborate closely through Drupal's issue queues and remote events, like live-streamed meetups.
  • While some initiatives are likely to be delayed, maintaining the continuity of operations for our local DrupalSouth committee and the global Drupal Association is of paramount importance. We can achieve this through donating both our time and funding as specific needs arise. Again, we'd urge other Drupal services companies to share this commitment.

This is the third major economic crisis I've lived through in my professional life, and while things will definitely get tough, they will definitely get better again in the long run. By taking pre-emptive steps now, maintaining the confidence of your team and clients and staying committed to Drupal's long term success, there will be light at the end of the tunnel!

Nov 14 2019
Nov 14

PreviousNext builds open source digital platforms for large scale customers, primarily based on Drupal and hosted using Kubernetes, two of the world’s biggest open source projects. With our business reliant on the success of these open source projects, our company is committed to contributing where we can in relation to our relatively small size. We get a lot of questions about how we do this, so are happy to share our policies so that other organisations might adopt similar approaches.

We learned early on in the formation of PreviousNext that developers who are passionate and engaged in open source projects usually make great team members, so wanted to create a work environment where they could sustain this involvement. 

The first step was to determine how much billable work on client projects our developers needed to achieve in order for PreviousNext to be profitable and sustainable. The figure we settled on was 80%, or 32 hrs per week of billable hours of a full time week as the baseline. Team members then self manage their availability to fulfil their billable hours and can direct up to 20% of their remaining paid availability to code contribution or other community volunteering activities. 

From a project management perspective, our team members are not allowed to be scheduled on billable work more than 80% of their time, which is then factored into our Agile sprint planning and communicated to clients. If certain team members contribute more billable hours in a given week, this just accelerates how many tickets we can complete in a Sprint.

If individual team members aren’t involved or interested in contribution, we expect their billable hours rate to be higher in line with more traditional companies. We don’t mandate that team members use their 20% time for contribution, but find that the majority do due to the benefits it gives them outside their roles. 

These benefits include:

  • Learning and maintaining best-practice development skills based on peer review by other talented developers in the global community.
  • Developing leadership and communication skills with diverse and distributed co-contributors from many different cultures and backgrounds.
  • Staying close to and often being at the forefront of new initiatives in Drupal, whether it be as a core code contributor or maintaining key modules that get used by hundreds of thousands of people. For example, the Video Embed Field that Sam Becker co-maintains is used on 123,487 websites and has been downloaded a staggering 1,697,895 times at the time of publishing. That's some useful code!  
  • Developing close working relationships with many experienced and talented developers outside PreviousNext. In addition to providing mentoring and training for our team, these relationships pay dividends when we can open communication channels with people responsible for specific code within the Drupal ecosystem.
  • Building their own profiles within the community and being considered trusted developers in their own right by demonstrating a proven track record. After all, it's demonstrated work rather than the CV that matters most. This often leads to being selected to provide expert talks at conferences and obviously makes them highly desirable employees should they ever move on from PreviousNext.
  • If our team members do get selected as speakers at international Drupal events, PreviousNext funds their full attendance costs and treats their time away as normal paid hours.
  • Working on non-client work on issues that interest them, such as emerging technologies, proof of concepts, or just an itch they need to scratch. We never direct team members that they should be working on specific issues in their contribution time.

All of these individual benefits provide clear advantages to PreviousNext as a company, ensuring our team maintains an extremely high degree of experience and elevating our company’s profile through Drupal’s contribution credit system. This has resulted in PreviousNext being consistently ranked in the top 5 companies globally that contribute code to Drupal off the back of over 1,000 hours of annual code contribution.

In addition to this 20% contribution time, we also ensure that most new modules we author or patch during client projects are open sourced. Our clients are aware that billable time during sprints will go towards this and that they will also receive contribution credit on Drupal.org as the sponsor of the contributions. The benefits to clients of this approach include:

  • Open sourced modules they use and contribute to will be maintained by many other people in the Drupal community. This ensures a higher degree of code stability and security and means that if PreviousNext ceases to be engaged the modules can continue to be maintained either by a new vendor, their internal team or the community at large.
  • Clients can point to their own contribution credits as evidence of being committed Drupal community supporters in their own right. This can be used as a key element in recruitment if they start hiring their own internal Drupal developers.

Beyond code contributions, PreviousNext provides paid time to volunteer on organising Drupal events, sit on community committees, run free training sessions and organise code sprints. This is then backed by our financial contributions to sponsoring events and the Drupal Association itself.

None of this is rocket science, but as a company reliant on open source software we view these contribution policies and initiatives as a key pillar in ensuring PreviousNext's market profile is maintained and the Drupal ecosystem for our business to operate in remains healthy. 

We're always happy to share insights into how your own organisation might adopt similar approaches, so please get in touch if you'd like to know more.

Comments

This is a brilliant contribution thanks Owen! And I argue that culture building is not something a rocket scientist can do.

Pagination

Nov 12 2019
Nov 12

Since co-founding PreviousNext in 2009 with Kim Pepper, our company has put a lot of focus into supporting the Drupal open source project and community at a regional and global level.

This has included a number of key initiatives, including:

  • Providing our team with up to 20% of their paid working hours to contribute code to Drupal core software and contributed modules. This has seen PreviousNext consistently rank in the Top 5 companies contributing code to Drupal at a global level, with several of our individual team members in the Top 100 contributing developers. 
  • Supporting our team to contribute time to voluntary groups that sustain the Drupal community, such as Drupal’s Security Team, running free Drupal training days and organising Drupal events.
  • Donating funds to the Drupal Association's supporting partner program, global initiatives like Promote Drupal, regional conferences and local meetups.
  • Funding our team to travel and speak or participate in regional and global Drupal conferences.

This support plays a key role in PreviousNext’s ability to attract and retain the best Drupal talent, facilitates trusted relationships with key members of the global Drupal community and maintains our reputation as Drupal experts in the eyes of prospective clients. In other words, strong support for Drupal pays dividends to maintain PreviousNext as a sustainable company.

After a decade of leading PreviousNext myself, long-term colleague Jason Coghlan took the reins as Managing Director in late 2018. Jason is responsible for all of PreviousNext’s operations and client engagements, which he manages in concert with our internal Leadership and Delivery teams. My ongoing role is to guide PreviousNext’s strategy, marketing and finances as Chair of our Executive Team, paired with enhanced engagement with the Drupal community.

The first initiative I’ve focused on in 2019 has been the formation of the DrupalSouth Steering Committee. DrupalSouth has been running as an annual conference in Australia and New Zealand since 2008 but had always been reliant on ad-hoc volunteers to take on the significant work to organise and run each event. The Steering Committee’s objective is to provide ongoing consistency for the annual conference whilst spearheading other initiatives that support and grow Drupal’s community and commercial ecosystem in the region. We’ll be presenting our initial ideas at DrupalSouth in Hobart in late November.

I’m also honoured to have been appointed to the global Drupal Association Board of Directors and just returned from my first board retreat before DrupalCon Amsterdam. The board works alongside the new Drupal Association Executive Director, Heather Rocker, on overall strategy and direction for her team of almost 20 staff to implement. I’ve been asked to chair the board’s Revenue Committee that oversees how the DA is funded through event attendance, sponsorships and other sources, and to sit on the Strategic Planning Committee that will define where the association's focus can be best directed. My initial term will run until 2022 with a frequent presence at DrupalCon North America and Europe in coming years.

Drupal Association Board & Staff

Drupal Association Board & Staff at the Amsterdam retreat

Whilst in Amsterdam, I also sat in on round table discussions with other local Drupal associations from around the world, sharing ideas about how we can scale community engagement whilst leveraging common approaches and resources. A Supporting Partners round table focused more on the needs of Drupal services vendors and large users and a CEO dinner was a great insight into the state of Drupal businesses around the world. It was inspiring to see how professionally organised the global Splash Awards were and to understand how we might bring the initiative to our local region to recognise world-class projects being developed here. To cap things off, I had a talk accepted where I could share some of PreviousNext's experience winning and retaining long term clients - essentially all the things I wish someone had told me a decade ago!

With the upcoming release of Drupal 9 in mid 2020 there’s a high degree of optimism and confidence around Drupal’s immediate future. The software is a clear choice for enterprise and large organisations, Drupal services businesses are doing well and there’s a huge number of fresh and enthusiastic members of our community. While there’s some clear challenges ahead, I’m excited to be able to play a role in helping solve them at a global and regional level.

If you ever want to connect with me to discuss how I can help with your own Drupal community or business initiatives, feel free to get in touch via Drupal.org or Drupal Slack.

Nov 20 2017
Nov 20

In my recent talk at DrupalSouth Auckland 2017 I took a hard look at the hyperbole of Drupal supposedly powering over a million websites. Where does Drupal really sit in relation to other CMS platforms, both open source and proprietary? What trends are emerging that will impact Drupal's market share? The talk looked outside the Drupal bubble and took a high level view of its market potential and approaches independent firms can take to capitalise on Drupal's strengths and buffer against its potential weaknesses.

But, Drupal powers over a million websites!

One of the key statistics that Drupalers hold onto is that it's powered over a million websites since mid 2014 when Drupal 7 was in ascendance. However, since Drupal 8 was released in late 2015, Drupal's overall use has stalled at around 1.2m websites, as seen circled in red on the Drupal Core usage statistics graph below.

Drupal install graph

The main reason for this stall in growth was that Drupal 8 was a major architectural re-write that wasn't essential or even affordable for many Drupal 7 sites to migrate to. For clients considering major new projects, many held off on committing to Drupal 8 until there were more successful case studies in the wild and didn't commission new Drupal 7 sites given that version was nearing a decade old. Anecdotally, 2016 was a tough year for many Drupal firms as they grappled with this pause in adoption.

Of course, Drupal 8 is now a well-proven platform and is experiencing steady uptake as circled in green on the usage graph above. This uptake corresponds with a down tick in Drupal 7 usage, but also indicates a softening of total Drupal usage. If we extrapolate these trend lines in a linear fashion, then we can see that Drupal 8 might surpass Drupal 7 usage around 2023.

Drupal usage extrapolation

Of course, technology adoption doesn't move in a straight line! Disruptive technologies emerge that rapidly change the playing field in a way that often can't be envisaged. The example that springs to mind is Nokia's market share was still growing when the iPhone 4 was released in 2010. By the time the iPhone 4s was released in 2011, Nokia's sales volumes had almost halved, leading to Microsoft's catastrophic purchase of the handset division in 2013 and subsequent re-sale for 5% of the purchase value in 2016. Oops!

Builtwith stats

Despite this downward trend in overall Drupal usage, we can take comfort that its use on larger scale sites is growing, powering 5.7% of the Top 10,000 websites according to Builtwith.com. However, its market share of the Top 100,000 (4.3%) and Top Million (3%) websites is waning, indicating that other CMS are gaining ground with smaller sites. It's also worth noting that Builtwith only counts ~680,000 Drupal websites, indicating that the other ~500,000 Drupal.org is detecting are likely to be development and staging sites.

So, where are these other sites moving to when they're choosing a new CMS? 

Wordpress usage

Looking at the stats from W3Techs, it's clear to see that Wordpress accounts for almost all of the CMS growth, now sitting at around 30% of total market share.

Wordpress has been able to achieve this dominance by being a fantastic CMS for novice developers and smaller web agencies to build clients' websites with. This is reinforced by Wordpress having an exceptional editor experience and a hugely popular SAAS platform at Wordpress.com.

Drupal's place in the CMS market

The challenge Wordpress poses to other open-source CMS platforms, like Joomla, Typo3 and Plone, all with under 1% market share and falling, is their development communities are likely to look direct their efforts to other platforms. Drupal is able to hedge against this threat by having a large and highly engaged community around Drupal 8, but it's now abundantly clear that Drupal can't compete as a platform for building smaller brochure-ware style sites that Wordpress and SAAS CMS like Squarespace are dominating. We're also seeing SAAS platforms like Nationbuilder eat significantly into Drupal's previously strong share of the non-profit sector.

With all the hype around Headless or Decoupled CMS, Drupal 8 is well positioned to play a role as the backend for React or Angular Javascript front-ends. Competitors in this space are SAAS platforms like Contentful and Directus, with proprietary platforms like Kentico pivoting as a native cloud CMS service designed to power decoupled front-ends.

We often talk of Drupal as a CMS Framework, where it competes against frameworks like Ruby on Rails, .NET and Django to build rich web based applications. Drupal 8 is still well placed to serve this sector if the web applications are also relying on large scale content and user management features.

Which brings us to the Enterprise CMS sector, where Drupal competes head to head with proprietary platforms like Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore and legacy products from Opentext, IBM and Oracle. The good news is that Drupal holds its own in this sector and has gained very strong market share with Government, Higher Education, Media and "Challenger" Enterprise clients.

This "Comfort zone" for Drupal usage is characterised by clients building large scale platforms with huge volumes of content and users, high scalability and integration with myriad third party products. Operationally, these clients often have well established internal web teams and varying degrees of self reliance. They're often using Agile delivery methods and place high value on speed to market and the cost savings associated with open-source software.

Where Drupal is gaining a competitive edge since the release of Drupal 8 is against the large proprietary platforms like Adobe Experience Manager and Sitecore. These companies market a platform of complementary products in a unified stack to their clients through long standing partnerships with major global digital agencies and system integrators. It's no surprise then that Acquia markets their own platform in a similar way to this sector where Drupal serves as the CMS component, complemented by subscription-based tools for content personalisation, customer segmentation and cloud based managed hosting. Acquia have actively courted global digital media agencies with this offering through global partnerships to give Drupal a toe hold in this sector.

Garnter Magic Quadrant CMS

This has meant Acquia has made significant headway into larger Enterprise clients through efforts like being recognised as a "Leader" in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for CMS, lending Drupal itself some profile and legitimacy as a result. This has driven Enterprise CIOs, CTOs and CMOs to push their vendors to offer Drupal services, who have looked to smaller Drupal firms to provide expertise where required. This is beneficial to independent Drupal services firms in the short term, but the large digital agencies will quickly internalise these skills if they see a long term market for Drupal with their global clients.

As one of those independent Drupal firms, PreviousNext have staked a bet that not all Enterprise customers will want to move to a monolithic platform where all components are provided by a single vendor's products. We're seeing sophisticated customers wanting to use Drupal 8 as the unifying hub for a range of best-of-breed SAAS platforms and cloud services. 

Drupal 8 hub

This approach means that Enterprise customers can take advantage of the latest, greatest SAAS platforms whilst retaining control and consistency of their core CMS. It also allows for a high degree of flexibility to rapidly adapt to market changes. 

What does this all mean for Drupal 8?

The outcome of our research and analysis has led to a few key conclusions about what the future looks like for Drupal 8:

  • Drupal's overall market share will steadily fall as smaller sites move to SAAS CMS and self-managed Wordpress installs.
  • The "comfort zone" of Government, Media, Higher Education and "Challenger" Enterprise clients will grow as many of these clients upgrade or switch to Drupal 8 from Drupal 7 or proprietary platforms.
  • Drupal will gain traction in the larger Enterprise as the global digital agencies and system integrators adopt Drupal 8 as a direct alternative to proprietary CMS products. 
  • Independent Drupal services firms have a good opportunity to capitalise on these trends through partnerships with larger global agencies and specialisation in technologies that complement Drupal 8 as a CMS.
  • A culture of code contribution needs to grow within the larger clients and agencies moving to Drupal to ensure the burden of maintaining Drupal's development isn't shouldered by smaller independent firms and individual developers. 

Despite the fact that we've probably already passed "Peak Drupal", we're firm believers that Drupal 8 is the right tool for large scale clients and that community has the cohesion to adapt to these existential challenges!

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