Jul 30 2019
Jul 30

Ever since the cloud computing proliferated enterprise digital transformation, new cloud platform services have started thronging the scenes. Now, the cloud ride is burgeoning even faster in 2019 and the cloud vendor innovation pace is at sky-high. The revenue is soaring. Amazon Web Services (AWS), one of the giants in this space, has witnessed a 45% rise in revenue year over year and reached $7.43 Billion for the fourth quarter of 2018.

A humanoid made out of cardboard placed near a creek with Amazon written on it


AWS has been a force to reckon with when it comes to buying storage space for holding a colossal database, provision of bandwidth for hosting a website or processing power in order to run intricate software remotely. With AWS, the necessity of buying and running own hardware gets eliminated and organisations or individuals can pay for only what they actually use. Netflix, leading media services provider and a go-to option for streaming movies and web series, leverages AWS for almost all its backend infrastructure, storing and streaming its online content.

Netflix, from being a DVD-by-mail service to one of the most sought after media streaming services in the world, has come a long way. The number of Netflix subscribers has grown multifold (approximately 150 million in 2019). With 37% of the internet users around the globe binging movies and web series on Netflix, the power of AWS has massively helped them to keep up with the growing strength of customer base and scale at demand. If AWS can play such an influential role on a big enterprise like Netflix, you can hope for wondrous things to transpire when another magic pearl is added. Drupal can do miracles along with different AWS products and there are various ways to leverage products of Amazon Web Services with Drupal for your web development solution. But first, let’s take a quick look at AWS and a plentitude of products that it offers.

AWS in a nutshell

It is imperative to understand where AWS stands today in the market share before getting acquainted with its various provisions. In comparison to other big cloud service providers - Microsoft and Azure - there is a clear lead in the market maintained by AWS.

A bar graph in blue and green colours to show the statistics on Amazon Web Services (AWS) market shareSource: Canalys

Amazon Web Services is definitely one of the most sought after cloud solutions in the market. So what is it? It is a comprehensive cloud platform by e-commerce giant Amazon that provides software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offerings. AWS offers cloud services from multiple data centres and availability zones that are spread across different regions of the world.

A Well-Architected Framework can be put into use that is built to assist cloud architects in the development of a safe, high-performing, resilient, and efficacious infrastructure for their applications. This framework is based on five pillars namely operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency and cost optimisation.

Five different icons stacked together resembling graph, shield, lightning, speedometer, dollar


AWS provides a huge set of cloud-based services comprising categories like analytics (Amazon CloudSearch, Amazon Athena etc.), application integration (Amazon Simple Notification Service, Amazon MQ etc.), robotics (AWS RoboMaker), compute (AWS Elastic Beanstalk, AWS Lambda etc.), database (Amazon Aurora, Amazon Redshift etc.), and satellite (AWS Ground Station) among others for helping organisations move rapidly, lessen IT costs, and be highly scalable.

Different icons resembling joystick, laptop, robot, globe, mobile phone, cloud, goggles stacked together to represent AWS services Source: AWS

Different ways to leverage AWS services with Drupal

Drupal, an open-source content management framework, is an astounding digital experience platform that helps you disseminate the right content to the right person at the right time on the right devices. Its great content authoring capabilities, provision of stupendous web performance, multilingual features, high scalability, easy integration with the best tools that are available outside of its periphery, mobile-first approach, multisite offering, and immense security make it one of the leaders in the content management system (CMS) market. No wonder its usage has continuously risen to new heights.

Graph showing red, blue and green lines to depict Drupal usage statisticsDrupal usage statistics | Source: BuiltWith

Whether you need to deploy a production-ready Drupal website or build innovative solutions with Drupal 8, many of the products from AWS can be of magnificent use in Drupal development. Let’s take a look:

Production grade Drupal configuration

You can deploy a highly available Drupal architecture on the AWS cloud using a quick start guide. This allows you to leverage AWS services and further improve the performance and extend the functionality of your CMS. AWS’ flexible compute, storage and database services make it a top-notch platform for running Drupal workloads.

The core AWS components that are used for this implementation involve the AWS services like EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), EFS (Elastic File System), RDS (Relational Database Service), VPC (Virtual Private Cloud), Auto Scaling, CloudFormation, Elastic Load Balancing, IAM (Identity and Access Management), ElastiCache, CloudFront and Route 53.

The AWS Regions assist in governing network latency and regulatory compliance. Regions are designed by taking availability into consideration and comprise at least two availability zones. Regional endpoints are supported by most AWS services thereby minimising data latency as they provide an entry point for service requests in that region. 

Illustration showing a big square containing smaller squares and circles in green, blue, orange and yellow colours to represent the mode of Drupal deployment on AWSSource: AWS

For the deployment of production-grade Drupal configuration, AWS CloudFormation gives you an automated, simple way for creating and handling a collection of related AWS resources. The main template takes care of building the network-related resources first and then the launch of different templates for Drupal and Amazon Aurora ensues. Modularising CloudFormation code involves other templates and the creation of an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) for Drupal requires an additional template that uses AWS Lambda. For installing Drupal on all the instances in the Auto Scaling group, AMI turns out to be effective. This negates the possibility of repeated downloads.

There are optional templates that can be leveraged like deploying an ElastiCache cluster, building CloudFront web distribution and creating DNS (Domain Name System) records in Route 53 public hosted zone. If you use ElastiCache or CloudFront, the configuration of Drupal with requisite default settings is done. Optimisation of Drupal’s caching and content delivery network settings can be done once Drupal stack is deployed. And when you delete the main template, it deletes the entire stack.

This quick start’s highly available reference architecture for Drupal deployment requires an HTTP(S) load balancer, two or more Drupal servers on Apache web server, shared file storage, shared ElastiCache for Memcache cluster, CloudFront distribution, and Route 53. Deployment of Drupal can be done into a new Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) which involves building a new AWS environment comprising VPC, subnets, NAT gateways, security groups, bastion host and a lot of other infrastructure components. Or, the deployment of Drupal can also be done into an existing VPC that enables Drupal in your existing AWS infrastructure.

Alternative to deploying and hosting production-ready Drupal

For deploying a high-availability Drupal website, this AWS documentation another way round. It exhibits the process of deploying and hosting Drupal. In this, the implementation of an architecture, in order to host Drupal for a production workload, requires minimal governance responsibilities from you.

AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Amazon RDS and Amazon EFS can be leveraged. Once the uploading of Drupal files is done, Elastic Beanstalk governs the deployment process automatically that involve application health monitoring, load balancing, capacity provisioning, auto-scaling among others. RDS offers a cost-effective and resizable capacity while managing time-consuming database administration tasks for you.

Serverless implementation using [email protected]

Flowchart containing different icons connected by arrows to represent Serverless implementation using Drupal and AWSSource: AWS

Drupal can also be a fantastic solution for implementing serverless architecture. The union of Amazon CloudFront, [email protected] and headless Drupal can offer the lowest latency and personalised experience to the users. Deployment of CloudFront allows you to cache and accelerate your Drupal content with the assistance from a globally distributed set of CloudFront nodes. In this, every CloudFront distribution constitutes one or more origin locations. An origin is where Drupal content resides. Deployment of Drupal 8 is done running by running the supplied Amazon CloudFormation stacks. In this, AWS services like EC2, EFS, RDS and Aurora are of great use as well. It is all wrapped in a highly available design with the help of multiple Availability Zones and the configuration is done in such a manner that auto-scaling can be successfully done using EC2 Auto Scaling groups.

Creation of URL aliases for the content is done using the path module that is available in Drupal 8. Within the Drupal 8 administration, ‘Aggregate CSS Files’ and ‘Aggregate JavaScript Files’ are enabled by default. Therefore, the need for bandwidth gets reduced between the Origin AWS infrastructure and CloudFront Edge nodes. Internal Drupal caching is disabled by default that has the authority over the maximum amount a time a page could be cached by browsers and proxies. For altering file URLs and easily caching CSS, JavaScript images, audio and videos within CloudFront, it is also suggested to enable Drupal’s CDN module. Subsequently, CloudFront distribution is created with the help of CloudFront console that involves configurations on Origin, default cache behaviour settings and distribution settings.

Interactive screens using AWS IOT

Drupal is an incredible option for building a scalable digital signage solution for a variety of organisations and can reduce costs, speed up time to market, and help in creating engaging experiences for the people. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), that plays a significant role as the largest public system in the United States of America, has benefitted by leveraging Drupal and AWS IoT services.

A digital signage powered board at a railway station with the name of railway station written inside itSource: Acquia

Drupal, which powers MTA’s website, also helped them to serve content and data to thousands of digital signs in hundreds of stations in New York City. The utilisation of digital signage’s benefit in station countdown clocks has allowed MTA to offer a great customer experience.

The content can be built inside Drupal and data is pulled from external feeds so that countdown clocks can be supplied with data. The data can be pulled from transit information weather and message provider because Drupal is equipped with provider APIs and once the data is given context via Drupal content model, it is pushed to the digital signs. This is done with the assistance of a data pipeline that’s implemented for utilising IoT service from AWS. 

Cross-channel experience with Amazon Alexa

Amalgamation of Amazon Alexa and Drupal can be great for allowing content to be accessed both via web and voice assistants. Alexa Drupal module helps in the integration. For this, Drupal website must be available online and using HTTPS. To begin with, Alexa module can be installed and enabled on the Drupal site followed by the creation of a new Alexa Skills Kit. Subsequently, application ID, that is provided by Amazon in ‘Skill Information’ is to be copied and submitted to the Drupal site’s configuration. Configuration of Alexa skill in Alexa Skills Kit can then be done and a customised handler module can be built for handling custom Alexa skills.

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A digital agency used this process to build a solution that leveraged both Alexa and Drupal. This they demonstrated through fictional grocery store called Freshland Market. In this, a user opts for a food recipe from Freshland Market’s Drupal site and gets all the ingredients required to cook the food. The food recipe that was asked by the user was for 8 persons but the site has that information for 4 persons. So, the Freshland Market Alexa skill adjusts the quantity of ingredients by itself for 8 persons. In the midst of an array of questions and the relevant ingredients and cooking procedures that the user involves himself with, the food preparation activity turns out to be very simple for the user and it doesn’t require the user to look at the laptop or mobile phone at any stage.

Open source photo gallery using Amazon Rekognition and Amazon S3

Amazon Rekognition’s powerful face and object recognition capabilities can be leveraged with Drupal to a great extent. Its deep learning feature assesses a plethora of images and then utilises all of that data to label objects and detect faces in separate photos. Amazon S3 can help in storing all the photos on a website in one S3 bucket.
 
In a bid to create an open and powerful solution for building galleries and sharing images, a digital agency integrated S3, Rekognition and AWS Lambda with Drupal 8. The main objectives behind this implementation of an open source photo gallery were that it should be ‘self-hosted’, be easily able to upload plentitude of photos, use Drupal as a content store, leverage S3 for file storage and utilise Rekognition for automatic face and object recognition. The expected outcome was to make Drupal even better for photo sharing.

Flowchart showing a person working on laptop, a droplet containing number 8, red boxes, gama symbol, and laptop iconsSource: Acquia

They succeeded by developing an automated image processing workflow. In this, a user uploads a single picture or a set of pictures to Drupal 8 with the help of Entity Browser Drupal module. With the help of S3 File System module, Drupal, then, stores each of the pictures in an Amazon S3 bucket. For every new picture that gets copied into S3 bucket, an AWS Lambda function is triggered and the Lambda function sends the image to Rekognition. The function, then, receives back facial and object recognition data and calls a REST API  resource on the Drupal 8 site for delivering the data through JSON. Rekognition API Drupal module helped in parsing the data and storing labels and recognised faces in Drupal taxonomies and then relating the labels and faces to the Media Image entity for each of the uploaded pictures.

Conclusion

Drupal 8 keeps setting the bar higher when it comes to ease of use, offering limitless new ways to tailor and deploy your content to the Web, easily customise data structures, listing and pages, reaping the benefits of new capabilities for exhibiting data on mobile devices, building APIs and adapting to multilingual needs. Digital innovation is the forte of Drupal 8. And when AWS services are used along with Drupal, there is no stoppage to building exciting solutions.
 
We believe in open source innovation and are committed to offering great digital experiences with our expertise in Drupal development. Talk to our Drupal experts at [email protected] and let us know how do you want us to be a part of your digital transformation endeavours.

Jul 05 2019
Jul 05

"The digital voice assistant market is projected to experience continued expansion in the coming years, with number of voice assistants in use increasing from 3.25 billion in 2019 to around 8 billion by 2023" - Statistia

“Read out the headlines on the front page of today’s edition of The New York Times newspaper”. Say something like this to Google Home or Amazon Echo and you will get to listen to a voice reading out the news. Forget swiping, scrolling and typing, just talk to a voice assistant and hear what you want. Voice interfaces are all the rage in recent times.

A pile of books, a voice interface device, a pen and an apple kept close to each other


Not only is it helpful for your personal use, but organisations from different industries can find it meritorious. When it comes to new publishing opportunities, voice interfaces are right up there alongside artificial intelligence, augmented reality and blockchain. This world is not a part of a fairy tale and voice interface do pose a few challenges. Before we see how publishing companies make a great use of voice assistants, let’s explore voice interfaces a bit.

What exactly are voice interfaces?

Voice user interfaces (VUIs) enable the user to communicate with a system through voice or speech commands. Amazon Alexa, Echo dot, Google Home, Google Mini, Siri, Cortana and the Google Assistant some of the great examples of VUI.  The primary advantage of a VUI is that it enables you to interact with a product hands-free, eyes-free.

The primary advantage of a VUI is that it enables you to interact with a product hands-free, eyes-free.

Applying the same design guidelines to VUIs as to Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) is impossible. There are no visual affordances in a VUI. That means when you are looking at a GUI, you have no apparent indications of what the interface can do or what are the options available. When designing VUI actions, it is of paramount significance that the system clearly lays down possible interaction options, lets the user know what functionality is he/she is using and limit the amount of information to an amount that the user can remember.

Now, why are they important? It’s growing at an alarming pace and Gartner, a research firm, says that it is a trend, no discussion. You can see ‘Virtual Assistant’ in the graphical representation of emerging technologies below.

raphical representation showing parabolic line and blue dots and yellow triangles on it to show the Gartner's hype cycle for emerging technologiesSource: Gartner

VUI is getting better and better. In just an year, the betterment is apparently visible. Whether it is Google Home or Siri, advancements are impeccable as can be seen in the following graph.

Bar graph showing a light and dark green vertical bars to depict the improvement in voice assistants

Things that publishers need to know

There is a land grab to own skills and in the arena of VUI, skills can be split into two categories.

First is the branded skills that are connected to your brand and could not be owned by any other organisation. Skills like TED’s ‘play the latest TED Talk’ action and the Wall Street Journal’s ‘What’s News?’ come into this category.

Another category is the one that encompasses more generic skills like “Alexa, give me the headlines on sports” or “Okay Google, give me the stock market news”. Ownership of such generic skills would give you the sole authority over all the categories from the creation of first-mover advantage in the market as brands race to the capturing skills before they are gone.

This can make things tougher for brands who are looking to extract market-specific skills in both the generic and branded categories. And like most things, it is all about finding the right target.

Consumer Intelligence Research Partners stated in a study that Amazon Echo customer spend 66% more than average Amazon customers. This goes to say that Amazon can now afford to sell Echo devices at a lesser price than originally planned. They can even occasionally take a loss on devices for gaining a greater share of consumer spending. The inference that we get from this for the publishers is that optimising for voice search could result in a revenue boost.

Benefits of voice assistants for publishers

Emphasising on Customer Experience

Fabrice Rousseau, Amazon’s general manager of Alexa skills, emphasised on reinventing customer experience with the help of voice technology in his keynote address at the CMO Digital Insight Summit. He said, “When we moved from desktop to mobile we didn’t bring the desktop experience to mobile, we invented a very specific mobile experience”. He further stated, “When you move from mobile to voice don’t bring your mobile experience. Just invent an experience that is unique to voice.”

Fabrice Rousseau, Amazon’s general manager of Alexa skills, standing on the stage and several people sitting and listening to him.

One of the greatest examples of the importance of customer experience through voice technology can be seen through Amazon Audible. If you are a fan of audiobooks, the odds are that Amazon is your preferred place to shop. Of all the ways Amazon has been able to prove its hegemony in the book market, its share of audiobook sales probably represents its most formidable dominance.

Branding with skills

It is of utmost importance to note that, as far as most of the publishers are concerned, although the VUIs have been storming the market, there’s still plenitude of advancements in the pipeline. In spite of early triumphs with branded skills and flash briefings, VUIs still operate at a fairly low level such as following the commands to play music or read out your appointment dates. With that being said, many publishers are already working on plans for expansion. With the land grab to own skills still underway, the ones who make the first move will taste the success in the future.

What are the major challenges?

Dearth of personality

Voice assistants’ dearth of personality is one of the foremost concerns of publishers. Chris Gathercole, the head of FTLabs at the Financial Times, and his team used Amazon Polly for converting existing text articles into audio that is then delivered by ‘Artificial Amy’. What they observed was that ‘Amy’ was quick to learn and was also cost-effective but her lack of human-like characteristics was irksome and killed the humour or nuance of a piece.

Banal and disturbing

Automated voices are often either of banal nature or straight up disturbing which can put users off. An amalgamation of artificial and human voices could temper the issue with a voice actor reading parts of the text and a computerised voice contributing further snippets.

Automated voices are often either of banal nature or straight up disturbing

Privacy concerns

There are privacy concerns hovering around the ownership of devices that are essentially perpetually eavesdropping on your home. Consumer Watchdog, a customer advocacy group, stated in a study. “These patents show that smart devices target moments in between screen time to monitor sleep habits, listen in on dinner conversations, and track when users shower. Access to this data can flesh out Google and Amazon’s profiles of their users in order to help them more accurately server targeted ads”.

Conclusion

Conversations will evolve into an integral element of digital experiences. Interfaces that enable people to use natural language - from chatbots based on typing and reading to voice interfaces that are based on speaking and listening - are highly popular but also very immature.

However, with more devices without screens being connected, more consumers will look to voice for controlling their efforts and to perform more intricate tasks. Enterprises including publishing companies need guidance from Customer Experience (CX) pros so that their efforts at building conversational interfaces help customers instead of driving them away.

Looking for CX pro? Look no further than OpenSense Labs as we strongly believe in offering a wonderful digital experience through a suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to know more about the benefits of voice interface for a publishing company.

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Jun 21 2019
Jun 21

"There are hundreds of startups with a lot of brains and money working on various alternatives to traditional banking" - Jamie Dimon, CEO, JPMorgan Chase

FinTech and the disruption it can cause to the traditional banking systems is now a hot topic of debate in the banking conferences. Global venture capital funds are super-bullish on this front and are accentuating investments in the FinTech companies. Thanks to the burgeoning demand of FinTech in recent times, more crowdsourcing platforms are letting artists or fledgling entrepreneurs to crowd-source capital from a large constituency of online donors or investors.

A sheet of paper with Finance written in bold letters alongside relevant icons and laptop, notebooks, pen, and plant pot placed around it


For instance, peer to peer (P2P) lending, the high-tech equivalent of borrowing money from friends, helps in raising a loan from an online community at a mutually negotiated interest rate. Also, digital wallet providers allow people to zip money across borders even without any bank accounts using handheld devices.

Amalgamation of these technologies, which goes under the umbrella term FinTech, is expected to metamorphose the way all of us use banking and financial services. And Drupal can act as the perfect content management framework for building a great FinTech platform.

A portmanteau of financial technology

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Financial technology, which is referred to as FinTech, illustrates the evolving intersection of financial services and technology. FinTech allows people to innovate while transacting business ranging from digital money to double-entry bookkeeping.

The lines between technology and the financial services are blurring

Since the advent of the internet revolution and later the mobile internet revolution, financial technology has grown multifold. Originally referred to   technology applied to the back office of banks or trading firms, FinTech now caters to a broad variety of technological interventions into personal and commercial finance.

According to EY’s FinTech Adoption Index, one-third of consumers leverage at least two or more FinTech services and more and more of these consumers are also aware of FinTech being a part of their daily lives.

FinTech encompasses the startups, technology companies or even legacy providers. Startups use technology to offer existing financial services at affordable costs and to provide new tech-driven solutions. Incumbent financial enterprises look to acquire or work with startups to drive digital innovation. Technology companies offer payment tools. All these can be seen as FinTech. Surely, the lines between technology and the financial services are blurring.

Origins of FinTech

infographics showing the history of FinTech with relevant icons against each yearSource: 16Best

In broad lines, the financial industry has seen a gargantuan shift over the years with the way it is leveraged in the times of rapid technological advancements. 16Best has compiled a brief history of FinTech which shows how the gap between financial services and the technology has got bridged over the years.

The gap between financial services and the technology has got bridged over the years.

In 1918, the Fedwire Funds service began offering electronic funds transfer. And while the Great Depression was ravaging the world’s economies, IBM provided some solace with its 801 Bank Proof Cach Machine that offered the means for faster cheque processing. Subsequently, credit cards and ATMs came into existence in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

In 1971, first all-electronic trading emerged in the form of NASDAQ. And in 1973, the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) built a unified messaging framework between banks for handling money movement.

1997 was the year which saw the emergence of mobile payment through Coca-Cola Vending Machine. Fast forward to 2000s and the present decade, a slew of innovations crashed into the finance sector with the introduction of digital wallets, contactless payments and cryptocurrencies.

FinTech is definitely re-inventing a quicker and more durable wheel as the world continues to witness a superabundance of new ventures refining financial services with technology.

Merits of FinTech

Bar graph showing statistics on different areas of FinTech


Financial technology has taken the financial services to a whole new level with a cluster of merits that it offers. Here are some of the major benefits of FinTech:

  • Robo Advisors: They are one of the biggest areas of FinTech. These online investment services put users through a slew of questions and then relies on algorithms to come up with an investment plan for them.
  • Online Lending: It encompasses all aspects of borrowing from personal loans to refinancing student loans which improves money lending.
  • Mobile payments: There is a growing demand for mobile payment options with the stupendous rise of mobile devices over the years.
Bar graph showing statistics on global mobile payment marketTotal revenue of global mobile payment market from 2015 to 2019 (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista

Personal Finance and Savings: A plethora of FinTech organisations in the micro saving department have been helping people to save their change for rainy days and a whole lot of them rewarding customers for doing so. For instance, Digit allows you to automate the process of saving extra cash.

Bar graph showing statistics on personal financeSource: Statista

Online Banking and Budgeting: Online banks like Simple reward users for using their ‘automatic savings’ service and also offer a cost-effective option over a traditional bank. Leveraging online tools, they assist users to plan budgets and handle their money smartly from their mobile devices with minimal effort to meet their savings goals.

Insurance: New insurance models have been strengthening the FinTech space. Metromile, an insurance model, sells pay per mile car insurance.

Bar graph showing statistics on Insurtech industrySource: Statista

Regtech: Regulation Technology, which utilises IT to enhance regulatory processes, is one of the significant sectors where numerous FinTech app ideas have come into light around this domain. Regtech is useful for trading in financial markets, monitoring payment transactions and identification of clients among others. For instance, PassFort helps in standardising the online compliance processes.

How is Drupal powering FinTech?

Organisations offering FinTech solutions need to maintain a robust online presence. Drupal has been powering the landscape of FinTech with its enormous capabilities.

The launch of TPG Capital

Homepage of TPG Capital with a timelapse image of running cars on the road and trees in the background


TPG Capital is one of the major enterprise-level FinTech companies which has leveraged the power of Drupal 8.

One of the primary objectives for TPG’s marketing circuit was to harness the Drupal’s flexibility as a digital empowerment platform. They wanted the ability to make alterations to content on the fly and try out new messaging approaches. Simultaneously, the financial industry’s stringent legal and regulatory requirements called for a flexible TPG platform that would meet the specific needs of the sector thereby offering top-notch security.

Drupal came out as the right choice when it came to the CMS that would facilitate the TPG’s goal for mirroring their cutting-edge business practices and incorporate modern website design and branding.

A digital agency built a responsive, mobile-first site. It featured newer CSS features like Flexbox and CSS animations and minimised the site’s dependence on Compass by introducing auto prefixer. Moreover, Drupal 8 version of Swifttype was built for the search component and contributed back to the Drupal Community.

The launch of Tech Coast Angels

Homepage of Tech Coast Angels with two people working on their laptop


Tech Coast Angels are one of the biggest angel investment organisation in the US. 

Tech Coast Angels selected Drupal as their CMS of choice for its excellent features vis-à-vis user authentication, account management, roles and access control, custom dashboards, intricate web forms for membership and funding application, workflow management and email notifications.

Performance improvements were made by a digital agency to both the Drupal application and the server environments which brought down the costs to a huge extent by minimising the hardware requirements necessary to run the Drupal codebase in both staging and production environments.

With Drupal being one of the most security focussed CMSs, it helped a great deal in making amendments related to security of the site. Views caching were enabled and unnecessary modules were turned off on the production server.

Market trends

Bar graph showing global investments activity in FinTech companies


The Pulse of FinTech 2018 by KPMG shows that global investments activity in FinTech companies has been steadily rising with 2018 turning out as the most profitable year. It is only going to grow more in the coming years.

Infographics showing bubbles inside a box on the left and description on the right about the size of bubbles with respect to FinTech companies

In the coming years, the main trends in the asset and wealth management, banking, insurance and transactions and payments services industries can be seen in the illustration above.

Conclusion

FinTech is a great alternative to traditional banks. FinTech excels where traditional banks lag behind. In addition to offering robust financial services leveraging technological advancements, organisations offering FinTech solutions need to have a superb digital presence to offer a great digital experience. Drupal can be an awesome content store for an enterprise-level FinTech platform.

Drupal experts at Opensense Labs have been powering digital transformation pursuits of organisations offering a suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to build a FinTech web application for your business using Drupal.

Jun 21 2019
Jun 21

"Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit." - C. William Pollard, Chairman, Fairwyn Investment Company

Have you always secretly wanted to spend your evenings writing symphonies, learning about filmography or assessing climate change? Studying niche subjects have traditionally been for niche students. But e-learning platforms have changed all that with the provision for learning almost any subject online.

A student in the front and two behind him sitting on their chairs with a paper and a pen in their hands


Corporate e-learning has witnessed a stupendous 900% growth in the last decade or so. With more and more e-learning platforms flourishing, organisations are striving to be the best to stand apart from the rest. Drupal has been a great asset in powering education and e-learning with its powerful capabilities that can help enterprises offer a wonderful digital experience. Let’s trace the roots of e-learning before diving deep into the ocean of possibilities with Drupal for building an amazing e-learning platform.

Before the internet era

Infographic with ten rows, icons and text showing the timeline of e-learningSource: eFront

A brief history of e-learning can be traced through the compilation made by eFront. Even before the internet existed, distance education was being offered. In 1840, Isaac Pitman taught shorthand via correspondence where completed assignments were sent to him via mail and he would, then, send his students more work.

Fast forward to the 20th century, the first testing machine was invented in 1924 that enabled students to test themselves. The teaching machine was invented in 1954 by a Harvard professor for allowing schools to administer programmed instruction to students. In 1960, the first computer-based training program (CBT program) called Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operation (PLATO).

At a CBT systems seminar in 1999, the term ‘e-learning’ was first utilised. Eventually, with internet and computers becoming the core of businesses, the 2000s saw the adoption of e-learning by organisations to train employees. Today, a plenitude of e-learning solutions are available in the form of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Social platforms and Learning Management System among others.

E-learning: Learn anywhere, anytime

In essence, e-learning refers to the computer-based educational tool or system that allows you to learn anywhere and at any time. It is the online method of building skills and knowledge across the complete workforce and with customers and partners. It comes with numerous formats like the self-paced courses, virtual live classrooms or informal learning.

E-learning refers to the computer-based educational tool or system that allows you to learn anywhere and at any time

Technological advancements have diminished the geographical gap with the use of tools that can make you feel as if you are inside the classroom. E-learning provides the ability to share material in all sorts of formats such as videos, slideshows, and PDFs. It is possible to conduct webinars (live online classes) and communicate with professors via chat and message forums.

There is a superabundance of different e-learning systems (otherwise known as Learning Management Systems or LMS) and methods which enable the courses to be delivered. With the right kind of tools, several processes can be automated like the marking of tests or the creation of engrossing content. E-learning offers the learners with the ability to fit learning around their lifestyles thereby enabling even the busiest of persons to further a career and gain new qualifications.

Merits and Demerits

Some of the major benefits are outlined below:

  • No restrictions: E-learning facilitates learning without having to organise when and where everyone, who is interested in learning a course, can be present.
  • Interactive and fun: Designing a course to make it interactive and fun with the use of multimedia or gamification enhances engagement and the relative lifetime of the course.
  • Affordable: E-learning is cost-effective. For instance, while textbooks can become obsolete, the need to perpetually acquire new editions by paying exorbitant amounts of money is not present in e-learning.

Some of the concerns that are needed to be taken care of:

  • Practical skills: It is considered tougher to pick up skills like building a wooden table, pottery, and car engineering from online resources as these require hands-on experience.
  • Secludedness: Although e-learning enables a person to remotely access a classroom in his or her own time, learners may feel a sense of isolation. Tools such as video conferencing, social media and discussion forums can allow them to actively engage with professors or other students.
  • Health concerns: With the mandatory need of a computer or mobile devices, health-related issues like eyestrain, bad posture, and other physical problems may be troublesome. However, sending out proper guidelines beforehand to the learner like correct sitting posture, desk height, and recommendations for regular breaks can be done.

Building Yardstick LMS with Drupal

OpenSense Labs built Yardstick LMS, a learning management system, for Yardstick Educational Initiatives which caters to the students of various schools of Dubai.

Homepage of Yardstick LMS with logos of schools containing leaves, candle, open books, and firestickYardstick LMS Homepage

The architecture of the project involved a lot of custom development:

1. Yardstick Core

This is the core module of the Yardstick LMS where the process of creating, updating and deleting the nodes take place.

2. Yardstick Quiz

We built this custom module for the whole functionality of the quiz component. It generates a quiz, quiz palette and quiz report after quiz completion based upon the validation of the visibility of the report.

Quiz report of Yardstick LMS with table consisting of columns showing the list of schools, students and grades.


We could generate three kinds of reports: 

  • An individual-level quiz where one’s performance is evaluated
  • A sectional-level report where performance for each section is evaluated
  • Grade-level report where performance for all the sections is compared and evaluated.

For the quiz, we had different sub-components like questions, options, marks, the average time to answer, learning objective, skill level score, and concept. The same question could be used for different quiz thereby minimising the redundancy of the data. Also, image, video or text could be added for questions.

Subcomponents of yardstick LMS with a tabular column for assessing the learning objective and two of the metrics coloured yellow and red.


3. Yardstick Bulk User Import

This module was built to assist the administrators in creating users all at once by importing a CSV file. Also, there is an option to send invitation mail to all the users with login credentials.

Message box for importing users with a blank box and a submit button


4. Yardstick Custom Login

We provided a custom login feature where same login credentials could be used to log into the Yardstick system. That is, we provided an endpoint for verifying the login credentials and upon success, users were logged in.

5. Yardstick Validation

This module offers all the validation across the site whether it is related to access permission or some time validation.

6. Yardstick Challenge

It offers the user an option to submit a task which is assigned to them where they are provided with text area and file upload widget.

Yardstick LMS has an intricate structure

On the end user side, there is a seamless flow but as we go deeper, it becomes challenging. Yardstick LMS has an intricate structure.

We had two kinds of login:

  • Normal login using Yardstick credentials
  • And the other for school-specific login like the Delhi Public School (DPS) users.
Flowchart with rectangles and circles of different colours explaining Yardstick LMS custom loginYardstick LMS custom login for DPS users

For DPS users, we used the same login form but a different functionality for validating credentials. DPS school gave us an endpoint where we sent a POST request with username and password. If the username and password were correct, then that endpoint returned the user information.

If the username was received, we checked on our Yardstick system if the username exists. If it does not exist, then we programmatically created a new user with the information that we received from the endpoint and created a user session. And if does exist, then we updated the password on our system.

Yardstick LMS is designed to govern multiple schools at the same time

We designed Yardstick LMS in such a way that multiple schools can be governed at the same time. All the students of various schools will be learning the same content thereby building uniformity.

The core part of our system dwells in the modules. The module is a content type that can store numerous information like components, concept, description, objective, syllabus among others. 

Several different components can be added like Task, Quiz, Video task, Extension, Feedback, Inspiration, pdf lesson plan, Real life application, and Scientific principles.

Yardstick LMS real-life application component page with an image showing animated human figures and atomic theory written above themYardstick LMS Real life application component page

Schools could opt for different modules for different grades. When a module was subscribed by a school, a clone module of the master module was created and the school copy was visible only to the school. School version could be modified by the school admin as per their needs and preferences. Master module remained the same. While creating a subscription, administrator had to provide the date so that the components were accessible to the students. School admin could set different dates to different components and only the components with past date were accessible.

Flow chart showing rectangles, squares and elliptical circle of different colours to explain module subscription to school in yardstick LMSFlow Diagram of module subscription to school

Also, we provided an option to create a dynamic feedback form for the modules for analysis. Yardstick Admin had the option to design and create a feedback form as per their requirement and could assign it to a particular module. Different types of elements could be utilised for designing the form like rating, captcha, email, range slider, text field, checkboxes, radio buttons and so on.

Message box showing star icons, a blank box and a submit button


Students and teachers need to submit their feedback for each of the modules. On the basis of this, Yardstick team try to improve the content of the system.

Session evaluation page of yardstick LMS with a set of questions on the left and different options on the right and a blank box at the bottom


Also, various roles were defined for users such as Yardstick Administrator, School Administrator, Teacher, and Student.

1. Yardstick Admin

Yardstick Admin can perform all the operations. He or she can create new users, grant permissions and revoke them as well.

2. School Admin

It has the provision for handling all the operation which are only related to their school. School Admin handles the modules and their components and can import user for their school. All school reports and task submissions are visible to School Admins.

3. Teachers

Teachers can view modules and components assigned to their classes and provide remarks to the students for multiple components and they can view all kinds of reports.

4. Students

They can attempt quiz, submit tasks, view components and view their own reports.

What’s the future of e-learning?

According to a report on Research and Markets, the e-learning market is anticipated to generate revenue of $65.41 billion by 2023 with a growth rate of 7.07% during the forecast period.

The report goes on to state that with the advent of cloud infrastructure, peer-to-peer problem solving and open content creation, more business opportunities would pop up for service providers in the global e-learning market. The introduction of cloud-based learning and AR/VR mobile-based learning will be a major factor in driving the growth of e-learning.

The growth of the e-learning market is due to the learning process enhancements in the academic sector

According to Technavio, the growth of the market is due to the learning process enhancements in the academic sector.

Infographic showing statistics on e-learning market with icons representing bar graph, speedometer, horizontal lines, and a bulbGlobal self-paced e-learning market 2019-2023 | Source: Technavio

Following are major trends to look forward to:

  • Microlearning, which emphasises on the design of microlearning activities through micro-steps in digital media environments, will be on the rise.
  • Gamification, which is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context to keep the users engrossed and help them solve more problems, will see increased adoption rates.
  • Personalised learning, which is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments to meet the demands of learners, can be a driving force.
  • Automatic learning, like the one shown in the movie The Matrix where a person is strapped onto a high-tech chair and a series of martial arts training programs are downloaded into his brain, can be a possibility.

Conclusion

It’s a world which is replete with possibilities. As one of the most intelligent species to walk on this earth, we perpetually innovate with the way we want to lead a better lifestyle. We learn new things to gain more knowledge. And in the process, we find ways of improving our learning experience. E-learning is one such tech marvel that promises to be a force to reckon with. It is not a disrupting technology but something that is going to get bigger and bigger in the years to come.

As a content management framework, Drupal offers a magnificent platform to build a robust e-learning system. With years of experience in Drupal Development, OpenSense Labs can help in providing an amazing digital experience. 

Contact us at [email protected] to build an e-learning system using Drupal and transform the educational experience.

Jun 10 2019
Jun 10

The audience revels in the magnificent performances of the actors, picturesque visuals, breathtaking action sequences, alluring background score, thoughtful dialogues, and emotions attached to the narrative. To bring them all out in the best possible way on to the screen, there goes an exceptional direction and screenplay behind-the-scenes in addition to a massive swathe of people who are involved in different parts of the film. Apparently, a film works wonders when both the onscreen elements and the off-screen elements strike the right chord.

Interior of cinema hall with red chairs


A similar theory is of paramount significance in the case of web development. The rapid evolution of diverse end-user clients and applications have resulted in a plethora of digital channels to support. Monolithic architecture-powered websites leverage web content management solutions for disseminating content via a templating solution tightly coupled with the content management system on the backend. Propelled by the need to distribute content-rich digital interactions, application development and delivery (AD&D) professionals, who are supporting content management systems (CMS), are showing an inclination towards an API-first approach.
 
Headless CMSes have been leading the way forward to provide a spectacular digital experience and Drupal, being API-first, is a quintessential solution to implement a headless architecture. Before we move forward, let’s briefly look at how significant is content for your online presence and how the headless CMS is fulfilling the needs of organisations.

Content: Linchpin of ambitious digital experience

It is difficult to envisage a digital screen without content as every single moment that we spend on a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or a smartwatch is enriched with digital content like images, text, video, product reviews and so on. Even when we talk to a voice assistant and inquire about something, its answers constitute words, links, pictures, maps etc. (again, it’s all content). The relevance quotient of that content should be top-of-the-line as it is the medium that enables users to experience their digital interactions. This makes content the linchpin of ambitious digital experiences.

The relevance quotient of content should be top-of-the-line as it is the medium that enables users to experience their digital interactions

Several content repositories are struggling to meet today’s digital requirements. When the world was just web and email, governance of dynamic content dissemination worked perfectly fine using a web CMS. A web CMS has been an astronomical solution for offering unique designs, WYSIWYG authoring, a workflow for approvals and translation, fantastic marketing capabilities and internet-scale delivery.

Forrester’s The rise of the headless content management system report states that web CMSes has led to a cluster of content with markup and metadata. Moreover, if you optimise your content repository for HTML templates, it would require you to undo all the optimisations in order to use the content elsewhere in a non-HTML format. Also, tightly coupled approaches did not need APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) connecting the repository to the delivery tier or the content editing and workflow tools. And, selling the content repository and delivery environment together is great for web-only scenarios but reusing the content on the mobile application or in email marketing would still require you to run the entire web CMS stack.

There is where the need for headless CMS kicks in. It uses modern storage, stateless interfaces and cloud infrastructure for the efficacious delivery of Internet-scale content experiences on any device.

Uncloaking headless CMS

Illustration having traingles and rhombus consisting of icons representing shopping cart, Source: Forrester

Headless CMS is a content component in a digital experience architecture that interacts with other components comprising of authoring, delivery front ends, analytics tools through loosely coupled APIs. It does not do any rendering of content and the rendering is decoupled from the management interface which is why terms ‘headless’ and ‘decoupled’ are used interchangeably.

Headless CMS stores the content, offers a user interface for the creation and management of content, and provides a mechanism for accessing the content through REST APIs as JSON

While ‘head’ refers to the frontend rendering or the presentation of the content, the ‘body’ refers to the backend storage and the governance of the content.

Headless CMS stores the content and offers a user interface for the creation and management of content. It provides a mechanism for accessing the content through REST APIs as JSON. So, it is also referred to as API-first CMS.

Content can be delivered to and integrated with the third party system like e-commerce tool. Or, it can be delivered to and exhibited using front end technology in the browser, mobile app or syndication service. Headless CMS is a wonderful content-as-a-service solution.

Flowchart containing rectangles to explain headless CMS and Traditional CMSSource: Contentstack

A traditional CMS confronts with the processes of creation of content, its dissemination and its display. It has a backend where the users can enter content which is stored in a database, retrieved, rendered into HTML on the server which is then delivered as fully rendered pages to the browser.

In contrast, headless CMS decouples the rendering and presentation system thereby enabling you to replace it with frontend or other technologies of your choice. The CMS will be a content store and web application for the content producers and the content is delivered to the frontend or another system through an API.

With the stupendous rise of headless architectures, a portion of the web is turning server-centric for data and client-centric for the presentation. This has given momentum to the ascension of JavaScript frameworks and on the server side it has led to the growth of JSON:API and GraphQL for better serving the JavaScript applications with content and data. Among the different web services implementations like REST, JSON:API and GraphQL, when we consider request efficiency, JSON:API is the better option as a single request is usually sufficient for most needs. JSON:API also is great in operational simplicity and is perfect while writing data.

Headless CMS decouples the rendering and presentation system thereby enabling you to replace it with frontend or other technologies of your choice

Headless CMS is advantageous for the following reasons:

  • You can instantly start with headless with no hurdles.
  • It does not require you to alter your existing delivery tier as it seamlessly fits into the existing architecture
  • It is perfect for building web and mobile applications as it allows practically any application- be it web, mobile, IoT(Internet of Things), smart TV or touchscreens- to pull and push content.
  • Frontend developers, backend developers, marketing and content editors can get started quickly and work autonomously.
  • You can give more power to the front-end developers as they simply work content APIs and do not have to learn inner functionalities of CMS or its templating system.
  • It follows the approach of ‘Create Once, Publish Everywhere’ thereby allowing you to reuse content for different channels.
  • It works tremendously well in a microservices environment and enables cross-functional teams to work via agile processes and get tasks done swiftly.

Going the Drupal way

Call it headless or decoupled, leveraging Drupal, as the central content service, is a magnificent solution to power your complete application and device ecosystem. Decoupled Drupal has the provision for omnichannel delivery of content that is quintessential for marketers and publishers.

Decoupled Drupal has the provision for omnichannel delivery of content that is quintessential for marketers and publishers

It enables the developer to leverage any technology for rendering the frontend experience instead of theming and presentation layers in Drupal. The Drupal backend exposes content to native applications, JavaScript application, IoT devices and other such systems. In addition to the modules for web service implementations like REST, GraphQL and JSON:API, Decoupled Drupal ecosystem also offers several other alternative modules that can be of huge help.

Flowchart consisting of rectangular boxes and arrows to explain types of decoupled Drupal Source: Dries Buytaert’s blog

There are different approaches to decouple Drupal:

Coupled Drupal

In traditional Drupal, also referred to as coupled Drupal, monolithic implementation is done in which Drupal has the authority over all frontend and backend side of your web application setup. Coupled Drupal is fantastic for content creators, especially when you are in dire need of achieving fast time to market without relying too much on front-end developers. Developers, who love Drupal 8 and want it to own the entire stack, still find it a great way of building a web application.

Progressively decoupled Drupal

Another way to utilise the power of Drupal is the progressively decoupled approach. It is a compelling approach for developing Drupal’s frontend where the governance of contiguous experiences is handled by content editors, site assemblers and the front-end developers. While content authors and the site assemblers get the benefits of contextualised interfaces, content workflow, site preview etc. to remain usable and incorporated with Drupal as a whole, a portion of the page to a JavaScript framework is dedicated for front-end developers to let them work autonomously. Progressive decoupling helps in utilising Drupal’s rendering system while simultaneously using a JavaScript framework for powering the client-side interactivity.

Fully decoupled Drupal

In fully decoupled Drupal, there is a complete separation between Drupal’s frontend and the backend. The Twig theme layer is replaced with a different frontend entirely. Native mobile or desktop applications, JavaScript single-page applications or IoT applications are some of the examples. RESTful API is leveraged by these applications to communicate with Drupal. RESTful API, which acts as a middle layer between frontend and backend, exposes resources as JSON or XML that can be queried or modified with the help of HTTP methods like GET, POST etc. Even though integral features like in-place editing and layout management are not available, the fully decoupled approach is preferred by developers as it offers ultimate authority over the frontend and is superb for those who are already experienced with the development of applications in frameworks like React, Vue etc.

Increasing intricacy of JavaScript development has given birth to JAMstack (JavaScript, APIs, Markup) which has, in turn, resulted in another very much favoured approach called fully decoupled static sites. Enhanced performance, security and reduced complication for developers have made static sites a favourite option among many developers. For instance, Gatsby, a static site generator, can retrieve content from Drupal, generate a static site, and deploy it to a content delivery network (CDN) via specialised cloud provider like Netlify.

Meritorious features of decoupled Drupal

Following are some of the major benefits of decoupled Drupal:

  • Syndication of content: Whether it is a coupled approach or a decoupled approach, Drupal remains the hub while developing experience ecosystems with all of them ingesting content from one source of truth.
  • Full separation: Even though monolithic and progressively decoupled approaches in Drupal has implicit separation of concerns and mostly couldn’t be seen by the user, fully decoupled architecture gives you an explicit separation between structured content that is governed by Drupal and its presentation which is managed by consumer applications.
  • User experience: Decoupled architecture offers an amazing user-centred experience. For instance, a JavaScript framework can be more suited to the task when it comes to an interactive application which is in dire need of frequent re-renderings of content.
  • Work in parallel: Decoupling also brings efficacy to a pipelined development process which involves teams working in parallel. A team of front-end developers can develop applications against a dummy web service API that is utilised only for the purpose of testing but not actually completed whereas the team of backend developers can administer the backend that exposes the API and the underlying processes yielding it.

Challenges of Decoupled Drupal

Some of the major hurdles while decoupling Drupal are mentioned below:

  • Editing and governance: Drupal 8’s wonderful features like in-place editing, configuration menus constituting certain page components, and some modules that include contextualised tools for Drupal governance won’t be available.
  • Security: Although JavaScript and application frameworks have the provision for defending cross-site scripting attacks, fully decoupled and progressively decoupled approaches put the obligation of carefully scrutinising the security implications.
  • Point of failure: Fully decoupled architecture require the use of stacks like MERN (MongoDB, Express, React, NodeJS) or MEAN (Angular instead of React) or other solutions that may imperative for native mobile or IoT applications. That means, it can be challenging to introduce an additional hosting stack into your firm’s infrastructure and can lead to an additional point of failure.
  • Layout management: Having to remove modules like Panels and Display Suite can be an issue for the developers causing obstacles to the marketing teams who do not have the access to developers who can help in implementing layout changes.
  • Previews: It can be challenging if your editorial team wants a previewable content workflow as it is used to working with coupled CMS.
  • Notifications: In a fully decoupled architecture, Drupal system messages, that are frequently highlighted at the top of rendered pages, are not accessible. Moreover, providing these messages in a progressively decoupled setup is not much of an issue.
  • Performance: BigPipe module works tremendously well in enhancing the web performance in Drupal that can match the page load performance of JavaScript applications. Fully decoupled architecture is devoid of this feature but progressively decoupled setup can give you the option of leveraging the feature.
  • Accessibility: Drupal won’t be providing the readymade frontend code or a roster of core interface components and interaction that can be relied upon which calls for front-end developers to build a suitable UX and ensure accessibility without the assistance of Drupal.

Strategies employed while choosing decoupled Drupal

Assessment of the organisational needs is instrumental to the decision-making process. Being abreast of the business requirements pertaining to building a robust digital presence helps you in forming an immaculate strategy while choosing decoupled Drupal.

For instance, selecting decoupled Drupal might or might not be an astounding option for developing a single standalone website. It depends upon the functionalities that are deemed as “really necessary” by your developers and content editors. In case, you are developing multiple web experiences, decoupled Drupal instance can either be leveraged as a content repository which is devoid of its public-facing frontend or simply as a traditional site that can act concurrently as a content repository. It, again, depends upon how dynamic you want your web application to be that would ultimately help in deciding a JavaScript of choice or even a static site generator.

Developing native mobile or IoT applications may require you to adopt a decoupled approach where you can expose web service APIs and consume that Drupal site as a central content service which is bereft of its own public-facing frontend.

The significant thing to take a note here is the stupendous capabilities of Drupal for supporting almost any given use case as it streamlines the process of developing decoupled Drupal. 

Case studies

Some of the biggest names in different industries have chosen decoupled Drupal to power their digital presence.

The Economist

Established in 1843, The Economist, which set out to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”, has seen staggering growth over the years and has earned great recognition in the world of media. It chose decoupled architecture for building a Drupal backend for the native iOS and Android Espresso applications with the help of a digital agency.

Screengrab of The Economist Espresso application showing the logo in red and black strips on top left corner


Drupal turned out to be an astronomical solution for the Economist editorial team. They could iteratively design and had a spectacular content creation and publishing workflow that met their requirements. It helped in incorporating features like automatic issue creation, approval of content, the look and feel of interfaces among others.

The customisation of Drupal content creation interface was done in a way that would avoid errors while formatting and enables content authors to emphasise on content. Editorial teams had the provision for a dashboard that could help in swiftly and efficaciously creating and publishing new issues. It also offered visual indicators of approval status, countdown timers for each region and quick links for all the articles.

Produce Market Guide

The website of Produce Market Guide (PMG), a resource for produce commodity information, fresh trends and data analysis, was rebuilt by OpenSense Labs. It involved interpolation of a JavaScript framework into the Drupal frontend using progressively decoupled Drupal that helped in creating a balance between the workflows of developers and content editors. The rebuilding process comprised of majorly progressively decoupled approach, React, Elasticsearch Connector module among others.

Homepage of Produce Market Guide with red strip on top and images showing people on right


The process of mapping and indexing on Elastic Server required ElasticSearch Connector and Search API modules. Elastic backend architecture building process was followed by the development of faceted search application with React and the integration of the app in Drupal as block or template page. The project structure for the search was designed and built in the sandbox with modern tools like Babel and Webpack and third-party libraries like Searchkit.
 
Moreover, Logstash and Kibana, that are based on Elasticsearch, were incorporated on the Elastic Server thereby helping in collecting, parsing, storing and visualising the data. The app in the Sandbox was developed for the production and all the CSS/JS was incorporated inside Drupal as a block to make it a progressively decoupled feature. Following the principles of Agile and Scrum helped in building a user-friendly site for PMG with a search application that could load the search results rapidly.

Princess Cruises

As one of the premiere cruise lines in the world, Princess Cruises innovatively metamorphosed their marketing landscape with the integration of decoupled Drupal. They went on to fundamentally change the way their guest accessed information while onboard their ships.

Princess Cruises webpage showing a mobile phone over a bluish background


The guests on their ships relied upon their smartphones to swiftly access information, purchase items and inform the management about anything. This led to the development of [email protected] with the objective of transforming Princess experience. It is a mobile application that is specifically designed for allowing guests to plan their day, assess the ship’s itinerary, scan through restaurant menus and book shore excursions on-the-go.

When the ships are sailing different parts of the world, the digital experience had to be reliable which called for a centralised way of administering content across several channels and touchpoints. This would enable them to offer a uniform experience on mobile and digital signage onboard the ship. Decoupled Drupal was chosen to serve content across multiple touchpoints and channels. Princess Cruises could create content once and publish everywhere thereby connecting every passenger to [email protected], hence Drupal.

NASA

NASA, an independent agency of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States, went for the decoupled setup for the redressal of their site with the help of an agency. Drupal and Amazon Web Services (AWS) turned out to be a wonderful match for meeting the content needs of both NASA and the public with user-driven APIs, dynamic host provisioning, scalability and security.

Homepage of NASA showing images of planets in space


The deployment of NASA’s website is done in numerous AWS availability zones and manages almost 500 content editors updating over 2000 content every day. On an average, it receives nearly a million page views a day and has even gone onto handle peak load of approximately 40,000,000 page views in a single day with groundbreaking feat of 2,000,000+ simultaneous users during NASA’s 2017 Total Solar Eclipse coverage.

Conclusion

Application development and delivery teams have already started exploring headless CMS tools along with numerous other sets of API-first microservices for building innovative solutions. These digital natives are adopting a do-it-yourself approach to digital experience architectures and dragging their organisations into the digital-first age.

Headless throws open interesting possibilities and challenges traditional ways of doing things. For a lot of organisations, it is no longer a question of whether they should go for headless or not but more of a contemplation of headless to assess where does the headless fit in their organisational setup. Moreover, the growth of microservices architecture will continue to give that extra push to headless or decoupled approaches.

Decoupled Drupal is an outstanding solution for implementing headless architecture. It acts as a central hub, processing and curating content and data from other tools and services while simultaneously sharing its own content and data via APIs. With the stupendous flexibility, scalability and content authoring capabilities of headless approaches, digital firms can enjoy seamless creativity and innovation as they build their digital architectures.

We have been perpetually working towards the provision for great digital experiences with our suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to get the best out of decoupled Drupal and ingrain your digital presence with its superb capabilities.

May 31 2019
May 31

Usain Bolt, in his last appearance at the World Track and Field Championships in 2017, stood third by a narrow defeat in the 100m race leaving behind a yawning gulf. Bolt finished the race just a hundredth of a second later than his fellow competitors.

Every (nano)second counts!

Four sprinters crossing the finishing line with crowd cheering them on in the background


Such is the importance of speed that even a three-time Olympic gold medallist, Usain Bolt, had to bear the brunt of those nanoseconds. Someone might ask “How do I get started learning about web performance?”

Visualise that it is the Mega Book Sale Day and the bookworms are thronging the best performing online stores that are selling the books of renowned authors. Coping with such a colossal turn-up, a site with much faster page load speed would be preferred over the ones that are a bit sluggish. Drupal offers a superb platform for an effective website performance optimisation thereby making it faster and user-friendly.

The Significance of Website Performance Optimisation

Web performance optimisation involves monitoring the performance of web application analysing and assessing it, and identifying the best practices to improve it.

Web applications are a combination of server-side and client-side code. To improve the web performance, both the sides need to be optimised.

The client-side optimisation relates to the initial page load time, JavaScript that runs in the browser, downloading all of the resources etc. that are seen in the web browser.

The server-side optimisation relates to database queries and other application dependencies to check how long it takes to run on the server for executing requests.

Performance optimisation is significant because of the following factors:

User retention

BBC found that they are losing out of 10% of users for every extra second their website took to load. Also, DoubleClick by Google found that if the web page took more than 3 seconds to load, 53% of mobile site visitors tend to abandon the page.

Infographic showing statistics on the importance of performance optimisation for improving user retention

 

We all strive to make our users engage in a meaningful interaction with what we have built for the web.

So, if it is an online store, you would like to see a prospective audience turning into buyers. Or if it is a social networking web application, you would want your online visitors to get ensconced in an arresting interaction with one another. High performing sites play a vital role in engaging and retaining users.

An increase in user retention by 5% can result in increased profits by up to 95%.

It costs 5 to 25 times more to attract new customers. So, even a 5% enhancement in customer retention can lead to increased profits of 25%-95%.

By redesigning their web pages, Pinterest combated a 40% reduction in perceived wait times and witnessed a 15% increase in their search engine traffic and sign-ups.

COOK, a provider of high-quality frozen meals, was able to address the average page load time and cut it down by 850 milliseconds which resulted in 7% in conversions, 10% increase in pages per session and 7% decrease in bounce rate.

Improved Conversions

User retention ultimately leads to better conversion rates. Slow sites can have huge repercussions on the business revenues. Better performance of sites can be highly profitable to shore up revenues.

Graphical representation depicting conversion rate and bounce rate with respect to page load timeSource: Hubspot

According to 2016 Q2 Mobile Insights Report by Mobify, 1.11% increase in session-based conversion was seen for every 100ms decrease in homepage load speed. Moreover, a 1.55% increase in session-based conversion was noticed for every 100ms decrease in checkout page load time. The outcome was an increase in the average annual revenue by approximately $530,000.

Also, AutoAnything revved up their sales by 12-13% after decreasing their page load time by half.

User experience

When sites ship tons of code, underwhelming performance persists as the browsers chew through megabytes of it on snail-paced networks. 

Infographic showing statistics on importance of web user experienceSource: Impactbnd

Even the devices with limited processing power and memory can find it hard to cope up with the modest amount of unoptimised code. With poor performance taking centre stage, application responsiveness and availability diminishes.

Better optimised code lead to high functioning and better-performing sites which in return alleviate the digital user experience.

Strategising the web performance

Formulation of strategies to improve web performance can be done in two ways:

Bottom-up strategy

Also known as performance-by-design, the bottom-up strategy is the preferred approach to integrate performance as a core development principle. In this strategy, the performance optimisation principles are framed, applied and maintained. This is done right from the application design phase. 

The key stages that are involved in this approach are stated below:

  • Performance principles are laid out.
  • The key pages/transactions are identified, optimised accordingly, and then performance principles are executed.
  • Performance SLAs (Service Level Agreement) are monitored and maintained.

Here's a chart by Infosys which explains it best: 

Illustration showing the key stages involved in bottom-up strategy for improving the web performanceKey stages involved in bottom-up strategy

Top-down strategy

If an existing application needs to be optimised for performance, top-down strategy comes into play. This is a preferred option only when the legacy applications are being optimised for high performance. Also, this is not cost effective and the optimisation options are limited.

Steps involved in this strategy are as follows:

  1. Factors that are contributing to the page performance are assessed using tools like PageSpeed Insights, WebPageTest etc.
  2. Activities that would lead to maximum performance improvements are optimised.
  3. Other optimisations with subsequent releases are iteratively implemented.

In addition to these strategies, one must consider an important methodology called ‘Performance Budgeting’. It means setting a performance threshold that you aim to stay within. You can safeguard your site speed and detect any regression in the performance by setting up a performance budget to ensure continual eye on performance.

This is how we do it!

Expected load time and Google page speed score, as shown below, is the core of our perpetual and iterative development process.

Illustration showing the key processes involved in the performance budgeting methodology 

The above chart shows that, while applying performance budgeting methodology, we take note of:

  1. Average load time of 2 seconds or less
  2. Defined maximum limit on page size and number of HTTP requests
  3. Verification of all server site tuning for an efficient and responsive site
  4. Google page speed performance grade of above 90
  5. Implementing performance optimisation

Implementing Performance Optimisation

How to speed up my Drupal website performance? Drupal is loaded with an enormous amount of features which, when implemented smartly, can lead to superfast page loads. There are several techniques to make your website faster by leveraging the amazing features of Drupal.

Keeping your site and modules updated

Outmoded modules can deter your efforts in speeding up your website. Thus, it is important to update every module enabled on your Drupal site.

Uninstalling unused modules

Like those outdated modules, it is significant to keep a tab on least used or no longer used modules. The number of Drupal modules installed on the site is directly proportional to the time taken for code execution which affects page load time. Uninstalling unwanted modules can alleviate execution time.

Moreover disabling the modules also adds to the execution time of the code. So, a complete removal by uninstalling the unused modules can speed up the Drupal site.

Optimising Cache

Optimisation of native cache system ensures that all the web page components are stored in an easily accessible location after a user visits your site for the very time. So, whenever the user visits your site again, the page elements are loaded from the cache which leads to increased page load speed.

Drupal has the provision of advanced caching with a great set of modules:

  • Internal Page Cache module helps in caching the web pages for anonymous users to increase the speed for subsequent users.
     
  • Dynamic Page Cache module caches web pages for the anonymous and authenticated users and is recommended for the websites of all screen sizes.
     
  • BigPipe module allows your users to quickly see the unchanged, cacheable page elements while the personalised content is exhibited next. This technology was inspired by Facebook. Drupal 8’s much improved render pipeline and render API is of huge help.
     
  • Redis module helps in integrating Drupal with Redis key-value store thereby providing a robust cache system for static pages.
     
  • Varnish module lets you integrate Drupal sites with an advanced and fast reverse-proxy system - Varnish cache -  to serve static files and unknown page-views quicker and at high volumes.

Optimising database

Website coding is not the sole thing that can be optimised. Optimising database by regularly cleaning up the data and removing the unwanted piece of information.

Memcache API and Integration module, help in the integration of Drupal and Memcached. It stores your data in active memory for a limited period of time thereby making it faster to access. 

So, instead of making queries to the database constantly, the information is readily available. Such a system also works on the shared web hosting plans.

Incorporating a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Components like CSS, JavaScript and media are hosted by CDN and served to the online visitors from the nearest location. This can help in mitigating the page load time by rapidly delivering web page components.

Drupal module, CDN, helps in the integration of Content Delivery Network for Drupal websites. It changes the file URLs so that files like CSS, JavaScripts, images, videos, and fonts are downloaded from the CDN instead of your web server.

Optimising bandwidth

Aggregating all CSS and JavaScript files to make them load together is what bandwidth optimisation refers to. Such a parallel processing ensures that all the page elements can be seen by the users almost immediately.

Optimising images

Drupal 8 core is loaded with image optimisation feature to set the compression ratio of the images and fine-tune the page performance.

Moreover, the size of the images for screen sizes of different devices can be optimised in Drupal 8 to enhance the page load speed.

Handling 404 errors

Whenever something on the website breaks to cause a 404 error, it can lead to sluggishness. For instance, a failed image can damage the performance of the site. Drupal 8 provides a module called Fast 404 which utilises the resources better and whitelists files and verifies pathways of problem.

Managing the use of CSS and JavaScript

CSS and JavaScript provide wonderful methods for customisation and flexibility. But, too much of good things can be troublesome for your websites. Avoiding excessive use of CSS files and JavaScript use and keeping the code to a minimum can improve performance.

Advanced CSS/JS Aggregation, Drupal module, can help in keeping a tab of your front-end performance by aggregating CSS and JavaScript files to improve speed.

Using lazy loading

Lazy or on-demand loading is a perfect way to optimise your site’s performance. In this method, you split your code at logical breakpoints and then load it once the user has done something that requires a new block of code.

Basically, in traditional websites, all the images and content are preloaded into the web browser when someone accesses the site. Lazy loading loads these elements as soon as a user scrolls to view a content.

Blazy, Drupal module, provides the functionalities of lazy loading and multi-serving the images to save bandwidth and server requests.

Better web hosting

It is of consummate importance that, while implementing every possible tips and trick and utilising the Drupal’s amazing features, you chose the best web hosting provider that will decide your site’s ultimate speed, stability and security.

Upgrading the server hardware

Server scaling is of paramount importance in order to optimise the website. And to do so, you can either upgrade the server hardware by scaling vertically or by scaling horizontally. When you scale vertically, more resources are thrown at the same server and is considered the simplest approach of scaling the hardware. And when you scale horizontally, more servers are added to separate the load. This approach, when executed well, can minimise the load that any single server receives. In case, you have multiple app servers for Drupal, you will need a method of deploying code to each server concurrently. For example, plartform.sh and pantheon.io can manage the entire hosting setup for you but if you are handling it by yourself, you would require rsync setup or git push to each of your servers etc.

Case Study

The Drupal website of the Farm Journal’s MILK was optimised for high performance and better search engine rankings with a help of carefully drafted audit report by Opensense Labs.

In this section, we will focus on how we used our Drupal expertise to resolve the performance issues.

Project highlights

Previously segregated CSS and JS files cached separately which escalated the page load time. We aggregated all these files and put them in one place which assuaged the page load time.

Moreover, we used Advanced CSS/JS Aggregation Drupal module to minify CSS, JS and HTML and reduce load time.

In addition to these, we enabled Redis, used as a database, cache and message broker, so that it can be used as the backend instead of MySQL. This allowed cached items to be retrieved swiftly and improved performance.

Project outcome

On testing the performance metrics on tools like PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom, we witnessed significant improvement.

PageSpeed Insights

  • Result on handheld devices
Google pagespeed insights result for mobile devices before implementing performance enhancement in the sitePre-implementation (Live Instance)

 

Alt text: Google pagespeed insights result for mobile devices after implementing performance enhancement in the sitePost-implementation (Live Instance)

 

  • Result on Desktop
Google pagespeed insights result for desktop before implementing performance enhancement in the sitePre-implementation (Live Instance)

 

Google pagespeed insights result for desktop after implementing performance enhancement in the sitePost-implementation (Live Instance)

 

Pingdom

Pingdom scores on different performance metrics of site before implementing performance enhancementPre-implementation Pingdom Score (Live Environment)

 

Pingdom scores on different performance metrics of site after implementing performance enhancementPost-implementation Pingdom Score (Live Environment)

 

Conclusion

Speed can be the determining factor in the amount of time an online user spends on your website. It’s important that you remove the sluggishness from your website and inculcate betterments in its performance. Drupal 8 can help by incorporating wonderful features to make your site a high performing space.

Feel free to reach us at [email protected] for developing a high performing Drupal website

May 26 2019
May 26

Possibly the greatest ever digital signage advertising was created for British Airways which had it all. The advert, connecting to live flight information, displayed a child pointing up to the sky as an aeroplane flew above him. This was so cleverly done that the advert showed the flight number and its destination as well.

What a great blend of entertainment and education using the latest technologies!
A big screen shows a child pointing his fingers upwards while a plane flies in the skySource: British Airways

The digital signage system is scalable and its usefulness can be extracted to a great extent like digital menu boards for restaurants or the interactive digital movie posters for movie theatres. Drupal has the power to be a remarkably scalable digital signage solution for different sorts of organisations thereby reducing costs, speeding up time to market, and building engaging experiences for the people.

Digging Deeper Into The Terminology: Digital Signage

Digital signage refers to a centralised content dissemination platform for serving digital content on screens. It can be leveraged to display information through television programming, menus, advertising and other messages.

It can be seen in the form of digital signboards, billboards, and other such display devices for displaying visual information. It is connected by a content management system like Drupal that sends the digital content to be displayed. The information displayed can be anything ranging from static data and charts and graphs to images and video streaming.

Digital signage is a centralised content dissemination platform for serving digital content through television programming, menus or advertising on screens.

It can be commonly seen in outdoor marketing campaigns to display promotional content. Moreover, industries that rely on real-time information delivery to its employers or customer such as stock exchanges, airports, and sports stadiums can use digital signs to a great extent.

Digital Signage Can Be Used In Awesome Ways

Its uses can be seen through the eyes of organisations to understand the different ways it can be implemented. Some of the biggest brands have harnessed its immense potential.

Netflix, one of the largest over-the-top media service providers, carried a promotional campaign that relied on the humbled animated GIF. Instead of using a long video clip, they opted for reaction-based clips which were just a few seconds long. These videos were tied into the events that were actually happening around the globe.

[embedded content]


Swedish pharmacy Apotek Hjärtat developed a controversial billboard using a built-in smoke detector. Every time a smoker passed by, the billboard would cough loudly at them before displaying a series of products to help people stop smoking. Although it turned heads, questions were raised whether such an overt messaging is effective or not.

[embedded content]


Coca Cola’s Small World Machines Initiative had a grand ambition and offered a live link between India and Pakistan. Coke machines were placed in both the nations where people could interact with one another through the screen like touching hands, drawing peace, love, and happiness symbols together.

[embedded content]

A Trio Of Major Merits Through Digital Signs

Enormous possibilities of digital signs are pretty evident with so many big brands using them to a great effect. Using digital signs can prove beneficial in many ways.

  • Enhances customer engagement: People love colourful and moving images rather than static images which help in enhancing user engagement.
  • Makes a good impression: Content can be updated remotely within seconds. For instance, such quick updates can help retailers to form a good impression and adjust to customer demands without having to deploy employees or new signs printed.
  • Revs up revenue: Digital signs can help increase your sales and revenue. In 2014. Taco John deployed digital menu boards and witnessed a 12% increase in sales.

How Can Drupal Be The Perfect CMS For Digital Signage Solutions?

Well, it all boils down to the CMS that would be relaying digital content on to the screen to attract people. Drupal is one of the big players in the content management systems that can be the perfect fit for creating digital signs.

Content Creation

Your CMS should allow the content creation to be done intuitively and support all the common file types. Drupal comes with intuitive tools for content creation, workflow and publishing for streamlining content authoring.

Remote Access

With Drupal, on-the-go team members can assess, edit and approve content from mobile devices to keep content and promotional campaigns flowing on to the screens regardless of where they are and what device they are working on.

Content Revision

Drupal helps in enabling a swift and simple way to track all the alterations and revisions which is a must-have if you have multiple editors and need to handle a history of content changes.

Content Workflow

Drupal allows you to administer custom, editorial workflows for all the processes involved in the content production. It lets you view the stage your content is in - from creation to assessment to publication.

User Controls

Authentication and user permissions in Drupal helps in handling editorial workflows efficaciously and previews show how the content will look on screen before the content editors would finally approve and relay them on to the screens.

Content Scheduling

Drupal has the provisions for scheduling the content at your own convenience. It is possible to schedule a campaign to be published at a certain time. In case, a campaign is no longer required or outmoded, it can be unpublished as well.

Security

Drupal is one of the most secure CMS platforms among the leading players like Wordpress, Joomla and Magento. In a report published by Sucuri called Hacked Website Report, Drupal turned out to be the least vulnerable to security attacks in comparison to Wordpress.

Scalability

Your CMS should be able to grow with you and accommodate more screens. Drupal is a highly scalable solution with high traffic sites like Grammy, NBC Olympics, University of Oxford and many other renowned names performing astoundingly well even during the busiest of times.

Support And Maintenance

Drupal is an open source solution and you can rest assured that the Drupal community comprises of numerous vendors who are adept at providing round the clock support and maintenance.

At Opensense Labs, we have designed the Bucket and on-the-go models of support and maintenance services. We offer support in the day-to-day operations. Our support hours run parallelly with business hours but are extendable as per your needs.

Use Cases

The University of Iowa, which is powered by Drupal, kicked off a Drupal Digital Signage Service to offer new digital capabilities inside the campus.

Drupal’s flexibility in content management and delivery in combination with Intel Compute Sticks, mini-computers that serve each screen or sign, proved rewarding. This helped in offering wireless connectivity to the Drupal-based content as it is relayed on to the screens in real-time.

Three girls looking at a screen showing building architectureSource: University of Iowa

The digital signs provided key information for students like the time at which a bus would arrive or leave, emergency alerts, advertisements for student groups, computer lab availability, university news, and events etc.

The University reported rapid adoption of the service as many colleges and divisions within the University used the free and user-friendly solution on several screens. Stakeholders used templates and drag and drop tools and widgets for customising and governing the screen content.

The University’s move to expand the use of Drupal to digital signs proved beneficial in many ways. An IOWA NOW news story stated that “the backend is incredibly user-friendly. It’s the same system our websites run on, and so very intuitive. The web-based platform allows us to update information and slides from anywhere and anytime”.

Being an open source software, Drupal incurred no licensing fees. Hardware costs were lower too. Thanks to the project team’s discovery that the digital signs could be run on small, energy-efficient compute sticks. Moreover, wireless connectivity eliminated the expense of data ports and cabling.

People standing at the sides of the screen showing the pillars and the word IOWASource: University of Iowa

The Drupal Digital Signage system, rather than using a webpage, used a specialised software application. This made the displaying of content as simple as plugging the URL of a sign into a browser. Users were granted access permissions for specific signs and by utilising templates and a drag-and-drop interface, they could display the content or widgets in numerous regions of the screens. That content, displayed on the screen, could also be shared with other units.

Furthermore, the digital signs, being accessible to all screen-reading technologies, saved staff time. Being easy to learn, training time got reduced.

Content editors only needed to enter news or events into a familiar interface. The content would go to both their websites and digital signs simultaneously without having to perform double entry.

Another example can be seen through Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) which plays a huge role as the largest public transit system in the United States of America. It had benefitted tremendously by using Drupal and Amazon’s Internet of Things (IoT) service from Amazon Web Services (AWS). With Drupal, the MTA was able to leverage the same CMS that powers its website to serve content and data to thousands of digital signs in hundreds of stations in New York City. By utilising the power of digital signage into station countdown clocks, MTA has been able to disseminate a great customer experience.

A digital signage screen in New York railway station reading station name and time of arrivalSource: Acquia

The content can be built inside Drupal and data is pulled from external feeds in order to supply the countdown clocks with data. Data can be pulled from transit information, weather and message provider as Drupal is equipped with provider APIs. Once data is given context via Drupal content model, it is pushed to the digital signs with the help of a data pipeline that was implemented to leverage IoT service from AWS. Using progressively decoupled Drupal approach, a front end experience was developed using ReactJS for displaying the data. As data flows, React governs all the important on-screen presentation and utilises the data that is received to inform the display on the countdown clock.

Future Of Digital Signage

According to the statistics given by the Statista, the statistics portal, the digital signage market worldwide was valued at 19.61 billion U.S. dollars in 2016 and the display market was estimated at 6.07 billion U.S. dollar in 2015.

Future of digital signage is bright as is for Drupal and together they can work wonders.
Graphical representation showing bar graphs for market value of digital signageSource: Statista

This number is going to see a significant rise by 2023 as the market value is poised to reach 32.84 billion in 2023. Digital signage technology is not just here to stay but grow multifold.

Conclusion

Digital content distribution can surely be taken to next level by making it engaging through digital signage solutions. Drupal can be the perfect choice of CMS for relaying content on screens.

We provide Drupal services with top-of-the-line expertise. Contact us at [email protected] to explore Drupal as a superb platform for building digital signage solutions thereby providing a whole new level of customer experience.

May 26 2019
May 26

World Economic Forum, an International Organisation for Public/Private Cooperation, has its digital presence not only in English language but other prominently spoken languages like Spanish, Chinese, French and Japanese as well. Rio Olympics 2016, which is also known for the infamous haul of 9 golds by Usain Bolt, had its online presence in both English and French. Oxfam, an international confederation of 19 organisations that has the objective of mobilising the power of people against poverty, has its website in Spanish and French languages other than English. What is common between all of them? Their websites are powered by Drupal which is one of the leaders in the open source content management system (CMS) market.

Illutration showing people in the background and different coloured leaves containing the word Hello in different languages


Built and maintained by an international community of developers, Drupal has been a marvellous solution for organisations around the globe that are in need of swiftly launching their websites that is tailored to a variety of language needs. As a matter of fact, Drupal 8, the latest version, was created keeping multilingual use in mind. But why should an organisation consider building a multilingual site in the first place? Let’s understand its significance before taking a plunge in exploring Drupal’s capabilities in building a localised site.

Significance of multilingual sites

A bar graph showing percentage of online users of different languages


English is certainly the most widely spoken language in the world and dominates the internet space. But it would be wrong to consider it is as the most preferred language. Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and many others, as you can see in the graph above, are spoken by millions of online users. So, optimising your site and going multilingual gives you a huge advantage.

Some of the major benefits of having a multilingual website are:

Illustration showing horizontal bars to explain benefits of multilingual websiteSource: DayTranslations

One of the most important benefits of going multilingual is that you can enhance communication as even though English has its preeminence over the online space. That doesn’t mean that everyone wants to buy from English language websites. Research from CSA Research says that people prefer to make purchases while browsing in their own native language as more than half of the people who were surveyed bought from sites that were available in their own language. Another important benefit is that you can expand your reach and cover a wider audience. Localised websites also result in increased client satisfaction. Multilingual SEO is of paramount importance too and localising your website into different languages helps improve your SERP (Search Engine Results Page) ranking locally across the globe.

Moreover, website localisation is efficacious and gives you a competitive advantage. In a survey by Content Marketing World, 60% of participating marketers agreed that there is a dearth of multilingual content marketing strategies. Therefore, not capitalising on the immense amount of opportunities that website localisation presents can prove detrimental to your business pursuits. You may lose out to a local business that is well known and also fare badly against another foreign company that is localising better. Also, not only you get to touch a wider demographic of the audience, you get the opportunity to increase your audience as you will be noticed by a massive pool of potential buyers for your product and services. And you do not get penalised for duplicated content on translated sites. Localising your website also bring about higher conversions and skyrocketed return on investment. Even if you cannot please everyone, you can please the majority of them when you make your site multilingual.

Considerations for turning your site multilingual

In order to develop a great multilingual site, there are some considerations that should be kept in mind.

Building a site in any language needs a clearly thought-out plan for content and needs a detailed picture of your business objectives and vision. For instance, you should know who the ideal customer for your products and services is and where does he or she live. And you should know which language will have a wider reach amongst your potential customers.

You would, then, require a wisely laid-out strategy. You can register top-level domains like .mx for Mexico or .fr for France. You must know that photographs, artwork, fonts, and colour choices carry different meanings across different cultures. Visitors should find it easy to navigate and find their native language microsite. Different languages should be used appropriately and nothing should come across as offensive or insensitive to the different cultures.

Most importantly, you need to determine the best technological solution for creating your localised site. A robust CMS like Drupal can be a remarkable option that can dovetail with your multilingual strategy.

Drupal in the mix

If you are in the need of quickly creating customised sites in any language of your choice or an intricate multilingual web application with dynamic, language-based displays, Drupal is a wonderful option. Without the need for any additional components, Drupal 8 can be installed in over 90+ languages. Drupal’s out-of-the-box support for language handling assists you in delivering localised digital experiences and saves time and money. Drupal 8 core comes with four core modules for localising content on the website.

Administering Language

Language handling module


The Language handling module lets you pick your choice from 94 languages.
 
Language configuration has been streamlined. Assign a language to everything from taxonomy terms to administration language. You can even delete the English language. Each user can also select his or her own language for the admin interface.
 
The detection of browser language can be easily configured with external language codes. There is also a built-in transliteration for the machine names.

Translating Interface

Interface translation module

Interface translation module provides a central directory to manage interface. It has built-in translation UI for simplifying content editing. By allowing automatic downloads and updates, it lets users use any translation interface available in the Drupal community in any language supported by Drupal 8.
 
English language interface can be customized. You do not have to use English as your default language.

Translating Content

Content translation module

Content translation module is applicable to all of your content. It lets you translate everything from the pages to the taxonomy terms. It allows you to configure custom fields of a web content.
 
Like interface translation, the default language of your content can be flexibly configured. You can even hide or display the position of language selector.

Managing Configuration

Configuration translation module

Everything that comes with the configuration of your website can be translated using this module. Things like views, blocks, panels, field panels or text formats can be easily translated with its built-in responsive translation interface.
 
Moreover, there is a provision of an overview screen to help you in the process.

Case studies

Homepage of Sevilla FC website with three people holding the team jersey on left and the football team posing for the camera on right


Sevilla FC, founded in 1890, is one of the oldest football teams in Spain. A digital agency helped it to implement a series of quality and qantitative enhancement in its digital services via web, mobile and social media channels. Drupal turned out to be a fantastic option in their pursuit of improving the digital experience. Drupal’s in-built multilingual capabilities, top-of-the-line open source security, tremendous scalability, great content workflow tools and the support for agile project delivery were the major factors that made it the right choice for this project. With a continuous increase in the number of international fanbases of Sevilla FC, it was important to create a multilingual site. The multilingual capability of Drupal 8 streamlined the process of localising their website into multiple languages.

What if your native language is not available to choose from 90+ languages that the Drupal offers? OpenSense Labs leveraged Drupal 8 to provide a clean architecture and design for the betterment of digital presence of the Ministry of Finance in Somalia.

Homepage of Ministry of Finance of Somalia with an image of a multi floor building


The remodelling of the website needed new content types with user-friendly navigation and the addition of a custom type of publication to publish annual reports. Agile development methodology helped the project to be completed within six weeks. And, as Somali isn’t available in the list of languages provided by Drupal 8’s out of the box solution, the flexible multilingual infrastructure of Drupal aided in adding it easily.

Conclusion

While English language internet users have been the primary source of the target of every business. There has been an unprecedented growth in the non-English language online users as well. Reaching them out is beneficial for widening your customer base and establishing their business in newer markets. Your content determines the website traffic, customer retention, and conversion rates. CMS is the warehouse of your web content. It is significant to choose the right CMS before even making your first move towards making your site multilingual.

Drupal 8 has made tremendous improvements to include the built-in multilingual feature. It delivers multilingual websites right out of the box. Its 4 key modules for language, interface, content, and configuration of your website helps in efficaciously building a multilingual site.

Drupal development is our forte and we are committed towards the provision for great digital experiences. To tap into newer markets with multilingual Drupal websites, reach us out at [email protected].

May 22 2019
May 22

More and more users want the content to be available via a host of different devices. Various new interfaces and devices are thronging the technology landscape and are touted to bring about sweeping changes. There are even talks of website-less future. Smart wearables, Internet of Things, conversational user interface etc. have been gaining traction and are changing the way we experience the internet. New web-enabled devices need the content that the websites do but in a different format which creates complications in the way we develop. Disseminating content can have different needs from one setup to another.

Two coffee mugs placed diagonally opposite to each other and coffee beans scattered around one of the mugs


The content management system (CMS) is rife with labels such as ‘decoupled’ and ‘hybrid’ which requires to be dissected for a better understanding of their benefits. Decoupling the backend of a content management system (CMS) from the frontend can be a remarkable solution for a lot of issues that are caused when you move away from standard website-only deliveries. Decoupling the CMS streamlines the process of republishing the content across numerous channels ranging from websites to applications. Decoupled CMS is not new, but as the digital arena observes changes, it gets more and more important.

The Drupal Connect

Flowchart with boxes explaining decoupled DrupalSource: Dries Buytaert’s blog

As one of the leaders in the CMS market, Drupal’s content as a service approach enables you to get out of the page-based mentality. It gives you the flexibility to separate the content management from the content display and allows you the front-end developers to build engrossing customer experiences.

Decoupled Drupal implementations are becoming ubiquitous due to its immense capability in giving a push to digital innovation

Decoupled Drupal implementations, which involves a full separation of concerns between the structure of your content and its presentation, are becoming ubiquitous due to Drupal’s immense capability in giving a push to digital innovation and being a great solution in adopting novel approaches.

Drupal Community has been working on a plenitude of API-first architectures by utilising its core REST, JSON:API and GraphQL features. But there are alternative solutions, too, available in decoupled Drupal ecosystem that can be of great significance. Let’s explore them:

RESTful Web Services and others

While RESTful Web services module helps in exposing entities and other resources as RESTful web API and is one of the most important modules when it comes to decoupled Drupal implementation, there are several others that can come handy as well.

Implementing the Apache CouchDB specification and focussing upon content staging use cases as part of the Drupal Deploy ecosystem, RELAXed Web Services module can be of immense help. The CouchDB helps in storing data within JSON documents that are exposed via a RESTful API and unlike Drupal’s core REST API, it enables not just GET, POST, DELETE but also PUT and COPY.

There’s a REST UI module that offers a user interface (UI) for the configuration of Drupal 8’s REST module. You can utilise Webform REST module that helps in retrieving and submitting webforms via REST. For protracting core’s REST Export views display in order to automatically converting any JSON string field to JSON in the output, REST Export Nested module can be useful. By offering a REST endpoint, REST menu items module can be helpful in retrieving menu items on the basis of menu name. And when you need to use REST for resetting the password, REST Password Request module can be helpful. It is worth noting that Webform REST, REST Export Nested and REST Password Request are not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy but are really valuable.

JSON:API and others

JSON: API module is an essential tool when you are considering to format your JSON responses and is one of the most sought after options in decoupled Drupal implementations. But there is, again, plenty of options for availing more features and functionalities. 

When in need of overriding the defaults that are preconfigured upon the installation of JSON: API module, you can leverage JSON: API Extras. By offering interfaces to override default settings and registering new ones that the resultant API need to follow, JSON: API Extras can be hugely advantageous in aliasing resource names and paths, modifying field output via field enhancers, aliasing field names and so on. There is JSON API File module that enables enhanced files integration for JSON: API module. And for the websites that expose consumer-facing APIs through REST, JSON: API or something similar, Key auth module offers simple key-based authentication to every user.

For streamlined ingestion of content by other applications, Lightning API module gives you a standard API with authentication and authorisation and utilises JSON: API and OAuth2 standards through JSON API and Simple Oauth modules.

GraphQL and others

GraphQL module is great for exposing Drupal entities to your GraphQL client applications. There are some more useful modules based on GraphQL. To enable integration between GraphQL and Search API modules, there is a GraphQL Search API module. Injecting data into Twig templates by just adding a GraphQL query can be done with GraphQL Twig module. To expose Drupal content entity definitions through GraphQL via GraphQL Drupal module and develop forms or views for entities via front-end automatically, you have GraphQL Entity Definitions module.

OpenAPI and related modules

OpenAPI describes RESTful web services on the basis of the schema. There is OpenAPI module in Drupal, which is not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policies but can integrate well with both core REST and JSON: API for documentation of available entity routes in those services. And for implementing an API to display OpenAPI specifications inside a Drupal website, you get OpenAPI UI module. And ReDoc for OpenAPI UI module offers the ReDoc library, which is an Open API/ Swagger-generated API reference documentation, for displaying Open API specifications inside Drupal website. Then there is Swagger UI for OpenAPI UI module that gives you Swagger UI library in order to display OpenAPI specifications inside Drupal site. You can also utilise Schemata module that provides schemas for facilitating generated documentation and generated code.

Contentajs and related modules

The need for a Nodes.js proxy that acts as middleware between Drupal content API layer and Javascript application can be addressed with the help of Contenta.js.  For Contenta.js to function properly, Contenta JS Drupal module is needed. This module is part of the Contenta CMS Drupal distribution. The Node.js proxy is essential for decoupled Drupal because of data aggregation, server-side rendering and caching. Contenta.js constitutes multithreaded Node.js server, a Subrequests server for the facilitation of request aggregation, a Redis integration and simple approach to CORS (Cross-origin resource sharing).

There are several effective modules that are part of the Contenta CMS decoupled distribution and integrates perfectly with Contenta.js. You have Subrequest module that tells the system to execute multiple requests in a single bootstrap and then return everything. JSON-RPC module offers a lightweight protocol for remote procedure calls and serves as a canonical foundation for Drupal administrative actions that are relied upon more than just REST. To resolve path aliases, Decoupled Router module gives you an endpoint and redirects for entity relates routes.

In order to enable decoupled Drupal implementations to have variations on the basis of consumer who is making the request, you can use Consumers module. You can use Consumer Image Styles that integrates well with JSON: API for giving image styles to your images in the decoupled Drupal project. And there is Simple OAuth module for implementing OAuth 2.0 Authorisation Framework RFC.

Of relating to JavaScript frameworks

Decoupled Blocks module is great for progressive decoupling and enables front-end developers to write custom blocks in whatever javascript framework that they prefer to work on. If you want to implement using Vue.js, you can use Decoupled Blocks: Vuejs. It should be noted that both of these are not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policies.

React Comments comes as a drop-in replacement for the Drupal core comment module frontend.

Also, there is a jDrupal module, which is a JavaScript library and API for Drupal REST and can be leveraged for Drupal 8 application development.

Conclusion

With Drupal as the decoupled web content management, developers can get to use a plentitude of technologies to render the front end experience.

RESTful web services, GraphQL and JSON: API are not the only resources that you get in the decoupled Drupal ecosystem. In fact, there are plenty of other alternatives that can be of paramount importance.

Drupal development is our forte and bringing stupendous digital experience to our partners has been our prime objective. Contact us at [email protected] and let us know how you want us to be a part of your digital transformation goals.

Apr 28 2019
Apr 28

One of the most significant terms used on this planet is ‘Security’. You get to read about nutrition security in reports like the UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World in 2017 that laid out pointers to bring in nutrition policy reform. Or, you get to hear about cybersecurity which needs to be integrated into every aspect of policy and planning in this age of digitisation. Often, you also get to see the emphasis being put on national security, an integral part of every country, and surveillance becomes important to ensure the safety of citizens.

A house lock put up on a green coloured structure


Security also plays a key role in the web development arena. Website security is one of the most significant aspects that every business considers to thrive on and dominate the internet space. Vulnerabilities in your sites can give hackers the upper hand in finding a key to the safety vault. Drupal 8 stands out as the most secure Content Management System (CMS) which comes bundled with a plenitude of advantages over other leading content management frameworks.

Security Features

With a proven track record of being the most secure CMS, Drupal has been performing much better than its competitors in the CMS market. It has stood resilient to critical internet vulnerabilities. Thanks to Drupal Security Team for actively validating and responding to security issues.

Drupal Security Team is a force to reckon with when it comes to finding out anomalies and fixing them. The goals of the Security Team are to resolve reported issues in a Security Advisory. They provide help for contributed module maintainers. They document these identifications and modifications to make sure that developers don’t find themselves tied in knots. They assist the infrastructure team to keep the Drupal.org infrastructure secure.
 
Moreover, you can allow safe access to your Drupal site as it has the in-built support for salting and repeatedly hashing account passwords when they are stored in the database. It also enforces strong password policies. Furthermore, it offers essential security modules, industry-standard authentication practices, session limits and single sign-on systems. And, by providing granular user access control, Drupal gives administrators full authority over who gets to see and who gets to modify different parts of a site.
 
Database encryption can be done efficaciously with the help of Drupal. It is configurable to encrypt your complete website or just a part of it like content types, nodes, and taxonomy terms.
 
Further, Drupal’s Form API assists in validating data in order to avoid XSS, CSRF and other malicious data entry. It also limits the number of times login attempts are made from a single IP address over a predefined period of time which enables you to brute-force password attacks.

The multi-layered cache architecture helps in minimising Denial of Service (DoS) attacks and makes it the most preferred CMS for some of the world’s highest traffic websites; thus proving its immense scalability.
 
As a not-for-profit charitable organization, OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) focuses on improving the security of software. Drupal conforms to the OWASP standards and its community is committed towards prevention of safety hazards.

A heading and bullet points below it to explain security constraints of Open Web application security project


Major Technical Improvements

Drupal 8 has closed down many glitches and bugs reported in Drupal 7.

Ever since Drupal 8 came into the scene, it has emerged as the most technically improved CMS in terms of security. Some of the most important modifications that have taken shape in Drupal 8:
 
Removing the PHP input format in the core is probably the most important advancement which has removed code execution vulnerability. That means administrator login does not have to be executed with arbitrary PHP code or shell commands anymore.
 
Twig templates, which is used for HTML generation, is considered one of the most important improvements. This has resulted in better validation of 3rd party themes.
 
Twig auto-escaping has also prevented most frequently found Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in the custom site themes and custom and contributed modules.
 
Tracking configuration in code has been streamlined with an auditable history of changes through Configuration Management Initiative. Also, it helps in avoiding mistakes that creep in during manual configuration. Configuration changes in the production server can be completely blocked.
 
Use of filtered HTML format for content entry has prevented the execution of XSS attacks on other site users.
 
User session and session ID management has also been fortified in Drupal 8.

Statistics are on Drupal's side

Statistically, Drupal performs much better than leading CMS platforms for preventing safety hazards.

Sucuri, security platform for websites, compiled the ‘Hacked Website report’. It analyzed more than 34,000 infected websites. Among the statistics that it shared, one of the parameters was to compare the affected open-source CMS applications.

Wordpress, Joomla, and Magento suffered the most. The infection crept in due to improper deployment, configuration, and the maintenance.

Bar graph showing infected websites platform in 2017Source: Sucuri

The infection rate of major content management frameworks had a varied change. While Wordpress had a significant increase from 74 percent in 2016 Q3 to 84 percent in 2017, Magento had a slight rise from 6 percent in 2016 Q3 to 6.5 percent in 2017.

Joomla had a considerable drop from 17 percent in 2016 Q3 to 13.1 percent in 2017. Drupal bettered its rate from 2 percent in 2016 Q3 to 1.6 percent in 2017.

Bar graph showing CMS infection comparison in 2017Source: Sucuri

MDPI, which pioneers in open access publishing, prepared a report called ‘A Comparative Study of Web Content Management Systems’. They used Acunetix software for auditing the website. They compared Drupal and Joomla in terms of most commonly occurring vulnerabilities - SQL injection and XSS. Drupal came out as the clear winner.

Moreover, in the Cloud Security Report by Alert Logic, Drupal was reported for the least number of web application attacks.

A table with rows and columns to explain Drupal securitySource: Alert Logic

Summary

Website security is the most important constraint to survive without any existential threats. Drupal has been the frontrunner when it comes to choosing the security focussed CMS.
 
Being an open source platform and Drupal Security Team’s efforts in providing essential features and timely updates in Drupal 8 has helped in making it the most reliable and secure CMS.
 
The transition from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 has seen a tremendous advancement in blocking the vulnerabilities.
 
Statistically proven, Drupal is the best CMS in terms of security among the major CMS platforms.

Contact us at [email protected] to get the best out of Drupal 8 and its security features.

Apr 18 2019
Apr 18

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) are opening up a plenitude of possibilities in different industries. Efforts like Robotics at Google, for instance, are showing the world the way forward. Google is working on machines that may not be as eye-catching as humanoid robots but will have subtly more advanced technology inside them. The idea is to let them learn skills on their own and sort through a bin of unfamiliar objects or navigate a warehouse that is filled with unexpected obstacles. And in the healthcare sector, while the doctors are already using AI for diagnosing and treating medical conditions, Dr. Eric Topol, in his book called Deep Medicine, says that AI can do much more than that. AI can save doctors from performing tasks like jotting down notes and reading scans and allow them to spend more time connecting with their patients. The AI’s influence in different fields will make for an endless list.

A robot playing piano


It is true that AI is growing at a fast clip. But, currently, it is still dependable on human intelligence. Nevertheless, AI is here to stay and will only get better with time.

In the web landscape, too, AI has the provision for a superabundance of use cases. Drupal, as one of the leading content management frameworks, has been a pioneer when it comes to giving a push to digital innovation. Drupal, replete with modules for implementing AI, can lay the groundwork for a more AI-centric future for your digital business.

Unwrapping artificial intelligence

The term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ was coined by Dartmouth professor John McCarthy in the summer of 1956 when he invited a small group to spend some weeks musing on how to enable machines to do things like use language. He pinned high hopes on the breakthrough of human-level machines. Since then, artificial intelligence has come a long way and will undergo a lot of research and development in the coming years.

AI can emulate human performance by learning from it.

Gartner states that “AI applies advanced analysis and logic-based techniques, including machine learning, to interpret events, support and automate decisions, and take actions”. Commonly, definitions of AI emphasise on automation. But AI can emulate human performance by learning from it. This can come very handy as it gives a plethora of opportunities to IT and business leaders.

Adopting AI in businesses

When it comes to adoption of AI in the business workflow, organisations need a well-planned strategy to measure their firm against the AI maturity model, states Gartner.

Graphical representation with a blue line superimposed over a set of columns to explain artificial intelligence (AI) maturity modelSource: Gartner

AI maturity model can help in identifying where your firm is on the potential growth curve and decide what steps should be taken by discussing it with the management. Some organisations can be doing conversations about AI and are in an Awareness stage. There can be firms in the Active stage who may be including AI in proofs of concept and pilot projects. Organisations can be termed to be in the Operational stage when at least one of their AI projects has moved to production. Business organisations can be said to be in the Systematic stage when they, at least, start considering AI for all of their new digital projects. Once you figure out what stage you are in, you can aim for reaching the Transformational stage and make AI a part of your DNA with the help of top-notch, adaptive strategy and by giving more room for experimentation.
 
As you start implementing AI in your business, it is important to identify the right use cases i.e. the key business hurdles that can be resolved by the capabilities of AI. And there is no dearth of what AI has to offer as can be seen in the figure below.

Different coloured hexagons containing icons like truck, car, people, human brain, and computer joined together


A combo of AI and Drupal

AI has made its foray into different industries and has opened up new opportunities for improving business workflow. Web development is one of the areas where artificial intelligence can be leveraged to a great extent. Some of the examples of how Drupal can be of great use to leverage artificial intelligence are:

Chatbots

Artificial intelligence can be of great help in imbibing cognitive computing abilities, that simulates human thought processes in a computerised model, in a website. This can be done in the form of chatbots. Drupal’s Chatbot API module can offer fantastic conversational experiences. Chatbot API gives you a common flexible additional layer that comes in between Drupal, your Natural Language Processing (NLP) and your several chatbots and personal assistants thereby making your website chatbot-friendly. This assists in avoiding the need for writing new code whenever you have to translate conversational experience from one interface to another.

Web personalisation

Personalisation of the web content is done on the basis of a person’s digital persona. Content can be recommended to the users based on their profile or past activities. For instance, if they are searching for a blue shirt, something like this would work - “Here are more blue shirts”. Or, if a user is reading about futuristic technologies, then something like this may work - “Read more articles like this”. Artificial intelligence can improve even further.

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A session at DrupalCon Baltimore 2017 talked about personalising web content using machine learning (a subset of AI). They demonstrated Deep Feeling, a proof-of-concept project, that leverages machine learning techniques to enhance content recommendations to the users. They utilised Instagram API for accessing a user’s stream-of-consciousness and filtered their feeds via a computer vision API. This was, then, used to detect and learn subtle themes about the user’s predilections. On getting a notion about the sort of experiences the user thinks are worth sharing, user’s characteristics were matched against their own databases. The proof-of-concept involved Acquia lift service and Drupal 8.

Multilingual platform

“In keeping with our deep integrations to Web Content Management, Content Management Systems, and Marketing Automation platforms, our Drupal 8 connector is the latest example of Cloudwords building integrations that speed and scale a company’s global marketing engagements with personalized experiences in any language”, said Richard Harpham, former CEO at Cloudwords Inc.
 
Cloudwords for Multilingual Drupal module offers a superfast and efficacious way of governing the process of making your site multilingual. On installing this module, your content can be served in multiple languages to the market. Its powerful workflow automation and project management capabilities enable you to choose the content that you want to localise and the rest of the process is taken care of by Cloudwords. Its CAT tool utilises artificial intelligence and machine learning for enhancing productivity.

Deriving insights from your images

Google’s artificial intelligence capabilities can be applied for solving the obstacles of content management at scale. A session held at Badcamp 2018 exhibited how can content editors keep up with reviews during a continuous stream of content submissions.

[embedded content]


For this, Google Cloud Vision API was utilised. Google Vision API offers image labelling as it detects an object automatically and even provides data about objects such as its position within the image. It can also detect text within the images. It can assess your image and identify if it contains adult content, violence and so on. Google Cloud Vision API can be configured with Drupal via the Drupal module. This enables you to automatically add metadata to uploaded media and allow explicit content detection on image fields.

Conclusion

We can do so much with artificial intelligence just as there is much that we have done with the wheel. But to consider AI as an outright replacement for human intelligence is not the right thing to do. AI can improve our lives and it is important to figure how to leverage it for our betterment.
 
Drupal, a catalyst giving importance to digital innovation and emerging technologies, can be used in combination with AI to build futuristic solutions.
 
We have been working towards the provision of better digital experience and offer a suite of services. Let us know at [email protected] how you want us to be part of your digital transformation endeavours.

Mar 31 2019
Mar 31

Progressive web apps (PWA) have made great inroads and one of the greatest examples of that can be seen through Twitter. As one of the most popular platforms to know what’s happening around the world and with millions of active users around the globe who consume, create and share data, Twitter has been a force to reckon with and has leveraged the power of PWA. In order to enhance their mobile web experience and make it faster, more reliable and more engrossing, it has built the Twitter Lite Progressive Web App. This extracts the best of the modern web and native features to offer instant loading, improved user engagement, and lower data consumption.

a mobile phone with the screen showing twitter app


Big names like Twitter are traversing the path of PWA. And that’s been the success story of PWA. By taking advantage of major advances in modern web browsers, web APIs and front-end frameworks, progressive web apps deliver stupendous app experiences to mobile and desktop users. Drupal, as a leading content management system, offers a wonderful platform for creating a progressive web app. Let’s take a brief look at PWA before moving on to Drupal’s capability.

Understanding Progressive Web App

It was the year 2007 when the iPhone came into the picture. That’s when the history of progressive web apps starts, states Venn.  This was, also, when Web 2.0 started moulding itself and the HTML5 standard was still being defined. Web pages started becoming more dynamic that altered the way we used the web and desktop devices. A number of PWA’s features are continuations in the development of those integral technologies.

Three screenshots from a mobile phone showing instagram appSource: freeCodeCamp

What are progressive web apps? You might have seen an ‘Add to Home Screen banner while browsing a website as depicted in the picture above. On clicking this button, the application installs itself in the background. Once the download is complete, this application sits in your app drawer. What you now have is a mobile application, a PWA, that did not require the services of an app store and was downloaded from the web application. Thus, a PWA enables you to install from the browser window itself and is available on phone like a native application and even works offline.

"Progressive web apps use modern web APIs along with traditional progressive enhancement strategy to create cross-platform web applications. These apps work everywhere and provide several features that give them the same user experience advantages as native apps." - MDN web docs

Coined by Alex Russel and Frances Berriman, PWA is a set of best practices for making a web application function in the same way as a desktop or mobile application would work. The idea is to have an experience that is uniform and boundless and the user is unable to differentiate between a progressive web app and a native mobile app.

Why build a Progressive Web App?

Eight hexagons containing icons resembling mobile phones, folder, arrows and desktopSource: Lambda Test

Progressive web apps come with progressive enhancement as a core tenet. So, it works for all the users no matter what their browser choice is. It is, also, fully responsive and works across platforms. Moreover, Web App Manifests enables your PWA to deliver the look and feel people expect and lets you specify an icon, app name and splash screen colour. It lets users install PWA on their device and have it appear alongside native apps.

Powered by service workers, PWA is connectivity independent thereby allowing it to be leveraged offline and low-quality networks. It also enables background data syncing. Service worker update process also keeps it up-to-date always. Because of W3C manifest and service worker registration scope, PWA is identifiable as an application and enables search engines to find it.

PWAs is also faster to load and install as is depicted in the image below.

Bar graph with green and blue coloured bars to represent progressive web apps usageSource: App Institute

The app shell model’s provision for separation of application functionality from application content makes PWA feel like a native app. PWAs offer top-notch security as they are served via HTTPS for negating snooping and making sure that the content is tamper-proof.

Progressive web app comes with push notification capabilities. The application can also be easily shared through an URL without the need for any intricate installation.

PWAs take less storage space as can be seen in the illustration below.

Illustration showing a mobile phone with drawers protruding out of it to explain progressive web appsSource: App Institute

Progressive web app with Drupal

Development of PWA can be done with front end frameworks like Angular, React, Polymer, Ionic etc. How can it be made possible with Drupal? Integration of Progressive web app with Drupal can be done with Progressive Web App module. Designed to work out of the box, this module enables you to add basic PWA functionality to your website. There are countless ways to customise the experience by writing your own service worker. But for basic offline functionality, this module is great and does not involve too much intricacy.

It leverages service worker and manifest.json for offering a more app-like experience on mobile devices. It requires the website to have a valid HTTPS to function well. It is part of the W3 specification that services workers only function on HTTPS.

The module helps in triggering ‘add to homescreen’ prompt automatically whenever a user visits your site. It, also, has a good Lighthouse audit score as well.

You can install this module by downloading and enabling the PWA module and the admin configuration have to be saved at least once before the visitors can start revelling in the merits of your new PWA.

Prompt pop up of progressive web apps Drupal module configuration showing message boxes and drop down options


What lies ahead?

Comscore states in its research study that 51% of users do not download any app in a month. There is a plethora of dead weight in the app store and developing brand new apps for Android, iOS and the web are not cost-effective and is also time-intensive.

Are progressive web apps the future of apps? With big names like Twitter and Forbes showing an inclination towards PWA, there is a definite rise of PWA to be seen in the coming years. In fact, Gartner predicts that progressive web apps will replace 50% of general-purpose, consumer-facing mobile applications by 2020.

A report of SBWire states that PWA market will grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of +10% between 2017 and 2025. Advancement in IT, the emergence of smart devices, enhanced awareness of updated technology among the people is touted to be factors in its growth.

Conclusion

Progressive Web App is a great way of offering an app-like experience to your website. Drupal can be a stupendous option of enhancing your site with a PWA.

We have been committed towards provision for ambitious digital experience through a suite of services. Talk to our Drupal experts at [email protected] and let us know how do you want us to be a part of your digital transformation journey.

Mar 31 2019
Mar 31

You may get involved in a coffee mishap on the way out of the door leaving a stain on your shirt. This is among the numerous stains that Tide’s Stain Remover, an Alexa skill, can help you remove.

Amazon Echo powered by Alexa, a plant pot, and a polaroid land camera placed close to each other


Voice assistants like Alexa are beginning to play a colossal part in our everyday lives. That is exactly why Tide, one of the largest producers of laundry products, has plunged in to utilise Alexa as a Stain removal expert. With the growing popularity of Amazon Alexa, organisations can consider the best ways to extend their omnichannel content strategy for including dissemination of content on voice and chat platforms. Integrating Alexa with Drupal, one of the leading content management systems in the market, can be great for allowing content to be accessed both via web and voice assistants.

Alexa: A quintessential voice assistant

As Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, Alexa is available on a plethora of devices from Amazon like Echo and third-party device manufacturers. It was named after the Library of Alexandria which attempted to collect all of the world’s knowledge. It lets you tell your wishes, at least the simple ones like playing music tracks and finding food recipes and fulfils them.

“With Alexa, you can build natural voice experiences that offer customers a more intuitive way to interact with the technology they use every day.” - Amazon Alexa

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Its collection of tools, APIs, reference solutions and documentation lets anyone build with Alexa. Creating cloud-based skills helps in disseminating content and reach customers via millions of Alexa-enabled devices. Alexa Skills Kit lets you build engrossing voice-first experiences. Moreover, Alexa Voice Service lets you develop voice-forward products through the incorporation of Alexa into your devices or controlling your devices with Alexa. You can even leverage it for your businesses by making it easy for users to access your services by voice.

Gartner predicts that because of the staggering advancements in emotion artificial intelligence (AI) systems, the personal devices will know more about an individual's emotional state. So, Alexa will get to know us more and more in the future and can even be able to detect and assess how we are feeling with the tone of our voice.

Alexa, also, leads in the market share of smart speakers as can be seen below.

Graphical representation showing 11 different blue and green coloured squares and rectangles arranged inside a big square explaining statistics on smart speakers


Amalgamation of Alexa and Drupal

A tweet by Dries Buytaert on Alexa and Drupal with the image of Dries on top left


Integration of Amazon Alexa and Drupal can be done with the help of Alexa Drupal module. For this, the Drupal website should be available online and using HTTPS. You can start by installing and enabling the Alexa module on the Drupal site. Then, a new Alexa skill can be created in Alexa Skills Kit. This is followed by the processes of copying the Application ID that is provided by the Amazon in ‘Skill information’ and submitting it to the Drupal site’s configuration. You can, then, move on to configuring Alexa skill in Alexa Skills Kit and creating a customised handler module for managing custom Alexa skills.

To demonstrate how this works, a digital agency used a sample supermarket chain called Gourmet Market and connected Alexa to its Drupal-powered site using Alexa module. A list of intents, that refers to the commands you want the users to run which is similar to Drupal’s routes, is specified. This is followed by the process of specifying a list of utterances that is basically the sentences that you want the Echo to react to. After the execution of the command, a webhook callback is received by the Drupal site and the Alexa module validates the request.

[embedded content]


Suppose if you ask Alexa about the fruits that are on sale, Alexa would make a call to the Gourmet Market Drupal site and come up with the relevant information. Certain items can also be tagged as ‘On Sale’ by the store manager and the same changes are automatically and swiftly reflected by Alexa’s voice responses. And the best part is that the marketing manager won’t require any programming skills as the Alexa forms its voice responses by talking to Drupal 8 via web service APIs.

The site could also deliver smart notifications. When posing a question enquiring about an item that is not on sale, the site can automatically notify the user through text once the store manager puts the tag of ‘On Sale’ on it.

The digital agency showed another example of a combination of Alexa and Drupal through a fictional grocery store called Freshland Market. Here, a user chooses a food recipe from Freshland Market’s Drupal site and collects all the ingredients to go ahead with the cooking process. The food recipe asked by the user is for 8 people but the site has the same for 4 people. The Freshland Market Alexa skill, by itself, adjusts the number of ingredients for 8 people. So, amidst a series of questions and the relevant ingredients and cooking steps, the user is easily able to prepare the food without having to look at the laptop or mobile phone.

[embedded content]


Conclusion

Coming together of Alexa and Drupal can be a great solution for removing friction from user experiences. With Drupal as a stupendous content store and Alexa as a quintessential voice assistant, you can bring about a world of difference.
 
We believe in open source innovation and are committed to offering great digital experiences with our expertise in Drupal development. Talk to our Drupal experts at [email protected] and let us know how do you want us to be a part of your digital transformation endeavours.

Feb 23 2019
Feb 23

The story of a historical character acquires a plethora of accretions over the centuries. So, we have numerous incidents and episodes in his or her life but not the complete picture. So, representing historical characters on stage could lead to a fractured narrative. There has to be synchronisation with the pre-recorded dialogue and it should not distract the actors from emoting.

blacka and white image of people acting in a play


The synchronisation is also of great significance in the digital scene. Content publishing in Drupal is of utmost importance with the expanding possibilities of content creation itself. It is even more crucial when it has to be synchronised between Drupal sites. Why is content synchronisation needed in Drupal?

Need for Content Synchronisation

Drupal 8 offers numerous tools for streamlining content creation and moderation. For instance, the Content Moderation module lets you expand on Drupal’s ‘unpublished’ and ‘published’ states for content and enables you to have a published version that is live and have a different working copy that is undergoing assessment before it is published.

In case, you need to share content or media across multiple sites, different solutions are available in Drupal that comes with content synchronisation capabilities to assist you to keep the development, staging and production in superb sync by automating the safe provisioning of content, code, templates and digital assets between them. Multiple synchronisation tasks can be created and scheduled for automating their occurrence in the future targeting different destinations servers and sites. Or, synchronisation tasks can be manually performed via the user interface.

Following are some of the major modules that are worth considering for content synchronisation necessities:

Deploy - Content Staging

Logo od Drupal deploy module with icon resembling cloud


The Deploy module enables users to easily stage content from one Drupal site to another and automatically governs dependencies between entities like node references. Its rich API is extensible that helps in different content staging situations. It is great for performing cross-site content staging. Using Deploy with RELAXed Web Services helps in staging content between different Drupal websites. It, also, works with Workspace module for offering workspace preview system for single site content staging. And the API offered by RELAXed Web Services is spectacular for building fully decoupled site. With Multiversion, all content entities can be revisioned. Workbench Moderation ensures that when you moderate a workspace, content is replicated automatically when approved.

Entity Share

Logo of entity share drupal module with three drop shaped logos of drupal


Entity Sync module enables you to share entities like node, field collection, taxonomy, media etc. between Drupal instances. It lets you share entities with the help of JSON API and offers a user interface for leveraging endpoints provided by JSON API module.

CMS Content Sync

logo of content sync drupal module with the word content sync written in blue and black


CMS Content Sync module offers content synchronisation functionalities between Drupal sites with the help of a NodeJS based Sync Core. The synchronisation of an enormous amount of data consisting of content and media assets is possible with the help of this module that can’t be managed by Drupal itself. It is wonderful for content staging as it enables you to test code updates with your content and publish code and content concurrently. It manages the publishing so that you can have a complete focus on the creation of content. It also offers content syndication functionalities and your entire content can be updated and deleted centrally. Moreover, it allows you to connect any of your sites to a Content Pool that lets you push your content and media items and the remote sites can be allowed to import that content easily.

Content Synchronisation

Exporting single content item or a number of content items from an environment to another efficaciously is possible with the help of Content Synchronisation module. That means you can export and import full site content. Or, you can export and import a single content item. The difference between site content and the one in YAML files can be viewed. Also, entities can be imported with a parent/child relationship.

Acquia Content Hub

drop shaped logo of acquia content hub drupal module


The distribution and discovery of content from any source in order to a fantastic multi-channel digital experiences can be done using Acquia Content Hub module. It enables you to connect Drupal sites to the Acquia Content Hub service. Acquia Content Hub, which is cloud-based, centralised content dissemination and syndication solution, lets you share and enrich content throughout a network of content sources using extensible, open APIs.

Conclusion

These are some of the most significant solutions available in the enormous list of Drupal modules that are specifically built for enhancing synchronisation of content between Drupal sites.

We have been constantly working towards the provisioning of marvellous digital experiences with our expertise in Drupal development.

Let us know at [email protected] how you want us to help you build innovative solutions using Drupal.

Feb 23 2019
Feb 23

A scientist can be rewarded a Nobel prize for some amazing scientific breakthrough made in his or her research. Most often than not, the leading scientist is backstopped in the research by a team of hugely talented assistants.

Lemur sitting near a wood


Talking about backstopping, you do need something as a backstop even in the digital landscape. When you make an alteration to your website, you have to be sure if it is devoid of unintended side effects. This is where BackstopJS comes into light. As an intuitive tool, it enables swift configuration and helps you get up and rolling quickly.  Before we look at how it can be leveraged with Drupal, let’s dive deeper into visual regression testing and BackstopJS.

Traversing visual regression testing and BackstopJS

Visual regression testing emphasises on identifying visual alterations between iterations or version of a site. In this, reference images are created for every component as they are created which enables a comparison over time for monitoring alterations. Developers can run this test on his or her local development environment after the alterations are performed to make sure that no regressions issues transpire because of the changes.

Visual regression testing emphasises on identifying visual alterations between iterations or version of a site.

Visual regression testing is hugely beneficial in enabling the developers to get a test coverage that is more than what they could do manually thereby ensuring that alterations do not cause regression impact on other components. It has the provision for enhanced detail comparison than what you would get while reviewing the site manually. Even without a full understanding of the project, developers know what the website should look like before the alterations.

Logo of BackstopJS with graphical image of lemur and backstopjs written below


BackstopJS, an open source project, is a great tool for performing visual regression testing. It is leveraged for running visual tests with the help of headless browsers to capture screenshots. It was created by Garris Shipon and was originally ran with the help of PhantomJS or SlimerJS headless browser libraries. It supports screen rendering with Chrome-headless and you can add your own interactions using Puppeteer and ChromyJS scripting.

BackstopJS is leveraged for running visual tests with the help of headless browsers to capture screenshots

It offers an excellent comparison tool for identifying and highlighting differences and lets you set up several breakpoints for testing responsive sites. Moreover, it utilises simple CSS selectors for identifying what to capture. It provides in-browser reporting user interface like a customisable layout, scenario display filtering, etc.  Furthermore, it comes with integrated Docker rendering and works superbly with continuous integration and source control. Also, it gives you CLI and JUnit reports.

Workflow and installation

It’s pretty easy to install and configure BackstopJS which involves:

Installation (global): npm install -g backstopjs
Installation (local): npm install --save-dev backstopjs
Configuration: backstop init (creates backstop.json template)

Following is the workflow of BackstopJS:

  • backstop init: A new BackstopJS instance is set up by specifying URLs, cookies, screen sizes, DOM selectors, interactions among others
  • backstop test: By creating a set of test screengrabs and comparing them with your reference screengrabs, you can check the alterations that show up in a visual report.
  • backstop approve: If all looks fine after the test, you can approve it

BackstopJS with Drupal

A Drupal Community event in 2018 talked about a Drupal 8 module called Backstop Generator for creating backstop.json configuration files on the basis of site’s unique content.

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This Drupal 8 module exposes an administrative configuration form to create a BackstopJS visual testing profile on the basis of Drupal website’s content. It assists you in creating backstop scenarios from Drupal pages and defining random pages for including as scenarios. You can toggle on and off viewport sizes. It results in a backstop.json file that requires you to place that into a backstop directory and the existing backstop.json file is replaced. It requires the services of Serialisation, HAL and REST modules. It is worth noting that this module is not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy.

Backstop Generator can do a lot more. You can contribute towards building more interesting features and join the issue queue on Drupal.org to submit a patch or report a bug.

Conclusion

Deploying frontend alterations can be troublesome. Visual regression testing software like BackstopJS ensures that our changes are accurate and contained and can be great for Drupal sites.

We have been offering a suite of services to help digital firms fulfil their dreams of digital transformation.

Contact us at [email protected] and let us know how you want us to be part of your digital transformation plans.
 

Feb 23 2019
Feb 23

R programming can be an astronomical solution for foretelling re-booking rates by leveraging previous guest ratings and, thereby, automating guest/host matching. That’s exactly what analysts at Airbnb, an online marketplace and hospitality service provider, has done with it. It has leveraged R for driving numerous company initiatives with the help of an internal R package called Rbnb.

Letter R written on a wall


As a growing organisation, Airbnb’s inclination towards R for enhancing its business operations speaks volumes of this programming language. It offers powerful analytics, statistics and visualisations. In combination with Drupal, R programming language can be a spectacular option for an innovative solution. Let’s take a look at the origins of R and its significance before heading over to the integration of Drupal and R programming.

A sip of history

Microsoft delineates that strolling along history of R would take us back to ‘90s when it was implemented by Robert Gentleman and Ross Ihaka (faculty members at the University of Auckland). It was commenced as an open source project in 1995. R Core Group handled this project from 1997. The first version was released in the year 2000. It was closely modelled on the S language for Statistical Computing.

R programming: An exploration

Logo of R programming language with the letter R and a grey circle overlapping it.


R, as an open source programming language and software environment, is magnificent for statistical computing and graphics. Prominently, it is used by data scientists and statisticians alike. It has the support of R Foundation for Statistical Computing and a huge community of open community developers. Those who are accustomed to using GUI focussed programs like Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) and Statistical Analysis System (SAS) can find it difficult in the nascent stages of using R as it leverages a command line interface. In this case, RStudio can be meritorious.

R is a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics. - r-project.org

R offers a wide array of statistical techniques like linear and non-linear modelling, classical statistical tests, time-series analysis, classification, clustering among others. In addition to this, it also provides graphical techniques and is very extensible.

R has had a remarkable growth which can be seen through the following figure.

graphical representation with several dots to explain growth of R programmingSource: Stack Overflow

Even the Redmonk programming language rankings, that compared languages’ appearances on Github (usage) and StackOverflow (support), R maintains its position near the top.

A straight line graph with several dots to explain popularity of R programming


Academics, healthcare and government segments maintain the preeminence when it comes to the industries that visit the R questions the most in U.S. and U.K.

Bar graph with horizontal bars in orange colour to explain different industries using R programmingSource: Stack Overflow

The Burtch Works survey shows that R is a second choice for data scientists and its flexibility makes it great for predictive analytics. Research practitioners, who want to do both sorts of analysis and concurrently implement machine learning to their marketing research processes in future, will find R as a great option.

Pie charts with green and blue regions and Bar graph with green and blue bars to explain R programmingSource: Nebu

Why choose R?

Following are some of the pivotal reasons that state the importance of R:

Documentation

Online resources for R like message boards are superbly supported and well documented.

Analysis

R helps in performing data acquisition, cleaning and analysis all in one place.

Data Visualisation

R has fantastic tools for data visualisation, analysis and representation.

graphical representation showing greyish region formed by uneven line to explain R programmingFigure: A ggplot2 result | Source: IBM

This is a good example of data visualisation provided by R package ggplot2. In this, it displays the intricate relationship between yards per game and touchdowns as well as first downs.

Easy to learn

You can quickly get to speed as R has an easy learning curve. For instance, with the simplicity of the language, you can easily create three samples and create a bar graph of that data.

Bar graph with blue, green , orange, red and yellow bars to explain R programmingFigure: Three random samples | Source: IBM

Machine learning

It makes machine learning a lot more easy and approachable with a superabundance of R packages for machine learning like MICE (for taking care of missing values), CARET (for classification and regression training) among others.

Drupal in the picture

A digital agency integrated Drupal with R for an insurance company that envisions itself offering a highly personalised matching service to assist people for selecting the right insurance program. The company leveraged R for building an algorithm that can calculate the compatibility score. The main notion was to be able to efficaciously match prospective customers to the insurance carrier based on customer’s needs and preferences.

The company leveraged R for building an algorithm that can calculate the compatibility score to be able to efficaciously match prospective customers to the insurance carrier based on customer’s needs.

The intricacies involved during the calculation of the compatibility score that is a function of elements like user persona, price sensitivity among others. So, numerous unique customer personas were found in the process like demographic factors (gender, age, education etc.) and car ownership details (car type, mileage etc.). Once a prospect is found to be a particular persona, it is, then, mapped to each of the insurance providers on the basis of a score and customer satisfaction survey ratings.
 
Moreover, different scores are calculated for tracking sensitivity of the customer to price, customer service levels, etc. This is done through a web service that links to the insurance carriers’ information and offers a quote for the customer on the basis of numerous information points provided by him. Finally, consolidation of all these scores into two different parameters give a final score that helps the prospect to select the right insurance carrier.

An insurance portal was built in Drupal which was the customer persona questionnaire that prospects can fill to be able to search the best carrier for their spending styles and other preferences. Once the information is entered by the prospect, it is passed from Drupal to R in the JSON format. R ensures that a plethora of customer data already exist and are also leveraged by the algorithm developed. Quotes pulled from multiple carriers are processed via web service. On the basis of the algorithm, R processes all the data and sends back the best carrier match options for the prospect who can, then, select the carrier on the basis of his preferences.

Conclusion

R, along with Drupal, is a marvellous option for the data experts to do everything ranging from the mapping of social and marketing trends online to building financial and climate models for giving that extra push to our economies and communities.
 
We have been offering a suite of services for fulfilling the digital transformation endeavours of our partners.
 
Let us know at [email protected] how you want us to be a part of your digital innovation plans.
 

Feb 23 2019
Feb 23

iRobot, a leading global consumer robot company, had a spectacular debut on Amazon Prime Day as it sold thousands of its Roomba robotic vacuums. Eventually, with the greater focus on its central value proposition vis-à-vis offering leading-edge robots to relieve customers from humdrum chores and the increasing number of connected customers, iRobot decided to move its mission-critical platform to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud. By leveraging the powerful tools and integrations of AWS, they were able to use a serverless architecture that offered an efficacious combination of scalability, global availability and breadth of services.

a humanoid standing on a rocky surface while the sun sets in the distance


Why is such a big organisation like iRobot opting for serverless computing? Using a serverless architecture powered by AWS IoT and AWS Lambda was beneficial to keep the cost of the cloud platform low, negate the need for subscription services and handle the solution with fewer people. Also, the need to maintain physical infrastructure and systems software vanishes. Drupal, as a leading player in the open source content management framework market, has been a humongous option for building innovative solutions. Drupal can be a great solution for implementing a serverless architecture. Before diving right into it, let’s traverse the road that delineates how the concept of serverless came into existence.

The emergence of serverless computing

To look at how serverless came into existence, freeCodeCamp has compiled an interesting story that takes us to the 1950s. This was the time period when the computing paradigm called mainframes burst onto the scene. Eventually, the mid-2000s witnessed the advent of a new paradigm called cloud computing.

Flowchart with arrows pointing different words to explain history of serverless computingSource: ResearchGate

It was in the 2010s when the concept of serverless architecture popped up. Serverless is more: From PaaS to present cloud computing report has an interesting compilation that distinguishes six main dimensions, as seen in the figure above, of critical breakthroughs that paved the way for the emergence of serverless.

Serverless: In-depth

Flowchart showing icons representing servers, cloud, Microsoft Office 365 logo, AWS Lambda to explain serverless computingSource: freeCodeCamp

What is Serverless Computing? It enables you to write and deploy code without having any sort of obstruction while handling the underlying infrastructure. Here, the cloud-based servers, infrastructure and operating systems are relied upon by the developers. Although it is referred to as serverless, there is still an involvement of servers. Being a fully managed service, the setup, capacity planning and server management are managed by the cloud provider.

Serverless architectures are application designs that incorporate third-party “Backend as a Service” (BaaS) services, and/or that include custom code run in managed, ephemeral containers on a “Functions as a Service” (FaaS) platform. By using these ideas, and related ones like single-page applications, such architectures remove much of the need for a traditional always-on server component.- Martin Fowler

Martin Fowler states that there is no clear view of defining Serverless. On one side, it was first used to describe applications that involve the incorporation of third-party, cloud-hosted applications and services for handling server-side logic and state called (Mobile) Backend as a Service (BaaS). On the other side, it can also mean applications in which the server side logic is written by the developer and run in stateless compute containers that are fully managed by a third party called Functions as a Service (FaaS).

Benefits of Serverless

Bar graph with blue-coloured horizontal bars to explain benefits of serverless computing


Following are some of the merits of Serverless stated by AWS:

  • Governance: There is no need for governing any servers. To add to this, no software or runtime to install, maintain or administer is needed.
  • Scalability: Automatically, your application can be scaled. It can also be flexibly scaled by adjusting its capacity which is done by toggling the units of consumption (such as throughput or memory) in lieu of units of separate servers.
  • Cost: You can pay for consistent throughput or execution duration instead of making payment by server unit.
  • Availability: It offers built-in availability and fault tolerance

Implementation

Flowchart showing logos of Amazon Aurora, CloudFront, S3, EFS to explain implementation of serverless computing with Drupal


A combination of Amazon CloudFront, a web service that quickens the process of distribution of static and dynamic web content; [email protected], that extends serverless compute feature to the CloudFront network; and Drupal as a powerful headless CMS can be fantastic for building a serverless architecture. The seamless integration between CloudFront, [email protected] and headless Drupal delivers the lowest latency and personalised experience to the users.

The seamless integration between CloudFront, [email protected] and headless Drupal delivers the lowest latency and personalised experience to the users.

AWS has delineated how to accelerate the Drupal content with Amazon CloudFront. It showed how to deploy CloudFront to cache and accelerate your Drupal content with the help of a globally distributed set of CloudFront nodes. In this, every CloudFront distribution consisted of one or more origin locations. An origin is where Drupal content resides. By running the supplied Amazon CloudFormation stacks, Drupal 8 was deployed. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Amazon Elastic File System (EFS), Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) and Amazon Aurora came in handy as well. It was all wrapped up in a highly available design using several Availability Zones and its configuration was done in such a way that it was able to auto scale using Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling groups.
 
Path module, available in Drupal 8, helped in creating URL aliases for the content. ‘Aggregate CSS Files’ and ‘Aggregate JavaScript Files’ were enabled by default within the Drupal 8 administration. This led to the reduction of bandwidth requirements between the Origin AWS infrastructure and CloudFront Edge nodes. Internal Drupal caching was disabled by default that controlled the maximum amount of time a page could be cached by browsers and proxies. Drupal’s CDN module was also suggested to be enabled that could alter file URLs so that CSS, JavaScript, images, audio and videos could be easily cached within CloudFront. This was followed by the creation of CloudFront distribution by using CloudFront console which involved configurations on Origin, default cache behaviour settings, and distribution settings.

What lies ahead?

A report by Markets and Markets estimates that the market size of serverless architecture was estimated at USD 4.25 billion in 2018. This is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 28.6% to reach USD 14.93 billion by 2023. Elimination of the need to administer servers for minimising infrastructure costs and streamlining deployment, governance and execution, shift from DevOps to serverless computing, and the burgeoning state of microservices architecture have been contributing towards its growth.

Bar graph showing blue, green, indigo, maroon coloured vertical bars to explain serverless computing market shareSource: Grand View Research

A report by Grand View Research states that automation and integration services segment play a crucial role in establishing a serverless architecture. While the monitoring services segment is expected to see the highest CAGR of 28.8%, the small and medium enterprises (SME) segment will grow with CAGR of 28.6% between the forecast period of 2015 and 2025. The banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) segment to anticipated to retain its dominance in this market share. Moreover, North America, with the powerful presence of U.S., is growing at a great pace. Asia-pacific is also expected to witness a growth of CAGR of 26% in the forecast period.
 
Research and Markets, in a report, states that serverless computing does come with certain challenges during its deployment. As Cloud Service Providers (CSP) control the underlying infrastructure, users are unable to customise or optimise the infrastructure. Further, the organisation has no authority over the infrastructure that raises the risk factor involved with adding several customers on the same platform. Also, consumers do not have control over penetrations tests and vulnerability scanning on infrastructure that increases the requirement for compliance concerns adopters and acts as restraints to the market growth.

Conclusion

The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Amazon, Werner Vogels, said in his 2016 keynote, “Before, your servers were like pets. If they became ill you had to nurture them back to health. Then, with cloud, they were cattle, you put them out to pasture and got yourself a new one. In serverless, there is no cattle, only your application. You don't even have to think about nurturing back to health or getting new ones, all the execution is taken care of.”
 
Serverless Computing can be a great solution in combination with Drupal. The serverless platform enables you to globally distribute your web application for running dozens of data centres across the globe with the customers being served from the one that is nearest to them.
 
Be mindful of the fact that serverless is not the right approach for all the problems and consider your business requirements before taking a plunge.
 
We have been on a constant pursuit of offering a magnificent digital presence to our partners using our expertise in Drupal development.
 
To decide if serverless is the right fit for your business, let us know at [email protected] so that we can help you scale your digital business.

Feb 17 2019
Feb 17

A metalsmith sees potential where others might see trash. In his vision, a plastic bag can become a ring, the zipper can turn into a bracelet and brass platters can be metamorphosed into a striking hollow vessel. In the digital spectrum, there’s another Metalsmith which can shape a great web presence for your organisation with its amazing web development capabilities.

A metalsmith working in a room full of metal objects


A combination of Metalsmith and Drupal even more fruitful with Drupal’s spectacular backend that can be used to feed data to all sorts of clients and Metalsmith’s exceptional capabilities as a static site generator.

Forging an understanding

Flowchart showing boxes to explain metalsmith's working principle as a static site generatorSource: Werner Glinka | Twin Cities Drupal Camp 2018

Metalsmith is not aimed at particular project types such as blogs. It supports a wide array of templates and data format options. It offers a simple plug-in architecture and is easy to get started. It uses a modular structure. Its lightweight nature and fewer dependencies make its a magnificent solution.

Metalsmith is an extremely simple, pluggable static site generator - Metalsmith.io

Static site generators create HTML code locally on the developer’s computer and all the required components are stored in a well-structured directory characterised by the strict separation of layout and content. That means a static site generator produces static build files for their deployment to a web server wherein the files are developed from source files. This is exactly the reasoning on which Metalsmith was built. Metalsmith is more than just a static site generator as everything is a plugin and Metalsmith core is an abstraction for manipulation of the file directory. It can be used for building a plethora of use cases like a project scaffolder, or an ebook generator, or even the technical docs.
 
Its working principle is simple. It takes the information from the source files of a source directory and it, then, writes the manipulated information to the files into a destination directory. The manipulations can be the translation of templates, replacement of variables, grouping files, moving files among others.
 
All the manipulations are done by plugins. Only thing Metalsmith has to take care of in its core is to offer an underlying logic of how the manipulations are confronted with and for a defined interface for the plugins. Moreover, source files are, in the nascent stage itself, converted into JavaScript objects so that plugins only do the modifications to the JavaScript objects. Moreover, Metalsmith is divided into a core and several plugins that minimises the intricacy by giving the user complete authority to use only those plugins that are needed and disseminating the task of maintaining the Metalsmith core to the Metalsmith community. Being programmed in Javascript, the need for another language like Python or Ruby is eliminated and it also has a simple plugin-interface thereby offering a simple workflow.

Metalsmith with Drupal

Twin Cities Drupal Camp 2018 had a session that demonstrated how a headless Drupal 8 installation serves content to a local Metalsmith-based static website build process. Drupal 8 turned out to be a fantastic backend CMS for serving data to all kinds of clients. Here, simply put, the local environment is the Metalsmith process uploading anything onto the Github. Once uploaded, Netlify loads it into its own process and publishes it.

Cat-shaped icon at top, green coloured square icon at right, glass with straw at bottom, and a droplet icon containing number 8 Source: Werner Glinka | Twin Cities Drupal Camp 2018

Server data are leveraged for building pages dynamically at build time with the assistance of Metalsmith as the static site generator and the Nunjucks template engine. As a result, the merits of a static website as well as the magnificent backend data governance of Drupal is obtained. Drupal is only utilised for governing content in the backend and is then used to serve the content to the build process through an API.

Conclusion

Metalsmith, along with Drupal's great prowess in content governance, can be a great solution for building static sites.
 
We believe in empowering the digital firms and making their digital transformation dreams come true with our suite of services.
 
Let us know how do you want us to help you build an astounding web presence at [email protected]

Feb 10 2019
Feb 10

The night watchman can get a new image as an alert guard if he senses correctly that something does not look right. Imagine a man dressed like a stockbroker and carrying a soft leather briefcase and a valise. His walking style is sort of tentative and squirrelish which is not the way a stockbroker walks. On being asked for an ID by the watchman, he scurries off towards the entry gate of a building and drops his valise on to the floor before being finally captured by the watchman who later finds out that he was trying to rob someone from the building.

A security guard posing for the camera in a broad daylight


Much like the night watchman and his brilliance in judgement that makes sure that the building is kept safe from any such robbers, there is another solution in the digital landscape that helps in writing browser tests easily and safely. NightwatchJS is an exceptional option to run browser tests and its inclusion in the Drupal core has only made things easier for the Drupalists.

Understanding NightwatchJS

Logo of nightwatchjs with an icon representing an owl


NightwatchJS is an automated testing framework for web applications and websites. It is written on NodeJS and uses the W3C WebDriverAPI (formerly known as Selenium WebDriver) for performing commands and assertions on DOM elements.

Nightwatch.js is an integrated, easy to use End-to-End testing solution for browser-based apps and websites, written on Node.js. - Nightwatchjs.org

As a complete browser (end-to-end) testing solution, NightwatchJS has the objective of streamlining the process of setting up continuous integration and writing automated tests. It can also be utilised for writing NodeJS unit tests. It has a clean syntax that helps in writing testing rapidly with the help of NodeJS and CSS or Xpath selectors. Its out-of-the-box command line test runner propels sequential or parallel test runs simultaneously by group, tags or single. It, also, has the support for Mocha runner out-of-the-box.

NightwatchJS has its own cloud testing platform called NightCloud.io in addition to the support for other cloud testing providers like SauceLabs and BrowserStack. It governs Selenium and WebDriver services automatically in a different child process and has great support for working with Page Object Model. Moreover, with its out-of-the-box JUnit XML reporting, it is possible to incorporate your tests in the build process with systems like Jenkins. 

NightwatchJS in Drupal

JavaScript Modernisation Initiative paved the way for the addition of NightwatchJS to the Drupal core (in version 8.6) as the new standard framework for unit and functional testing of JavaScript. It makes sure that alterations made to the system do not break expected functionality in addition to the provision for writing tests for your contributed modules and themes. It can be included in the build process for ensuring that regressions hardly creep into production.

You can try NightwatchJS in Drupal 8.6 by adhering to the instructions given on GitHub. It exhibits how to test core functionality. It also instructs on how to use it for testing your existing sites, modules, and themes by giving your own custom commands, assertions and tests. It is worth considering to check out Nightwatch API documentation and the developer guide of NightwatchJS for creating custom commands and assertions.

NightwatchJS tests will be run by Drupal CI and are viewable in test log for core developers and module authors. And for your own projects, tests can be run easily in, for instance, CircleCI, that can provide you access to artefacts like screenshots and console logs.

Conclusion

While Drupal 8 has extensive back-end test coverage, NightwatchJS offers a more modern platform that will make Drupal more familiar to PHP and JavaScript developers. 

Offering amazing digital experience has been our biggest objective and we have been doing that with a suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] and let us know how can we help you achieve your digital transformation dreams.

Feb 10 2019
Feb 10

Virtual private servers are fantastic for running your own cloud applications and gives you the authority over your private data. Potentially, your private data may be leaked when you communicate via services like text messaging. One way to ensure greater privacy is by hosting your own messaging system. This is where Rocket.Chat comes into picture.

person typing on laptop computer


Rocket.Chat has the provision for an actual open source implementation of an HTTP chat solution that provides convenience and gives greater freedom at the same time. It can be a marvellous solution for remote communications, especially for open source communities.

Rocket Chat: A close look

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The official site of Rocket.Chat states that it’s an open source team communication software which offers an alternative to remote communications by replacing the likes of email, HipChat and Slack. It aids in improving productivity via efficacious team communication and team collaboration. It helps in sharing files with the team, real-time chatting or even leveraging audio or video conference calls with screen sharing. Being an open source solution, It gives you the option of customising, extending or adding new functionality to meet your expectations.

Rocket.Chat is an open source team communication software which offers an alternative to remote communications by replacing the likes of email, HipChat and Slack

 

Logo of rocketchat with an icon representing rocket


With Rocket.Chat, you can do away with cc/bcc and make use of Rocket.Chat channels and private groups thereby bringing in more transparency in the team communication. By utilising @username, you can include relevant participants in order to apprise them swiftly. When you need to inform about an important matter to all the members of a group, @all can be used. Participants can join or leave anytime using the full chat history. Moreover, Rocket.Chat offers a secure workspace with restrictions on username and greater transparency for admin. You can be a part of leading blockchain propellants like Hyperledger, Brave, Aragon among others in migrating from Slack and Atlassian to Rocket.Chat.

Essential features

Following are some of the major features of Rocket.Chat:

  • Unlimited: Rocket.Chat has the provision for unlimited users, channels, searches, messages, guests and file uploads.
  • Authentication mechanism: It offers different authentication mechanisms like LDAP Group Sync, 2-factor authentication, end-to-end encryption, single sign-on and dozens of OAuth providers.
  • Real-time Chat: Its Live Chat feature allows you to add real-time chat widgets to any site or mobile applications. This brings more efficacy in team communication and also ensures top-notch customer service.
  • Message translation: It utilises machine learning for automatically translating messages in real-time.
  • Use across platforms: It can be leveraged for all the platforms with its web, desktop and mobile applications, LiveChat clients, and SDK( Software Development Kit).
  • Marvellous customisation: You can alter it to meet your requirements. Incoming and outgoing WebHook integrations can be added to it. The personalisation of user interface can be performed by overriding any of the built-in styles. You get to extract the benefits of its REST API, LiveChat API or Real-time API.

Rocket.Chat in Drupal

The Rocket.Chat module, available for both Drupal 7 and Drupal 8, helps a Drupal site to integrate Rocket.Chat. It constitutes a base module that holds the configuration and the LiveChat module that includes a block for enabling LiveChat widget on a page which can be controlled as a block.
 
The maintainers of this module recommend running Drupal and Rocket.Chat behind a TLS (Transport Layer Security) proxy or web server that has TLS capabilities. Also, HTTPS and HTTP crossovers should be taken care of. Moreover, enabling the LiveChat on Rocket.Chat instance allows you to use LiveChat feature.

Conclusion

One of the quintessential aspects of open source communities is remote communication. Rocket.Chat offers a great alternative to the likes of Slack and gives you the plugin to enable in it in Drupal.
 
We have a strong inclination towards the provision of digital innovation and have been doing that with our expertise in Drupal development.

Contact us at [email protected] to understand more on Rocket.Chat and transform your team communication and collaboration.

Jan 28 2019
Jan 28

Visualise yourself getting involved in a social experiment (and you are oblivious of your involvement). You are walking down the street and find cash on the sidewalk. You get drowned in different thoughts as to whether casually pick it up and slip it inside your pocket or just plod away as if you haven’t seen anything or just take it and give it to someone needy. Supposing you have chosen the second option, you, then, realise that it was a social experiment as some guys come towards you appreciating your character.

Illustration showing a human brain with eyes on right and several small white boxes consisting of small icons representing house, car, cup, bowl, emoticon, piechart on left


Sometimes life gives you such opportunities without even giving you some sort of prompt where you are automatically tested for your behaviour. Speaking of an automatic test, there is a different sort of automated test involved in the digital scene but has a lot of significance. Adding test coverage to your website and application can be very fruitful. For instance, you can ensure that requirements are met and avoid regressions from happening. One of the many approaches for testing is Behaviour Driven Development (BDD). As one of the leading open source content management systems, Drupal enables you to imbibe automated testing through tools like Behat in your website.

Diving into Automated testing

Automated testing is a process that involves pre-scripted tests which are run automatically. Their function is to compare actual results with expected results that help in determining if the application works as expected. It can help in executing iterative tasks and regression tests to verify if an application works correctly after the newly implemented alterations.

Automated testing is a process that involves pre-scripted tests which are run automatically.

On the contrary, manually testing involves quality assurance specialists who need to verify that the applications are working properly by following conditions written in test cases. In spite of its primitive nature, it is still very significant in cases like wearables and mobile devices that may need field testing in a physical environment.

Infographics showing different icons inside several yellow-coloured circles with each icons representing clock, spider, tick mark, desktop, curved arrow sign to explain benefits of automated testingSource: Gear Inc

Automated testing saves a lot of time by reducing the time to run repetitive tests which, in turn, saves money. It vastly enhances your test coverage. Lengthy tests that are, most often than not, avoided in manual testing can be run unattended. It also improves precision by performing the same steps precisely whenever they are executed and never misses from recording detailed results. It can simulate tens and thousands of virtual users interacting with a network, software and web applications. Moreover, shared automated tests can be leveraged by developers to detect problems quickly before sending to QA.

Automated testing in Drupal

Drupal 8 core testing framework comes with numerous automated testing options. To ensure the quality and reaction of code on edge cases, testing can be performed in different layers:

  • To test class methods, you can write Unit tests which constitute the process of testing the discrete parts or units of a software project. PHPUnit can be leveraged in this case.
  • For testing module APIs, you can write Kernel tests which are basically unit tests on steroids.
  • You can also adopt functional testing where software testing is performed for detecting the actual performance of an application’s functional requirements. Functional testing is great for accuracy, interoperability, compliance, security and suitability.
  • There is also the possibility of utilising an external framework like Behat with scenarios in gherkin syntax.

Power of Behat

Logo of Behat with the word 'behat' written in black colour and an icon representing number 8


Behat is an open source Behaviour-driven Development (BDD) framework, as stated in the official site of Behat, and helps in supporting the process of delivering software that matters via perpetual communication, deliberate discovery and test automation. BDD is a way of building software through continuous interaction with stakeholders in the form of examples like what help would a particular software be offering to them and you for attaining your goals.

Behat is an open source Behaviour-driven Development framework.

Behat was created for PHP and is a spectacular PHP library to the core with its codebase leveraging a superabundance of Symfony components, strictly adhering to coding standards, and comes out on top in major static analysis tools. Moreover, Behat has superb extensibility as almost all of its functionality could be enhanced or replaced via a magnificent extension system.  

Behat for Drupal

There is a provision for a Drupal extension that offers an integration layer between Behat, Mink Extension and Drupal. For the starters, this Drupal extension can be enabled using Composer followed by the creation of behat.yml file in the projectdir. You also get to add your features files to the features directory of your repository that contains human-readable steps to test something.

By describing the behaviour of a site in plain but stylised language followed by the process of turning that description into an automated test, Behat and Mink come in very handy. These functional tests enable the site builders to ensure that the added value that is created while building a Drupal website keeps on behaving as per the expectations even after alterations are done to the website like security updates, changes to custom code among others.

This Drupal extension helps in setting up test data using Drush or the Drupal API in addition to defining theme regions and test data that appear within them. It also assists in clearing cache, logging out and other such significant steps. Moreover, it is an astronomical solution for detecting and discovering steps offered by contributed modules and themes.

Case study

Global Canopy Programme wanted to retrieve the news syndicated from a plethora of public sources, govern it through an internal application followed by resyndicating it to numerous public-facing sites. For this, it leveraged the power of Drupal with the help of a digital agency to build this application called Forest Desk. They followed the paradigm of BDD that was beneficial for each piece of functionality and could be embedded in the Scrum process.

Behat was meritorious for testing whether the functionality has been built correctly. It turned out to be an essential tool for testing comprehensible action on a website like clicking links or hitting submit buttons. Behat’s knowledge could further be extended using custom PHP code thereby leveraging it to understand RSS which is the format for syndicating content on the web.

Behat’s knowledge could further be extended using custom PHP code thereby leveraging it to understand RSS which is the format for syndicating content on the web.

The RSS standard was utilised for syndicating data and Drupal’s Feeds module was very beneficial in consuming this standard from remote websites and modules like Views helped in repackaging it for consumption by other sites. Furthermore, the Adminimal theme offered an immaculate administrative design.

For developing each feature, once its scenario was specified in Gherkin syntax, Features module was leveraged. This helped in altering the configuration and save the changes and return to the previous state of configuration in case any BDD test no longer works.

Conclusion

Behat is a great tool for enabling superfast and efficacious automated testing in Drupal development.

Offering stupendous digital experience with our suite of services to our partners has been our supreme goal.

Contact us at [email protected] to get the best out of automated testing through this wonderful tool - Behat.

Jan 27 2019
Jan 27

Girish Mathrubootham launched his startup Freshdesk, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) venture, with Shan Krishnasamy in a small conference room of his friend’s office. Its staggering growth in a short span of time coerced them to move to a suburb and convert a warehouse into an office. Subsequently, they went on to have a proper office. With a humongous rise in stature, they had to literally break the walls to expand its workplace. ‘Breaking the walls’ represents the swift growth of this SaaS-based firm.

Top view of workplace showing people sitting in front of computers


Such is the significance of the SaaS model that it can enable the enterprises to emphasise on business outcomes rather than working around technical limitations. SaaS clients relish the quicker and flexible deployment and frequent automatic updates to increase the pace of innovation. SaaS standardisation simplifies Research and Development and uncloaks new collaboration and sharing potential. SaaS-based business applications promise faster time-to-deploy and an agile, incremental approach for attaining business goals. Drupal, as an open source content management framework, can be very beneficial for building SaaS. Before exploring Drupal’s power in building SaaS, let’s traverse the origins of SaaS briefly.

Origins of SaaS

Infographics showing the timeline of SaaS with a line at the centre, greyish background and cloud icons on the rightSource: Process Street

An interesting compilation by Process Street delineates the history of SaaS and takes us back to mid-twentieth century. It states that IBM was the 1960s SaaS company and IBM 360 Model 67 provided processing power to many organisations. Computers were not as powerful as we have today but this allowed them to have the data and power hosted in a different physical location to the one they are being used in.

The ‘70s and the ‘80s are touted to be the time period when pre-SaaS architecture grew. This was the time when first ever CRM (Customer Relationship Management) called ACT! was developed. This was also the time when Great Plains Software emerged in the market which was later acquired by Microsoft and turned into Microsoft Dynamics.

SaaS-based firms like Salesforce, NetSuite, and Intacct established themselves in the 1990s. Moreover, inefficacies in Application Service Providers (ASP) gave further push to the growth of SaaS. As a matter of fact, Salesforce was the gamechanger in the SaaS business. Eventually, SaaS has gone on to become a proven business model and it is one of the most sought after solutions among the enterprises today.

A quick look at SaaS

flowchart with different icons representing laptop, desktop, smartphone, houselock, certificate to explain SaaS, PaaS, and IaaSSource: Microsoft

Gartner defines software as a service (SaaS) as software that is owned, delivered and managed remotely by one or more providers. The provider delivers software based on one set of common code and data definitions that are consumed in a one-to-many model by all contracted customers any time on a pay-for-use basis or as a subscription based on use metrics. Biggest SaaS organisations today include the likes of Salesforce, Microsoft, Google, Adobe, Amazon, etc.

Software as a service is a software that is owned, delivered and managed remotely by one or more providers.

SaaS helps you in gaining access to intricate applications. You do not have to buy, install, update or govern any hardware, middleware or software for offering SaaS apps to the users. Complex enterprise applications like ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM are made cost-effective by SaaS. This is advantageous for the organisations that have the dearth of resources to purchase, deploy and handle the required infrastructure and software themselves.

By paying for only what you use, you wind up saving superabundance of money. Furthermore, you can run most SaaS apps directly from the web browser without having to download and install any software albeit few apps that require plugins. It streamlines the process mobilising your workforce and with the data stored in the cloud, you can access the information from any internet-connected computer or handheld device.

Drupal for SaaS

Suppose you already have a SaaS product, you can use Drupal to build the website and market your product. Drupal’s tremendous features for content governance and e-commerce can be an astounding solution to take your product to an unprecedented reach. 

Can I use Drupal to build a SaaS? Yes, you can also build a SaaS solution utilising the powerful capabilities of Drupal. Governments are required to confront a plethora of social determinants that affect healthcare outcomes and overall spending. An agency talked about building a Drupal SaaS solution in a session hosted by Drupal 4 Gov for connecting citizens with services.

[embedded content]


The State of Idaho innovatively compiled both government and community services through a single platform and simplified the process of assisting citizens to avail the right sort of services through its ‘Live Better Idaho’ program. Drupal turned out to be an astounding choice for building this platform because of its immaculate content workflow, extensibility and interoperability. Amazon Web Services was also leveraged for its great scalability.

Drupal turned out to be an astounding choice because of its immaculate content workflow, extensibility and interoperability. 

Civiserv, a Drupal-based citizen portal which is focussed specifically on powering the delivery of social and health services by state and local agencies, came in very handy for building ‘Live Better Idaho’ program. Offered as a SaaS product, it comes as a configurable virtual assistant that helps to bridge the gap between target audiences and the services that they need the most.

A lot of developmental effort was put into creating means testing. To improve personalisation factor, user accounts were integrated that allowed users to set up accounts and preserve their searches and favourites within the site. In addition to this, email signups and text alert functionalities were added so that notification was sent to the user whenever new content is published or any new event is added. For efficacious tracking, reports could be seen to find out the number of referrals that were being generated or the most popular service among users.

The session also presented a demonstration which showed the platform having simple navigation of services under different categories like financial, healthcare, food and nutrition among others. In addition to this, a conventional search box could also be utilised for finding the relevant services. The means testing was demonstrated through the ‘Tell us about yourself’ option where you need to enter particulars like your age and monthly income and the results pop up showing relevant services. The results could be further narrowed down by choosing particulars like ‘within 5 miles’ or ‘Teen: 13-17 yrs’. 

What lies ahead for SaaS?

graphical representation with pink background and a black line with white dots on it to represent usage of SaaSSource: FinancesOnline

SaaS will be powering almost 80 percent of the business workflows by 2022 as can be seen in the graphical representation below.

Moreover, Wikibon’s 2018 Cloud Markets and Trends report states that the largest segment of the cloud industry is SaaS and will grow to $346 billion at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 25.9%.

A report on Transparency Market Research states that CRM is registering the highest demand for SaaS solutions. ERP and the collaborative solutions segments will pick up the pace by 2022. The increasing trend of e-commerce, infrastructural growth and increasing customer support services will accelerate the use of SaaS solutions. HCM (Human Capital Management) is slated to be registering quickest growth in the demand for SaaS solutions at 32.90% CAGR in the forecast period of 2015 to 2022. The rise in the need for smart and talented workforce in organisations across the world is the reason behind this growth.

Conclusion

SaaS is great for digital businesses as it fosters a quicker, more agile approach to application deployment and is an integral component of any digital transformation project that is prevalent in a plethora of application portfolios.

Drupal can be a quintessential solution for delivering a SaaS offering with its fantastic content workflow capabilities.

We are perpetually committed to delivering an amazing digital experience to our partners through our suite of services.

Ping us at [email protected] and let us know how can we help you achieve your digital transformation goals.

Jan 24 2019
Jan 24

“That’s a beautiful view!”, you exclaim when you witness the sunset while standing on a beach with waves touching your feet. That is when you come out of the rut, leave behind the humdrum life of city and ‘really’ feel a natural beauty. There is another view in the digital landscape that will make you exclaim, “wow!”, and that is Vue.

two people standing near the sea shore as the sun is setting on the horizon


Vue.js is fantastic for developers to build applications faster and make it more attractive and user-friendly. In combination with Drupal, one of the leading open source content management systems, Vue JS can be a brilliant option for web development needs.

A trip down memory lane: JavaScript frameworks

JavaScript framework is great for creating modern applications. There is an interesting piece from freeCodeCamp on JavaScript’s development and how it came through.

Browsers that we see today are did not have the sort of functionalities until the early 2000s. They were much less powerful and, performance-wise, there was no feasibility in creating intricate applications inside them.

Introduction of Google Maps and Gmail, that ran inside the browser, started bringing in the much-needed change. Asynchronous network requests were made a reality by Ajax. Eventually, development started happening on top of the web platform while the platform itself - that constitute browsers, the web standards, the browser APIs, and the JavaScript language - was being worked upon by engineers.

First major projects developed upon JavaScript were libraries like jQuery and Mootools that offered a nicer API for interacting with the browser in addition to the provision for solutions to bugs and inconsistencies among numerous browsers. Then, Backbone, Ember, Knockout among others burst onto the scene as modern JavaScript frameworks followed by React, Angular and Vue which have gained popularity in recent times.

The rise of VueJS

Logo of vuejs with a green coloured V alphabet


VueJS is one of the popular JavaScript frameworks. The official site of VueJS states that it is a progressive JavaScript framework that is used for developing user interfaces. In complete contrast to monolithic frameworks, it is incrementally adoptable and its core library emphasises on the view layer and can be easily incorporated with other libraries or existing projects. It is an astounding solution for intricate single page applications when leveraged alongside modern tooling and supporting libraries.

The usage of VueJS has seen a tremendous rise over the years as represented in the graph below.

Graphical representation showing red, blue and green lines to show usage statistics of VuejsUsage statistics of VueJS | Source: BuiltWith

VueJS scores heavily when it comes to high traffic websites. Organisations in need of a web development solution that can scale well during a high spike in traffic are opting for VueJS as can be seen in the graphical representation below.

Graphical representation with dots inside a square showing market share of vuejs


Meritorious features of VueJS

Following are some of the benefits of VueJS:

Smaller in Size

A JavaScript framework triumph depends upon its size. Size of the JavaScript framework is directly proportional to its usage. With that being said, VueJS is very beneficial with its small size. The size of the VueJS framework is around 18-21KB which means it does not take much of your time while downloading and using it. Small size has no effect on the speed as it is fast and snappy.

Easy development

Adding Vue to an existing web project is quite easy and you can begin coding very swiftly without the need for knowing anything about JSX, ES2015 or build systems to get started. Familiarity with HTML and JavaScript in addition to reading their guide can assist in building something basic within a day that is very advantageous for a fast-paced development team where you are required to pick up something very quickly.

Moreover, it has a simple structure which is great for both small and large scale template development and saves a lot of time as a result. You can even trace the blocks with errors due to its simple structure.

Easy integration

It facilitates developers while integrating with existing applications which makes it a great prospect for developing new web applications and changing the pre-existing applications. The integration is possible because it has components for everything.

Exhaustive Documentation

The documentation of VueJS is very detailed, simple to understand and constitutes several code examples. It has a growing community of developers that can assist when needed.

Immense flexibility

It is simpler to write an app with VueJS swiftly and run it straight from the browser. Or you can even develop an intricate application leveraging ES6, JXX, components, routing, bundling among others. You can even write a template in HTML or in JavaScript or you can use JSX. You get the liberty to structure the application in a way that suits you.

Model-view-viewmodel architecture

Its MVVM architecture (Model-view-viewmodel) helps in facilitating two-way communications for easy management of HTML blocks.

Implementing VueJS with Drupal

Like VueJS, Drupal is very scalable and has been powering high-traffic websites around the world. It also has been outperforming other leading content management frameworks in this criteria.

Graphical representation showing dots inside a square to show Drupal's market share


The blend of Drupal and VueJS, which are both preferred for their scalability, can be a remarkable option. 

One of the ways of utilising VueJS with Drupal is the development of single page application as we have discussed in an earlier blog. It involves the installation of Drupal 8 on the local system followed by the creation of custom content types, adding views, and enabling REST API.

Then, you can start building front end with VueJS and create single page application. This would involve setting up of Vue project with Vue CLI. Once this is done, the addition of Vue router and Vue resource is performed. Vue router, the official router for VueJS, deeply integrates with VueJS core is similar to the angular router (of Angular JS) and react router (of React JS). Vue resource is the plugin for VueJS that offers services for making web requests and govern responses. Then, you can start modifying main.js file to use Vue routers and Vue resources and modify the app.js to work with the router followed by setting up of app components and routers.

Use case

Arbetsförmedlingen, Swedish Public Employment Service, benefitted from the amalgamation of Drupal and VueJS. Drupal Europe 2018 had a session that talked about how a video platform that was built for the Swedish government.

[embedded content]


The platform used podcasts, video on demand and live broadcast for the dissemination of their content. They needed a new platform where these different sorts of media could be imported and metadata could be added for easily grouping them and filtering them out.

Drupal was the ultimate choice because of its great content management system, robust multilingual support, user management, and open source platform. Being lightweight with a production-ready build, VueJS was chosen as the desired JavaScript framework. Its compatibility with twig was a bonus. So, development recipe constituted Drupal, the combination of VueJS and twig and an API endpoint.

RESTful Web Services and Serialisation modules were enabled that gave the ability to create normal views as REST export and Axios, a promise-based HTTP client that has an easy-to-use API and can be leveraged in both the browser and NodeJS, was used for the consumption of data. Theme structure comprised of the twig, JS and CSS. Pluggable VueJs components were utilised and event handling configuration was shown through ‘Load More’ button.

Conclusion

The amalgam of Drupal and VueJS can be a rewarding solution that can help fulfil your digital transformation dreams.

We are devoted to providing ambitious digital experience to our partners through a suite of services.

Ping us at [email protected] to get the best out of Drupal and VueJS amalgamation.

Jan 22 2019
Jan 22

Instances of advanced search can be seen through different things. Take space research for instance. In their perpetual effort to explore Universe and search for Earth-like planets or a star that is similar to our Sun, Scientists wind up discovering interesting things. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was used to spot a star called Icarus, named after Greek mythological figure, which is the most distant star ever viewed and is located halfway across the universe.

A man standing at night time under an open sky full of stars


On the other side of the spectrum, Apache Solr is making huge strides with its advanced search capabilities. Enterprise-level search is a quintessential necessity for your online presence to be able to thrive in this digital age. Big organisations like Apple, Bloomberg, Marketo, Roku among others are opting for Apache Solr for its advanced search features. Amalgamation of Drupal and Apache Solr can be a remarkable solution for a magnificent digital presence.

Planting the seed in 2004

John Thuma, in one of his blog posts, stated that tracing the history of Apache Solr would take us back to the year 2004 when it was an in-house project at CNET Networks used for offering search functionalities for the company’s website. It, then, donated it to the Apache Software Foundation in 2006.

Later, the Apache Lucene and Solr projects combined in 2010 with Solr becoming a sub-project of Lucene. It has witnessed an awful lot of alterations since then and is now a very significant component in the market.

Uncloaking Apache Solr

Logo of Apache Solr with the word 'Solr' written on left and an icon representing Sun at the top right


As an enterprise-capable, open source search platform, Apache Solr is based on the Apache Lucene search library and is one of most widely deployed search platforms in the world.

Solr is a standalone enterprise search server with a REST-like API. You put documents in it (called "indexing") via JSON, XML, CSV or binary over HTTP. You query it via HTTP GET and receive JSON, XML, CSV or binary results. - Lucene.apache.org

It is written in Java and offers both a RESTful XML interface and a JSON API that enables the development of search applications. Its perpetual development by an enormous community of open source committers under the direction of the Apache Software Foundation has been a great boost.

Apache Solr is often debated alongside Elasticsearch. There is even a dedicated website called solr-vs-elasticsearch that compares both of them on various parameters. It states that both the solutions have support for integration with open source content management system like Drupal. It depends upon your organisation’s needs to select from either one of them.

For instance, if your team comprises a plentitude of Java programmers, or you already are using ZooKeeper and Java in your stack, you can opt for Apache Solr. On the contrary, if your team constitutes PHP/Ruby/Python/full stack programmers or you already are using Kibana/ ELK stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana) for handling logs, you can choose Elasticsearch.

Characteristics of Apache Solr

Following are the features of Apache Solr:

Advanced search capabilities

  • Spectacular matching capabilities: Apache Solr is characterised by the advanced full-text search capabilities. It enables spectacular matching capabilities comprising of phrases, grouping, wildcards, joins and so on, across any data type.
  • A wide array of faceting algorithms: It has the support for faceted search and filtering that enables you to slice and dice your data as needed.
  • Location-based search: It offers out-of-the-box geospatial search functionalities.
  • Multi-tenant architecture: It offers multiple search indices that streamlines the process of segregating content and users.
  • Suggestions while querying: There is support for auto-complete while searching (typeahead search), spell checking and many more.

Scalability

It is optimised for the colossal spike in traffic. Also, Solr is built on Apache Zookeeper which makes it easy to scale up or down. It has in-built support for replication, distribution, rebalancing and fault tolerance.

Support for standards-based open interfaces and data formats

It uses the standards-based open interfaces like XML, JSON and HTTP. Furthermore, you do not have to waste time converting all the data to a common representation as Solr supports JSON, CSV, XML and many more out-of-the-box.

Responsive admin UI

It has the provision for an out-of-the-box admin user interface that makes it easier to administer your Solr instances.

Streamlined monitoring

Solr publishes truckload of metric data via JMX that assists you in getting more insights into your instances. Moreover, the logging is monitorable as the log files can be easily accessed from the admin interface.

Magnificent extensions

It has an extensible plugin architecture for making it simple to plugin both index and query time plugins. It also provides optional plugins for indexing rich content, detecting language, clustering search results amongst others.

Configuration management

Its flexibility and adaptability for easy configuration are top-notch. It also offers advanced configurable text analysis, that means, there is support for most of the widely spoken languages in the world and a plethora of analysis tools that makes the process of indexing and querying your content flexible.

Performance optimisation

It has been tuned to govern largest of sites and its out-of-the-box caches have fine-grained controls that assist in optimising performance.

Amazing Indexing capabilities

Solr leverages Lucene’s Near Real-Time Indexing capabilities that ensure that the user sees the content whenever he or she wants to. Also, its built-in Apache Tika simplifies the process of indexing rich content like Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF and many more.

Schema management

You can leverage Solr’s data-driven schemaless mode in the incipient stage of development and can lock it down during the time of production.

Security

Solr has robust built-in security like SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), Authentication and role-based authorisation.

Storage

Lucene’s advanced storage options like codecs, directories among others ensures that you can fine-tune your data storage needs that are applicable for your application.

Leverage Apache UIMA

Enhancement of content can be done with its advanced annotation engines. It incorporates Apache UIMA for leveraging NLP (Natural Language Processing) and other tools for your application.

Integrating Apache Solr with Drupal

Drupal’s impressive flexibility empowers digital innovation and gives the power to the users to build almost anything. It has the provision for integration of your website with Solr platform. Drupal’s Search API Solr Search module provides a Solr backend for the Drupal Search API module.

Drupal’s Search API Solr Search module provides a Solr backend for the Drupal Search API module.

To begin with, you need to have Apache Solr installed on your server. This is followed by the validation of the Solr server’s status using Terminal. It is succeeded by the installation of Search API Solr Search module using Composer.

Once the installation of Search API Solr Search module is done, the process of configuration of Solr ensues. This involves the creation of collection which is basically a logical index linked to a config set.

Interface of Apache Solr showing the process of creating collection with Sun-shaped icon at top-left and list of option on the right Source: OSTraining

Then, Drupal’s default search module is uninstalled for negating any performance issues and the Search API Solr Search module is enabled. You can, then, move on to the process of configuration of the Search API. Finally, you can test the Search API Solr Search module.

Interface of Drupal's Search API Solr Search module showing search box at the centre and search results below it.Source: OSTraining

Case study

The Rainforest Alliance (RA), which is an international non-profit organisation working towards the development of strong forests, healthy agricultural work landscapes, and burgeoning communities via creative collaboration, leveraged the power of Drupal to revamp their website with the help of a digital agency.

Homepage of Rainforest Alliance website with an image of a forest in the background and an icon representing frog at top-left


RA has built a repository of structured content for supporting its mission and the content is primarily exhibited as long-form text with a huge variety of metadata and assets associated with each part of the content. It wanted to revamp the site and enable the discovery of new content on the site with the help of the automatic selection of related content. It also required the advanced permission features and publishing workflows.

Drupal was great because of its deep integrations with Apache Solr that enabled nuanced content relation engine.

Drupal turned out to be an astounding choice for fulfilling RA’s requirement of portable and searchable content. It was also great because of its deep integrations with Apache Solr that enabled nuanced content relation engine. Solr was leveraged for powering various search interfaces. Furthermore, Drupal’s wonderful content workflow features made it a perfect choice.

Solr offered ‘more like this’ (MLT) functionality that was more robust than just tagging content and showing other content with the same taxonomy terms. Search API Solr Search module, which provides a Solr backend for the Search API module, was utilised for providing the interface to govern the servers and indexes. Then, with a custom block, MLT was leveraged for assisting the process generating related content lists.

Page manager module, in combination with Layout Plugin and Panels modules, was used to build specialised landing pages in the form of specialised page manager pages with many of them having their own layouts. Different modules were utilised from within the media ecosystem of Drupal were very beneficial in administering images, embedding videos, and so on. Entity Embed, Entity Browser and Inline Entity form were magnificent for a great editorial experience for content teams.

Conclusion

Apache Solr is a great solution for enabling enterprise-level search and can make a world of difference in combination with Drupal for your digital presence.

We have been empowering our partners in their efforts digital transformation dreams with our expertise in Drupal development.

Ping us at [email protected] to extract advanced Solr features with Drupal.

Jan 22 2019
Jan 22

Elasticsearch has been meritorious for The Guardian, one of the most reputed news media, by giving them the freedom to build a stupendous analytics system in-house rather than depending on a generic, off-the-shelf analytics solution. Their traditional analytics package was horrendous and was extremely sluggish consuming an enormous amount of time. The Elasticsearch-powered solution has turned out to be an enterprise-wide analytics tool and helped them understand how their content is being consumed.

Homepage of Ophan, The Guardian's Elasticsearch solution, with three images showing a girl standing in front of a building, people standing in queue, and a man sitting on floor with laptop


Why is such a large organisation like The Guardian choosing Elasticsearch for its business workflow? Elasticsearch is all about full-text search, structured search, analytics, intricacies of confronting with human language, geolocation and relationships. Drupal, one of the leading content management frameworks, is a magnificent solution for empowering digital innovation and can help in implementing elastic search. Before we look at Drupal’s capability in implementing elastic search ecosystem, let’s unwrap Elasticsearch first.

Unlocking Elasticsearch

Logo of elasticsearch with an icon shaped in the form of alphabet E in yellow, blue and green colours

Elasticsearch is an open source, broadly distributable, RESTful search and analytics engine which is built on Apache Lucene. It can be accessed through an extensive and elaborate API. It enables incredibly fast searches for supporting your data discovery applications. It is used for log analytics, full-text search, security intelligence, business analytics and operational applications.

Elasticsearch is a distributed, scalable, real-time search and analytics engine - Elastic.io

It enables you to store, search and assess the voluminous amount of data swiftly and in near real-time. In general, it is leveraged as the underlying engine/technology for powering applications that have sophisticated search features and requirements.

How does Elasticsearch work? With the help of API or ingestion tools like Logstash, data is sent to Elasticsearch in the form of JSON documents. The original document is automatically stored by Elasticsearch and a searchable reference is added to the document in the cluster’s index. Elasticsearch API can, then, be utilised for searching and retrieving the document. Kibana, an open-source visualisation tool, can also be leveraged with Elasticsearch for visualising the data and create interactive dashboards.

Elasticsearch is often debated alongside Apache Solr. There is even a dedicated website called solr-vs-elasticsearch that compares both of them on various metrics. Both the solutions accompany itself with support for integration with open source content management system like Drupal. It depends upon your organisation’s needs to select from either one of them.

For instance, if your team comprises a superabundance of Java programmers, or you already are using ZooKeeper and Java in your stack, you can opt for Apache Solr. On the contrary, if your team includes PHP/Ruby/Python/full stack programmers or you already are using Kibana/ELK stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana) for handling logs, you can choose Elasticsearch.

Merits of Elasticsearch

Following are some of the benefits of Elasticsearch:

  • Speed: Elasticsearch helps in leveraging and accessing all the data at a fast clip. Also, it makes it simple to rapidly build applications for multiple use cases.
  • Performance: Being highly distributable, it allows the processing of a colossal amount of data in parallel and swiftly finds the best matches for your search queries.
  • Scalability: Elasticsearch offers provision for easily operating at any scale without comprising on power and performance. It allows you to move from prototype to production boundlessly. It scales horizontally for governing multiple events per second while simultaneously handling the distribution of indices and queries across the cluster for efficacious operations. 
  • Integration: It comes integrated with visualisation tool Kibana. It also offers integration with Beats and Logstash for streamlining the process of transforming source data and loading it into Elasticsearch cluster.
  • Safety: It detects failures for keeping the cluster and the data safe and available. With cross-cluster replication, a secondary cluster can be leveraged as a hot backup.
  • Real-time operations: Elasticsearch operations like reading or writing data is usually performed in less than a second.
  • Flexibility: It can pliably handle application search, security analytics, metrics, logging among others.
  • Simple application development: It offers support for numerous programming languages comprising of Java, Python, PHP, JavaScript, Node.js, Ruby among others.

Elasticsearch with Drupal

For designing a full Elasticsearch ecosystem in Drupal, Elasticsearch Connector, which is a set of modules, can be utilised. It leverages the official Elasticsearch PHP library and was built with the objective of handling large sets of data at scale. It is worth noting that this module is not covered by security advisory policy.

An illustration showing a magnifying glass on left and Drupal logo in the form of a water droplet on right

Elasticsearch Connector module can be utilised with a Drupal 8 installation and configured so that Elasticsearch receives the content changes

Elasticsearch Connector module can be utilised with a Drupal 8 installation and configured so that Elasticsearch receives the content changes. At first, you need to download a stable release of Elasticsearch and start it. You can, then, move ahead and set up Search API. This is followed by the process of connecting Drupal to Elasticsearch with the help of Elasticsearch Connector module which involves the creation of cluster or the collection of node servers where all the data will get stored or indexed.

Interface of Elasticsearch connector drupal module with message fields and checkboxes


This is succeeded by the configuration of Search API. It offers an abstraction layer to allow Drupal to push content alterations to different servers such as Elasticsearch, Apache Solr, or any other provider that has a Search API compatible module. The indexes are created in each of those servers with the help of Search API. These indexes are like buckets where the data can be pushed and can be searched in different ways. Subsequently, indexing of content and processing of data is done.

Case Study

The website of Produce Market Guide (PMG), a resource for produce commodity information, fresh trends and data analysis, was rebuilt by OpenSense Labs. Interpolation of a JavaScript framework into the Drupal front end using progressively decoupled Drupal helps in creating a balance between the workflows of developers and content editors.

Website of Produce Market Guide showing search results on left side and list of images on right side with a group of people standing together and fruit cut into pieces kep on plate


We rebuilt the website of PMG using progressively decoupled Drupal, React and Elasticsearch Connector module among others. 

To do the mapping and indexing on Elastic Server, ElasticSearch Connector and Search API modules were leveraged. The development of Elastic backend architecture was followed by the building process of the faceted search application with React and the incorporation of the app in Drupal as block or template page.

The project structure for the search was designed and developed in the sandbox with modern tools like Babel and Webpack and third-party libraries like Searchkit. Searchkit is a suite of React components that interact directly with your ElasticSearch cluster where every component is built using React and can be customised as per your needs. Searchkit was of immense help in this project. 

Logstash and Kibana, which are based on Elasticsearch, were integrated on the Elastic Server. This helped in collected, parsing, storing and visualising the data. The app in the Sandbox was built for the production and all the CSS/JS was integrated inside the Drupal as a block thereby making it a progressively decoupled feature.

Following the principles of Agile and Scrum, it resulted in a user-friendly website for PMG with a search application and loaded the search results faster.

Conclusion

The world is floating over a cornucopia of data. There is simply no end to the growth in the amount of data that is flowing through and produced by our systems. Existing technology has laid emphasis on how to store and structure warehouses replete with data.

But when it comes to making decisions in real time informed by that data, you need something like an Elasticsearch for searching and analysing data in real-time. Drupal can be a wonderful solution for implementing Elasticsearch ecosystem with its suite of modules.

We have been steadfast in our goals of empowering digital innovation with our suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to reap the rewards of Elasticsearch and ingrain your digital presence with advanced search capabilities.

Jan 04 2019
Jan 04

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ultra-modernist novel about jazz-age America, The Great Gatsby, has been regarded as one of the best books ever written. It has fascinated the readers by creating a sort of aftermath of wonder. Enter the digital age, there is another ‘Gatsby’ which is getting a wondrous reception and is in the reckoning for being a great tool when it comes to web development.

Cover page of the Great Gatsby book with illustration showing eyes and lips


The emergence of the static site generation, where views are rendered in advance for mitigating the burden on APIs and other backend systems, is proving to be a remarkable solution for great web performance. Gatsby, as a static site generator, can dramatically metamorphose the web performance. It can be a magnificent option in combination with Drupal as the backend for building an enriching single page applications.

No wonder Kyle Mathews, the founder of GatsbyJS, tweeted in 2017:

A tweet from Gatsby founder Kyle Mathews with his photo on top left and his name alongside the photo


GatsbyJS: Explained

Graphical representation with red, blue and green lines depicting usage statistics of Gatsby JSGatsby Usage Statistics | Source: BuiltWith

Currently, GatsbyJS is on the rise when it comes to its usage as can be seen in the graph above. So, what is it? GatsbyJS, an open source static site generator, stitches together the best of ReactJS, Webpack, routing, GraphQL and other front-end tools into one very enjoyable developer experience.

Logo of Gatsby JS with a Capital G written in white inside a violet coloured circle


Gatsby leverages powerful pre-configuration for developing a website. It has out-of-the-box capabilities for spectacularly fast page loads, data prefetching, asset optimisation, code splitting, server-side rendering, service workers, and intelligent image loading.

Features of Gatsby

Flowchart with white and yellow coloured boxes showing the workflow of Gatsby JSSource: Gatsbyjs.org

Following are the reasons that should be considered while choosing Gatsby:

Well-architected plugin system

With Gatsby, content is written as React components and is rendered at build time to the Document Object Model (DOM) as static HTML, CSS and JavaScript files. With a rich data plugin ecosystem, the static content rendered can be sourced from a plethora of sources and formats constituting markdown, CSV (Comma-separated values), and from content management systems (CMS) like Drupal.

Magnificent Scalability

Gatsby can scale to the entire internet as it builds the site as static files that can be deployed with ease on numerous services. It helps in letting go of intricate deploys involving databases and servers, their time-intensive setup costs, maintenance among others.

Performance and Progressive Web Apps out-of-the-box

Gatsby enforces best practices and optimises your site by default. When the build process runs, static HTML files are created for individual pages to offer swift initial load times.

When the page is loaded by the browser, Gatsby boots up React and navigates around your site as if you were navigating through a single page application with near-instant transitions without page reloads.

Gatsby prefetches adjacent/related page content in the background which nullifies any chances of delay when the user clicks on a link. The client-side experience is awesome with JavaScript enabled as there is no loss of content or navigation if the user has JavaScript disabled.

Gatsby can offer offline support as well with the addition of a single plugin thereby making your site into a full-blown progressive web app (PWA).

JAMstack setup

A paradigm shift has been occurring in the web development arena with JAMstack setup taking the centre stage. The amalgamation of client-side JavaScript, reusable APIs, and prebuilt Markup is the future of web development. Gatsby can be a stupendous JavaScript framework for a JAMstack-powered web application.

Merits of Integrating Gatsby and Drupal

Drupal is great for its provision of intricate page layouts or content modelling with numerous sections per page. It is an amazing solution for the teams with multi-stage content creation and assessment processes. Decoupled Drupal is an astounding solution for building enterprise-grade websites and has the deep-rooted support of Drupal Community leaders. 

Leveraging the benefits of Drupal with Gatsby is an amazing approach towards getting an enterprise-level CMS for free in addition to modern development experience and the merits of JAMstack such as security, scalability and performance. One of the great examples of implementation of decoupled Drupal and Gatsby can be seen through the demo site of Umami Food Magazine which is powered by Contenta CMS, headless Drupal distribution, and GatsbyJS.

Incorporating Gatsby in a decoupled Drupal setup enables you to access the impressive content architecture and access workflow capabilities of Drupal 8 in addition to the splendid UI creation and performance toolset of Gatsby. Moreover, both Drupal and Gatsby are open source, have a huge and active community presence and a wonderful ecosystem of add-on modules or plugins. To add to that, the built-in web services of Drupal 8 streamlines the integration process.

Demonstration

An illustration showing a laptop and a rocket taking off with smoke billowing out its rear end


To integrate Gatsby to a new or existing Drupal site, gatsby-source-drupal plugin is added to the Gatsby site. Gatsby-source-drupal plugin is a source plugin that is used to pull data into Gatsby from Drupal sites and it does so with the help of JSON:API module. It is followed by configuration of the plugin with your Drupal credentials and hosted URL. You can, then, access the Drupal data with the help of GraphQL queries.

A digital agency exhibited a demonstration that pulls Drupal content into a Gatsby site. It had a Drupal 8 site already installed and created a content type named Coffee with three fields: Title, Body and Image. Drupal was made into an API server with the installation of JSON:API and JSON:API Extras modules. For accessing the JSON API resource list, anonymous user permission was given.

This was followed by building process of Gatsby site called coffees.gatsby by making sure that the node and npm are installed on the computer. Then, the content was fetched from the Drupal server. For this, a simple page was created to display all the coffee types from the Drupal site.

Then, gatsby_source_drupal plugin was used to read Drupal content from the default endpoint /jsonapi. GraphQL was utilised to query all the coffee nodes from Drupal. Finally, the Gatsby site was published by simply copying or pushing contents in /public to the server.

Conclusion

Gatsby is an incredible static site generator that streamlines the process of creating blazing fast websites. Gatsby extracts data from sources like Drupal and then uses that data for generating static pages at build time. The data sourced from numerous backends can even be merged. This technique helps in extracting the benefits of both static sites like speed, ease of deployment etc. and the content management systems like the easy update process, user-friendly editorial interface etc.

Coming together of Drupal and Gatsby renders incredibly fast static pages and then merges that with traditional React for user authentication and personalisation.

We are committed to the provision of ambitious digital experiences with our expertise in Drupal development.

Contact us at [email protected] to get the most out of Drupal + Gatsby integration.

Jan 03 2019
Jan 03

Digital transformation is at the helm of every enterprise to keep up with the rapid technological advancements. The New York Times, a leading international news media, leads by example in such changing times. It is not just known for its premium content but also for the astronomical presence both in the print and the digital medium. React has been at the forefront of its digital evolution to make its site faster and easier to use for both the readers and the developers alike.

Home page of The New York Times with a box containing code snippet at the bottom


Large organisations like the New York Times are leaping forward with their inclination towards best-of-breed web technologies like React. Any front-end technology React would require a RESTful service-based backend for storing data and implementing business logic. This is where Drupal makes a big impact with its RESTful services that are built into its core. Before we move onto the exploration of the amazing duo of Drupal and React, let’s explore React.

React: The Incipiency

The first signs of React can be traced back to 2010 as stated by RisingStack. React kicked off as a JavaScript port of XHP which was introduced by Facebook into its PHP stack and was open sourced. XHP majorly accounted for reducing cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.

React was introduced in 2013 and was made open source.

The biggest obstacle with XHP was that dynamic web applications needed numerous round trips to the server which could not be achieved by XHP. This paved the way for ReactJS. FaxJS was the early prototype of React which came into the limelight in 2011. Ultimately, in 2013, React was introduced and open sourced.

Since then, React has swiftly gone on to become a popular choice (as can be seen in the graph below) because of its declarative style and the dearth of assumptions about your tech stack. Today, React has a large ecosystem comprising of top-of-the-line libraries, conferences and jacked-up demand for developers with React skills.

Graphical representation with red, blue and green lines showing usage statistics of ReactReact Usage Statistics | Source: Builtwith

The World of React

React is a JavaScript library for building user interfaces - reactjs.org
Logo of React with three ovals intersecting each other and the word ReactJS written beside it


ReactJS is a JavaScript library created by a Facebook engineer named Jordan Walke. It is a declarative and a component-based solution for building web applications. It is great for the following reasons:

Provision of declarative views

With its declarative views, your code becomes simpler and foretellable while debugging thereby allowing you to develop interactive UIs and design streamlined views for each state in your application. In case of any alterations in the data, React can let you efficaciously update and render the right components.

Facilitation of writing components

Passing rich data through your app and keeping the state out of the Document Object Model (DOM) is possible as the component logic is written in JavaScript instead of templates. React helps in creating encapsulated components for managing their own state which can, then, be composed for making intricate user interfaces.

Focused and easy-to-learn

Unlike Angular or Vue.js, ReactJS is a library and not a full-featured framework. It emphasises on one thing and doing it properly. It is consistently leveraged in association with other JavaScript libraries. So, there is a shorter learning curve vis-à-vis understanding React in comparison to other comprehensive libraries. It does not assume anything about your existing tech stack which helps in developing new features in React without having to rewrite existing code.

React for mobile app development

React Native is advantageous for its portability and the ability to reuse components, real-time reload and modular architecture, open source and generous ecosystem.

React + Drupal

As an open source content management system, Drupal has witnessed a staggering growth over the years (as can be seen in the graph below). It offers a magnificent suite of tools for data modelling, editorial workflow implementation and the coding custom application logic. It has spectacular support for JSON API or GraphQL web services which makes it a splendid choice as the backend for a React application.

Graphical representation showing red, blue and green lines to depict usage statistics of DrupalDrupal Usage statistics | Source: Builtwith

Whether few of the elements on an existing web page has to be enhanced or a fully decoupled single page application needs to be created, the duo of Drupal and React can do it all. Implementation of Drupal and React together can be performed with a fully decoupled or headless approach; and progressively decoupled approach.

Decoupled or Headless Drupal with React

With the powerful web APIs, Drupal simplifies the creation of headless applications. Several lighthouse applications have been created with Drupal as the backend and powerful demo systems and starter kits like Reservoir and Contenta have burst onto the scene.

In a headless approach, Drupal is leveraged as the backend for a frontend application built in React. Usually, headless applications are utilised for showing content and the editing of content is still done in the backend. But React can also be used for the creation of wonderful editorial experience. With Drupal’s powerful REST APIs, integration of a decoupled editing system can be done. Drupal Europe 2018 had a session that demonstrated how to create an enterprise-level editorial experience for Drupal 8 with the help of React.

[embedded content]


It exhibited a decoupled application with React that can let you edit content directly in the frontend. Leveraging React to the fullest, a modern editorial experience was created with in-place editing, context-sensitive editing, drag-and-drop content placement and creation and a lot more.

Progressively Decoupled Drupal with React

To strike a balance between editorial needs like layout management and developer’s desires, progressively decoupled Drupal allows you to interpolate a JavaScript framework into the Drupal front end.

OpenSense Labs has revamped the website of the Produce Market Guide (PMG), a resource for produce commodity information, fresh trends and data analysis, with help of progressively decoupled Drupal and React among others.

Website of Produce Market Guide showing a search box at the top and the search results below it


ElasticSearch Connector and Search API modules were utilised for the creation of mapping and indexing on Elastic Server. The development of Elastic backend architecture was followed by the building process of faceted search application with React and the integration of the app in Drupal as block or template page.

The project structure for the search was designed and developed in the sandbox with modern tools like Babel and Webpack and third-party libraries like Searchkit, which is a suite of React components that communicate directly with Elasticsearch cluster, turned out to be of great help with its fully customisable solution.

Logstash and Kibana, which are based on Elasticsearch, were integrated on the Elasticserver for collecting, parsing, storing and visualising the data. The app in the Sandbox was developed for the production and all the CSS/JS was incorporated inside the Drupal as a block thereby making it a progressively decoupled feature.

The project, that followed the principles of Agile and Scrum, resulted in a user-friendly website for PMG with a search application. It loaded the search results faster.

Conclusion

Drupal and React together can help enterprises to leap forward in the digital space. Drupal’s RESTful services-based backend and React with its amazing capabilities as the frontend can prove to be a remarkable solution.

We remain steadfast in our goals of fulfilling the digital transformation endeavours of our partners with our suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to build a Drupal website using React as the front-end technology.

Dec 16 2018
Dec 16

Cooking something very delicious requires the right sort of ingredients and preparation. Serving delectable food can entice people and make them remember the taste for a long long time. Building a food-based website also requires the right platform that can engage people and offer ambitious digital experiences. This is where Drupal enters the scene.

Illustration showing a transition of sunrise into a plate with spoon and fork with six different images in six different boxes


As an open source CMS, Drupal is a reliable, secure and flexible platform and helps in creating the features that technology professionals want. It conforms with technical and business requirements and can be a great solution for powering the online presence of a food-based brand.

Drupal’s Greatness for Food-based Website

Drupal powers websites of some of the great names in the food industry like BBC Good Food, 24 Kitchen, Bosscaffe, Alevri among others. What prompts them to choose Drupal?

Drupal powers websites of some of the great names in the food industry

Spectacular functionalities

Drupal offers a lot of modules, themes, and distributions that can help build a great food-based website.

For instance, a restaurant chain can use the make their Drupal website stylish with a free mobile-first, Bootstrap 3 based theme for Drupal called Restaurant Lite.

You can even leverage the benefits of Restaurant Zymphonies Theme which is another free mobile-first theme that can power the websites of restaurants, food stalls, hotels and other dining websites.

As a multifunctional, commercial profile created for intricate online stores, Food Delivery, a Drupal distribution, offers a complete starter pack for developing food-based websites.

Security

Drupal Security Team has been working round-the-clock validating and responding to security issues thereby making it one of the most secure open source CMS. Among the leading open source CMSs, it has been performing far better than Wordpress, Joomla and Magento.

Drupal is one of the most secure open source CMS
Table with rows and columns showing statistics on web app attacks targeting top CMS and ecommerce assetsSource: Alert Logic

Scalability

To help you cope with the busiest of days, Drupal can scale with your needs and can efficaciously handle a massive amount of traffic.

Multilingual

Drupal has out of the box support for building multilingual websites in the form of core modules that allows you to deliver localised digital experiences.

Mobile-responsive

Drupal helps in building responsive sites and web applications thereby allowing you to interact with your consumers on-the-go.

Text about Bosscasse in a boxHome page of Drupal powered food-based website of Bosscaffe showing a restaurant hall with chairs and transparent glass-wall


Speed

To run an agile team and ensure the continuous delivery of the web development project, Drupal’s pliable platform is superb. Furthermore, it helps in implementing performance optimisation techniques for building a high performing site.

Third-party integration

You can leverage the best tools outside the periphery of Drupal by integrating a variety of marketing technologies and business applications.

Content Workflow

Content authors can get awesome tools for creating and publishing content on the site. With the help of its preview feature, you can see how your content will look across various devices. Moreover, the authentication and permissions enhance the editorial workflow.

Content authors can get awesome tools for creating and publishing content on the site
Description about Alevri Drupal Food website in a boxHome page of Alevri with an image of brown coloured pizza on white plate


Content architecture

Drupal lets you create the right content architecture and show appropriate content for each context with the help of great display mode tools, Views and a plentitude of media types.

Text description about Food drink devon site in a boxHomepage of Food Drink Devon with the image of a book kept on a wooden surface


Content-as-a-service

Its content as a service approach lets the front end developers build engaging customer experiences with Drupal’s presentation neutral content and RESTful API leveraging tools like Angular, Ember, Backbone and many more.

Multisite

Drupal’s immense capability in building a multisite architecture allows you to govern multiple websites across your enterprise brands, geographies and promotional campaigns on a  centralised platform.

Business-driven

You can build a solution that adheres to your business requirements and does things as your business demands.

Perfect tech stack

Drupal dwells on a modern LAMP technology stack comprising of Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP which helps in fulfilling the needs of fast-moving, flexible, and agile enterprises in creating ambitious digital experiences.

Large community

Drupal’s vast community presence is one of its greatest strength as thousands of organisations create solutions with Drupal and in the process build Drupal itself.

Description about BBC GoodFood website in a boxHomepage of BBC goodfood with the images of red and green coloured breads shaped in the form of sweaters


Case study

24 Kitchen, one of the most popular platforms on food, cooking and lifestyle, has extracted the power of Drupal with the help of a digital agency to transform their presence in the digital landscape.

Homepage of 24 kitchen website with an image of green coloured oval shaped dishes on a plate

Search API Solr Search, a Drupal module for offering Solr backend, uses Apaches Solr servers for indexing and searching content and was utilised for related recipes in 24 Kitchen website development. The amazing capabilities of Fast Autocomplete module merged the extensive database of videos with the recipe’s database thereby allowing the retrieval of thousands of recipes that come with recommendations based on preference and user parameters.

Without any developer’s interference, the content editor could create flexible layout components, new pages and formats. This was made possible by paragraphs module. Through smart widgets, high-value content was disclosed which allowed other websites to directly query and present content from the 24 Kitchen within their own website. 

The Drupal website of 24 Kitchen has been very advantageous for marketing and sales with its boundless integration with the 24 Kitchen television format. It has paved the way for working with partners on promotional campaigns and cross-selling via numerous national news and lifestyle sites. The Drupal-powered website made it possible for content syndication and serving content to the consumers when relevant (for example, the Widgets and Facebook recipe bot). Ultimately, the redressal of 24 Kitchen website with the help of Drupal’s monumental capabilities resulted in staggering growth in page views.

Conclusion

Drupal offers a stupendous platform for building a powerful food-based website and allows the enterprises to grow as a brand.

We love Drupal and have been in our constant pursuit of delivering high quality and innovative solutions with our expertise in Drupal development.

Contact us at [email protected] to build a food-based site using Drupal.

Dec 16 2018
Dec 16

We are continuing our march towards becoming an AI-first world where the mobile centricity is getting replaced with personalised user-centricity. This is an age where conversational commerce and artificial intelligence (AI) as a utility are altering the way we communicate with brands and with each other. One of the great examples is the LivePerson’s LiveEngage. As a leading conversational commerce platform, it allows the students of Barry University to interact over popular messaging services. They can ask anything ranging from the application processes to the courses available in a convenient manner like they do with their friends and family.

Four people, holding differently shaped cards, standing in an open field near a building at daytime


Conversational commerce is already making great inroads and is revolutionising the way consumers and brands interact with each other. It has the potential of being a curator of services and experiences that can intelligently fulfill the needs and engage consumers emotionally anytime and anywhere. Drupal Commerce, an open source e-commerce solution, can help in implementing conversational commerce. Before we look at Drupal Commerce’s capabilities for this implementation, let’s explore conversational commerce first.

Conversational Commerce: Explained 

Graphical representation showing a curve with many dots on it to explain the history of conversational commerceSource: Mücke, Sturm & Company GmbH

From the traditional point of sale systems (POS) to mobile commerce, we have seen it all. They have paved the way for conversational commerce which can dramatically metamorphose out shopping experience by leading a new era of individualised shopping.

Chris Messina coined the term Conversational Commerce looking at the dominant trend of consumer computing apps which came to life in 2015 with Uber’s integration into Facebook Messenger. He described it as a solution that can deliver “convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go with only partial attention to spare”.

Conversational commerce is about delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare. - Chris Messina

Conversational Interfaces leverages the power of AI whilst using the technologies that consumers relish using like messaging, voice interface or other natural language interfaces thereby enabling people to interact with brands or services through bots.

With the objective of delivering a top-of-the-line customer experience, it helps in replicating the one-on-one, in-store salesperson experience with the consumers. Whether you are buying clothes, ordering food from a hotel, or making a financial transaction, conversational commerce is here to revolutionise the business model.

Why is Conversational Commerce Important?

Comscore states that 85% of the smartphone time is being spent on social media, messenger and other media applications. Moreover, by 2021, the number of users using digital voice assistants is projected to reach 1.8 Billion.

Massive adoption of messaging applications along with the rise of conversational, AI-powered technology can streamline the process of making one-on-one conversations at scale. And as people distance themselves from clicks and taps and inch towards conversational UI, more adoption of conversational commerce can be witnessed in the coming years as it promises a slew of benefits which are stated below:

  • Driving customer satisfaction: Offering voice assistants can enhance brands’ Net Promoter Scores (NPS®) thereby driving customer satisfaction.
Bar graph with red and blue coloured bars to represent Net Promoters Scores

 

  • Generating more business: Enterprises will be able to generate more business and positive word-of-mouth
Graphical representation showing green and blue distorted lines to explain voice assistants and their effects on customer experience

 

Graphical representation showing green boxes placed horizontally to explain voice assistants and their effects on customer experience

 

  • Increasing consumer spending: Consumers show the willingness to increase their spending with a brand when they receive a good voice assistant experience.
Bar graphs showing orange and blue bars to explain consumer spending

 

  • Focussing on priority consumer segments: Enterprises that emphasise on the segmentation of priority consumers like targeting users who prefer voice assistants for purchases will bring in great value.
Graphical representation showing four quarters in dark green, light green, orange, and pink colour with a straight line passing through them to explain audience segmentation


How does Conversational Commerce Work?

There are different ways to look at conversational commerce in action. One of the types of experiences can be a proactive model. In this, the customer buys something for the very first time from a shop and receive an automated message with greetings and thanking them for shopping at that store. Another working model can be a reactive approach. In this, a customer buys a defective product from a shop and seek assistance. In response, the shop guides them through a solution.

Two smartphones side-by-side with both of them showing an interaction between a human user and a chatbotSource: Chatbots Magazine

Furthermore, there can be one-to-one and one-to-many working models. If a shop sends a message and personalised offer to a customer who has applauded their service on Twitter, this comes under the one-to-one approach. Suppose a restaurant chain has opened a new store. They can send a custom message to a targeted audience segment who live nearby. This comes under the one-to-many approach.

Also, a digital voice assistant like Amazon Alexa and Google Home can assist the consumer in finding stores, hotels, events and much more. It can also recommend products, access customer care service, book a cab, or even control smart home devices.

Conversational Commerce with Drupal

Decoupled Drupal Days 2018 had a session which showed how to integrate bots in Drupal Commerce. When it comes to bot’s business logic, Drupal Commerce turned out to be a great solution in addition to its robust capabilities in storing content and product details. Moreover, Drupal, being an API-first CMS, offers a plethora of APIs out-of-the-box and the Commerce Cart API module makes it easy to interact with carts in Drupal Commerce.

[embedded content]


It showed how decoupled Drupal Commerce, bot frameworks and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) can be leveraged for providing a boundless shopping experience to the e-commerce websites which are built on Drupal using Drupal services layer.

Decoupled Drupal Commerce, bot frameworks and Natural Language Understanding can be leveraged for providing a boundless shopping experience

The session focussed on Drupal 8 core services and the creation of custom REST APIs. It also laid emphasis on utilising decoupled Drupal Commerce APIs and using Node.js and Bot framework for building a chatbot.

In addition to this, it also talked about the bot frameworks and other cognitive services that can be used to develop bots for different use cases. Several bot frameworks were considered like Facebook Messenger (wit.ai), Google Dialogflow, IBM Watson, Microsoft Bot Framework and open source conversational AI like Rasa. Ultimately, it all started with a framework called Open Source Bot Builder SDK for Node.js which is used for building bots. The application was hosted on Heroku and the Microsoft Bot Framework was used to integrate with Facebook.

In the demonstration, some of the common e-commerce functionalities like search, exploring products and many more were exposed as REST APIs. The main idea was that the bots will enable search and explore the products by incorporating Drupal Commerce APIs. On the basis of message-based interaction, bots can also enable simple Add To Cart and Review Cart functionality among others and can offer relevant actions while looking for a product.

Conclusion

Conversational Commerce represents an astronomical opportunity for the brands and the retailers alike. It can enable them to interact with their consumers in a new and innovative way. Enterprises must extract the power of this interaction opportunity for building relationships of value with consumers across the lifecycle.

Conversational Commerce, along with Drupal Commerce, can help the organisations to offer a completely new and more instinctive way for consumers to engage with them.

We have been steadfast in our goals of powering digital innovation for the enterprises with our expertise in Drupal development.

Contact us at [email protected] to implement conversational commerce in your business.

Dec 12 2018
Dec 12

Healthcare. When you listen to this word, you get a feeling of ‘care’ and ‘improvement’ because that’s what the healthcare industry does. This industry cares for the people and works on the improvement of their health. And today’s growing number of healthcare providers, payers, and IT professionals need a HIPAA-compliant website that also ‘cares’ about processing, storing and transmitting protected health information.

A doctor pointing his finger on his laptop screen as another man looks at it.


Open source software align tremendously well with the requirements of the healthcare sector. Drupal, being an open source content management framework itself, aligns very well with Health IT interoperability and is great for commercial applications at the enterprise level.

What is HIPAA compliance?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) is a legislation that was implemented for the easy retention of healthcare insurance coverage that can be of huge significance whenever the US workers change or lose their jobs.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is a legislation that sets the standard for the protection of sensitive patient data

It sets the standard for the protection of sensitive patient data and any organisation that confronts with protected health information (PHI) has to make sure that all the required physical, network and process security measures are being adhered to. According to Amazon Web Services, PHI includes a very wide set of personally identifiable health and health-related data, including insurance and billing information, diagnosis data, clinical care data, and lab results such as images and test results.

It also encourages to use electronic health records (EHR) for the betterment of efficiency and quality of the US healthcare system via improved information sharing.

It encompasses covered entities (CE), anyone who offers treatment, payment and operations in healthcare and business associates, and people who can access patient information and offer support in treatment, payment or operations. Moreover, subcontractors or business associates of business associates should also be in compliance.

How to make your website HIPAA compliant?

In order to make sure that your website is HIPAA-compliant, you must start by establishing new processes. Make sure that the PHI is only accessible to authorised personnel in addition to establishing processes for deleting, backing up and restoring PHI as needed. Emails consisting of PHI should be sent in an encrypted and secure manner.

Moreover, it is of great significance that you partner with web hosting companies that are HIPAA compliant and have processes for protecting PHI. Also, sign a business associate contract with third parties who have access to your patient’s PHI.

It is of paramount importance to buy and implement an SSL certificate for your website and ensuring that all web forms on your site are encrypted and safe.

Use Case: Drupal ensures HIPAA compliance

Drupal, being one of the most security-focussed CMS, comes with stupendous database encryption mechanisms. For high-security applications, Drupal can be configured for a firm database encryption. When the whole database encryption is not desirable, top-notch granularity is available for safeguarding more specific information like user accounts, particular forms, and also the values of particular fields can be encrypted in an otherwise plaintext database.

Drupal’s encryption system is configurable to adhere to the norms of PCI, HIPAA and state privacy laws constituting offsite encryption key management

Drupal’s encryption system is configurable to adhere to the norms of Payment Card Industry (PCI), HIPAA and state privacy laws constituting offsite encryption key management. Drupal is also a spectacular solution as an enterprise-grade healthcare system because it can be extended. It is possible to leverage Drupal as a content dissemination network, intranet, or even to incorporate several systems within a single platform.

By integrating Drupal data layer and an electronic medical record (EMR) via a RESTful API connection could dramatically enhance interoperability. It can unlock the important data from the proprietary systems and their data silos.

Flowchart with semicircles, full circle and boxes in blue colours to explain HIPAA compliant websiteSource: Acquia

Proprietary EMR systems are astronomical with their top-of-the-line standardised approaches and the ability to organise and store enormous amounts of data. But they are not great for customisation or interoperability. The dearth of interoperability of high-priced, single-vendor solutions and the hurdles while functioning in an integrated healthcare delivery setting results in HIPAA non-compliance. Even if the files are electronic, the difficulty in moving the files boundlessly leads to frequent violations like the shortage of legal authorisation or unencrypted emails.

Drupal and EMR integration is an excellent example of a Drupal-powered healthcare technology that empowers the staff to leverage critical and potentially life-saving data. Healthcare delivery systems, with the division of data silos, can witness the evolution from being a reactive diagnostic model to a proactive preventative model.

Drupal can be layered on top of multiple EMR systems within a medical group and the information can be compiled into one physician portal. The integration of Drupal and EMR systems can be made through numerous feeds from API calls, XML or JSON feeds and RESTful APIs.

Drupal offers granular user access control, that is, it can offers site administrators complete authority over who can see and who can modify different parts of a site. It operates on the basis of a system of extensible user roles and access permissions. Thus, with the help of role-based provisioning, Drupal can emphasise on critical data that dwells behind a firewall in a HIPAA secure environment.

Drupal can also be configured to look into the database via web services integration on the basis of specific EHR authorisation requirements. And it does so by adhering to the user access permission controls. Therefore, the data remains safe and secure all the time.

Conclusion

Drupal is a magnificent solution for enterprises in the healthcare sector to help them process, store and transmit protected health information.

We have been steadfast in our goals to deliver a great digital experience with our expertise in Drupal development.

Contact us at [email protected] to build HIPAA-compliant Drupal website.
 

Dec 09 2018
Dec 09

Customer experience was elevated to a new high when storefronts and shopping carts first burst onto the scene. Then, e-commerce created a different dimension in the world of shopping. In this age of shoppable everything, brands and retailers need to seize the moment of truth as consumers look for shiny objects of inspiration. Today, headless commerce is destined to take shopping experiences to a whole new level where the experience itself can be merchandised.

A black and white image of a man wearing a shirt with flower designs and his face blurred by smoke


Headless commerce is here to get the consumer’s attention and get the deal done. Drupal Commerce allows you to implement headless commerce and helps in monetising the moment of heightened emotion as most of the time, the inspiration, which is potent at the moment, diminishes to a fleeting whim.

Headless Commerce: Explained

When the frontend of your shopping experience is decoupled from the backend, that is, the presentation is segregated from the commerce stack, it is referred to as headless commerce architecture.

In headless commerce, the frontend of your shopping experience is decoupled from the backend.

Such an architecture supports an e-commerce platform without ‘head’ - front-end presentation layer - permitting additional flexibility, customisation, enhanced shopping experiences and creative freedom.

In a headless commerce, you do not have to worry about interfering with the back-end commerce setup. Marketers and merchants can experiment and make alterations to the front-end with agility.

Flowchart with a box, desktop icon, and smartphone icon showing the workflow of headless commerceSource: Snipcart

Headless commerce vs Traditional commerce

Following are the two key differences:

Source: Snipcart


Presentation layer

In a traditional commerce, design constraints are observed as alterations would require you to invest an awful lot of time in editing the database, code, and the frontend platform.

In contrast, frontend developers do not have to be concerned about modifying databases in the backend and can create a unique user experience that adheres to their business requirements with just a simple API call. With no presentation layer, everything from product pages to the landing pages has to be built from the scratch in headless commerce.

More room for customisation

In traditional commerce, developers have to edit several layers of coding even for a single customisation starting from front-end to the database layer that is dwelling in the back-end.

Headless commerce offers more room for customisation and personalisation.

Headless commerce offers more room for customisation and personalisation. It gives you complete authority over the look and feel of your digital commerce platform.

Benefits of headless commerce

Following are some of the major benefits from different perspectives:

Magnificent shopping experience

It gives a magnificent shopping experience to developers, merchants, and consumers. For instance, adding a new field to a customer account, implementing a custom checkout flow, adding ratings and reviews to the shopping experience and many others can be performed without redeploying the digital commerce platform.

With less duplication of functionality, it offers a better experience to the merchants while administering the shop. At the same time, end-users or consumers get content-rich experiences.

Leveraging portable backends

There is no dependency on large, restricting infrastructures which lets you stay competitive with your front-end without getting bogged down by coupled solutions.

Choosing best front-end tools

Whether it is a web application, mobile application or Internet of Things, headless commerce lets you select the best front-end tools for every platform or device.

Utilising JAMstack

Headless commerce allows you to build using JAMstack which faster, safer and cost-effective thereby providing a creative and strategic development experience

Headless commerce with Drupal

Drupal Community, with its commitment towards making Drupal more better, is continuously working on decoupling Drupal Commerce and the result is incredible.

Drupal Camp Ashville 2018

A session held at Drupal Camp Ashville 2018 delineated the development of the Commerce Demo project. It talked about the out-of-the-box capabilities of the demo store and an ecosystem update constituting the roadmap for decoupled Drupal Commerce. The demo store is available online

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The Commerce Demo project was built to create a product catalogue that can be easily removed without hampering the configuration of the site. The design involved modern shopping cart interaction paradigms. It required simple Views and Form API based solutions.

As a result, the design resulted in building a standalone Commerce Cart API module. This can be leveraged by anyone to develop a custom shopping cart widget and Commerce Cart Flyout which is the reference implementation for demonstrating how decoupling Drupal Commerce would look like. 

The design resulted in the development of a standalone Commerce Cart API module that anyone can use to develop a custom shopping cart widget and Commerce Cart Flyout. It showed a reference implementation that demonstrates what decoupling Drupal Commerce can look like.

Drupal Europe 2018

Another session held at Drupal Europe 2018 showed a Cart API for progressively decoupled cart experiences. It talked about how to decouple Drupal Commerce to enhance scalability and flexibility for the organisations. It demonstrated the works that were done for developing a standard Cart API to support progressively decoupled shopping carts in Drupal Commerce for Drupal 8. It was not without hurdles as the core RESTful Web Services were reviewed and involved contributions in JSON API projects.

[embedded content]


The new Commerce Cart API project and the reference implementation in Commerce Cart Flyout demonstrated the end result showing a potential of creating a unique user experience. With this, Drupal Commerce can offer great shopping experiences that are on par with leading e-commerce software platforms. This would, in turn, make it simpler for Drupal agencies to sell Drupal Commerce to the customers.

Conclusion

Enterprises encounter increasing pressure to offer innovative customer experiences, An API-based headless architecture provides increased flexibility with its decoupled user interface (UI) approach. Technical professionals responsible for digital commerce can utilise Drupal Commerce for delivering fantastic shopping experiences.

We have been committed to providing a great digital experience with our expertise in Drupal Development.

Contact us at [email protected] to implement headless commerce for your enterprise.

Dec 09 2018
Dec 09

As Leicester City fans continued to rejoice at their team’s unlikely triumph in the 2016 edition of English Premier League to become the champions for the very first time, some people were contemplating how the underdogs managed to beat such high odds. The way a team envisages itself performing is just as important as the physical strength of the players. And in this age of digitisation, imagining themselves performing well in the digital space is immensely significant. This is where Drupal comes in.

Three Leicester City players wearing blue coloured outfit running on the football ground


Be it a football club, a tennis open or a cricket world cup, any popular sports team and the tournament would want to be an instant hit among the sports lovers around the globe and build on it to create a unique brand identity. As one of the leading content management systems, Drupal can help a sports brand establish themselves as an important entity in the digital arena with a unique and powerful website.

Benefits of Drupal

Drupal powers websites of biggest of the sports brands like National Basketball Association, PGA Tour, Major League Soccer, Sevilla Fútbol Club, Kentucky Derby, New England Patriots among others.

Drupal powers websites of biggest of the sports brands

Why do such great names choose Drupal? You have the reasons stated below:

Phenomenal Features

Drupal offers a large number of open source modules, themes and distributions to help build a sports-centric website with robust features.

For instance, Sports League module helps govern content that is typically used for a sports club. It can help manage multi-competition editions and their standings. It can handle rosters, automatic statistics on players and teams and the match moments.

If you need a lightweight Drupal theme for a sports-related website, Drupal 8 Premier League Theme is a great fit. It has features like slider functionality, colour switcher functionality, social media integration among others.

For a complete starter pack, there is a Drupal distribution called Sportsleague that comes with superb features to help build a sports-related website with its robust features for managing content, user accounts, image uploading, and search.

Security

Among the leading open source CMSs, Drupal has made great inroads for being one of the most secure frameworks and has reported least vulnerabilities among the leading players in the industry. Drupal Security Team actively validates and responds to security issues to it the best security-focussed CMS.

Scalability

Drupal can scale with your needs and help you handle busiest of the days by effectively coping with an enormous amount of traffic.

Drupal can scale with your needs

Multilingual

Drupal 8 has in-built support for language handling in the form of core modules and lets you deliver localised digital experiences.

Mobile-responsive

In this age of mobile devices, Drupal enables the development of responsive sites and web applications that would let you interact with your consumers on-the-go.

Speed

Drupal’s flexible platform ensure the continuous delivery of the web development project and run an agile team. Moreover, Drupal is awesome for implementing performance optimisation techniques and build a high performing website.

Third-party integration

To get the best out of the tools that are outside the periphery of Drupal, you can integrate a variety of marketing technologies and business applications.

Content Workflow

Drupal has terrific tools for making it a loveable CMS for the content authors while creating and publishing content on the site. Its preview feature delineates how your content will look across various devices. Also, the authentication and permissions bring in improvement in the editorial workflow.

A box containing text with a heading and a paragraph describing Drupal's capability in building a great sports website


 

Homepage of NBA with an image of three players wearing blue-yellow, blue-orange, and red-white coloured outfits


Content architecture

You can create the right content architecture and exhibit appropriate content for each context with the help of stupendous display mode tools, Views and a wide range of media types.

Content-as-a-service

Drupal’s content as a service approach allows the front-end developers to build engaging customer experiences with Drupal’s presentation neutral content and RESTful API by utilising tools like Angular, Ember, Backbone and so on.

Multisite

It helps you in governing multisite setup across your enterprise brands, geographies and promotional campaigns on a centralised platform.

Drupal helps you build a solution that adheres to your business requirements

Business-driven

Drupal helps you build a solution that adheres to your business requirements. It does things as your business demands.

Perfect tech stack

Drupal dwells on a modern LAMP technology stack that constitutes Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. This allows Drupal to fulfill the needs of fast-moving, flexible and agile organisations who are in pursuit of creating ambitious digital experiences and help them build next-generation digital platforms.

Large community

One of the most beautiful things about Drupal is its huge community presence as thousands of organisations create solutions with Drupal and in the process build Drupal itself.

Case studies

Travelling along the process of building an actual sports website with Drupal would throw the light on how it powers a sports brand. To do so, let us look at the development of two of the massive names in the sports viz. Major League Soccer and Sevilla FC.

Development of Major League Soccer

Homepage of Major League Soccer with 6 different images showing players playing football and jam-packed football stadium


Major League Soccer (MLS) is a professional soccer league that primarily represents top-notch talent from both United States and Canada. It took help from a digital agency to migrate each team’s site to the Drupal platform.

Drupal proved a remarkable solution to improve the fan experience which was the top-of-the-line requirement. While the site maintainers of the each of the sites could easily configure their team’s instance, custom, rich multimedia platform allowed viewers to enjoy games in real-time from any device. Moreover, switching to a multisite setup cut their deployed footprint.

The Drupal platform integrated with the majority of MLS properties comprising of the league’s videos and stats. Furthermore, the integration of Doubleclick for Publishers Drupal module optimised the placement of ads and attract visitors with vibrant advertising media. Also, Drupal allowed faster editorial capabilities and strong customisations.

Thus, Drupal helped build a stable infrastructure for MLS and reduced severity of alerts.

Development of Sevilla FC

Homepage of Sevilla Football Club with two images of a man speaking before the press and some people posing for a photo in front of a statue


Sevilla FC was established in 1890 and is one of the oldest football teams in the history of Spain’s football history. A digital agency used Drupal 8 to help them improve their online brand spectacularly.

Drupal 8 helped in incorporating multisite architecture to build the main website and several satellite sites. The Club was also able to edit and publish most of the app content from a sole entry point.

Most importantly, the multilingual capability was enabled easily with Drupal 8. Drupal’s open source security was also an important reason for considering Drupal for the redressal of the website. Drupal has also resulted in a better website performance, enriching user experience, lower maintenance costs, and improved hardware consumption.

Hence, Drupal helped in increasing monthly user acquisition and the global audience in addition to stability and high availability of the website.

Conclusion

The mantra of Go Play And Get Fit is something we hear from our peers all our life. And we also hear that mental strength and physical strength go hand-in-hand. That is absolutely true. It also applies to a sports-based website albeit in a different manner so that it can be ‘fit’ enough to provide great digital experiences and grow as a brand. Drupal powers innovation and can be a marvellous CMS for building a sports-related website.

We can assist you in growing as a sports brand with our suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to power your sports brand with Drupal.

Dec 01 2018
Dec 01

Having a routine of reading newspaper early in the morning is an intricate tapestry. We need something more to continue with our engagement with a newspaper day after day as we aren’t vessels of information. And that elusive thing is not just the pleasure of words but an engrossing design. So, when the editors make the prose readable, graphic designers work on creating templates that help in sustaining our interest in the act of reading.

Three task sheets are drawn on a white surface with blue, indigo and green colours


Similarly, site builders and content authors require intuitive tools as well for developing pages, alter layouts and add or arrange blocks with live preview. Hence, when it comes to new and refreshing easy-to-use page builders, An ambitious visual design tool called Layout Builder is on its way to change things completely.

Layout Initiative: The inception

Layout Builder took its birth through Layout Initiative which was started with the objectives of:

  • Underlying APIs for supporting layout management to be utilised by core and contributed projects alike.
  • Offering a drag and drop interface for building layouts that can apply both to overall site sections and overridden on separate landing pages.
  • Allowing the layout application to data entry forms and content

Layouts have been a significant tool in component-based theming as they can be utilised to map data to component templates. In Drupal 8.3, the Layout API and the Layout Discovery module were included as an experimental subsystem. They were stabilised in Drupal 8.4.

Layout Builder is being planned to be stabilised in Drupal 8.7

The Layout API and the Layout Discovery module were added in Drupal 8.3 as an experimental subsystem, and they were stabilized in Drupal 8.4. An experimental Layout Builder module was included in Drupal 8.5 and is being planned to be stabilised in Drupal 8.7.

Layout Builder: A guile approach to site building

Layout Builder offers the ability to customise the layout of your content where you start by choosing predefined layouts for different sections of the page and then populate those layouts with one or more blocks. That is, it gives you a UI with a visual preview and supports using multiple layouts together. It lets you place blocks in layout regions and create layouts for separate pieces of content.

Layout Builder gives you a UI with a visual preview and supports using multiple layouts together.

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At present, there are some Drupal modules that can enable the functionality of Layout Builder. The combination of Panels and Panelizer can help in developing templated layouts and landing pages. Also, the Paragraphs module can be used for the creation of custom landing pages.

The greatness of the Layout Builder

Following are some of the reasons that show how great the Layout Builder is:

Drupal’s layout builder module in action with the images of a bunch of flowers on top and two puppies in a basket at the bottomSource: Dries Buytaert’s blog
  • To lay out all the instances of a specific content type, Layout Builder helps in creating layout templates.
  • Layout Builder allows you to customise these layout templates. You can override these layout templates on a case-by-case basis.
  • It can be utilised to create custom pages. You can create custom, one-off landing pages that are not linked to a content type or structured content.
  • The key to stabilise Layout Builder is to make sure that it passes Drupal’s accessibility gate (Level AA conformance with WCAG and ATAG). So, it will ensure web accessibility standards once stabilised in Drupal 8.7.
  • The Menu Item Extras module is used in Drupal 8 for implementing mega menus through additional fields. In Drupal 8.6, all you need to do for creating a mega menu is to enable Layout Builder for the default menu item view display mode.

How to work around with Layout Builder?

Follow the following steps to use the Layout Builder for configuring content types and nodes:

1. In the first step, you start by enabling the Layout Builder module.

Layout Builder drupal module interface with a checkboxSource: OSTraining

2. This is followed by content creation. This requires the installation of Devel module where you enable Devel and Devel generate parts of the plugin. This, then, helps in generating articles.

List of options with checkboxes and scrollable list boxes creating content while enabling layout builder drupal moduleSource: OSTraining

3. Then, the layout of the article content type is configured.

Edit layout option while enabling layout builder drupal module with a box containing instructions and save and cancel options above it.Source: OSTraining

4. Finally, the layout of a single node is configured.

Check box for layout option while configuring layout builder drupal moduleSource: OSTraining

Conclusion

There is no doubt that Drupal’s current site building and content authoring capabilities are great. But Layout Builder will transform the whole experience of creating pages with its simple and intuitive tools.

Opensense Labs has been offering a suite of services to help organisations lead their ambitious plans of digital transformation.

Contact us at [email protected] to dive into the world of Layout Builder and get the best out of it.

Nov 30 2018
Nov 30

Perhaps it is not very surprising that in an age of austerity and a climate of fear about child abuse, new technology is being sought by social workers for help. The Guardian, news media, revealed that local authorities in the UK have been using machine learning and predictive modelling to intervene before children were referred to social services. For instance, local councils are building ‘predictive analytics’ systems for leveraging cornucopia of data on hundreds of people for constructing computer models in an effort to predict child abuse and intervene before it can happen.

Sticky notes on a wall with one hand sticky note in focus reading “Run a usability test”


Power of predictive analytics can be extracted not only for social issues like child abuse but for a superabundance of areas in different industries. One such area is the web user experience where implementation of predictive analytics can be very essential. Predictive user experience (UX) can help usher in a plenitude of betterment. But how did predictive analytics came into being?

Destination 1689

Contemporary Analysis states that the history of predictive analytics takes us back to 1689. While the rise of predictive analytics has been attributed to technological advances like Hadoop and MapReduce, it has been in use for centuries.

One of the first applications of predictive analytics can be witnessed in the times when shipping and trade were prominent.

One of the first applications of predictive analytics can be witnessed in the times when shipping and trade were prominent. Lloyd’s of London, one of the first insurance and reinsurance markets, was a catalyst for the distribution of important information required for underwriting. And the name underwriting itself took birth from London insurance market. In exchange for a premium, bankers would accept the risk on a given sea voyage and write their names underneath the risk information that is written on one Lloyd’s slip developed for this purpose.

Lloyd’s coffee house was established in 1689 by Edward Lloyd. He was well-known among the sailors, merchants and ship owners as he shared reliable shipping news which helped in discussing deals including insurance.

Technological advancements in the 20th century and 21st century have given impetus to predictive analytics as can be seen through the following compilation by FICO.

Infographic showing a table with each column showing discoveries in the area of predictive analytics.Source: FICO

Predictive Analytics and User Experience: A Detailed Look

IBM states that predictive analytics brings together advanced analytics capabilities comprising of ad-hoc analysis, predictive modelling, data mining, text analytics, optimisation, real-time scoring and machine learning. Enterprises can utilise these tools in order to discover patterns in data and forecast events.

Predictive Analytics is a form of advanced analytics which examines data or content to answer the question “What is going to happen?” or more precisely, “What is likely to happen?”, and is characterized by techniques such as regression analysis, forecasting, multivariate statistics, pattern matching, predictive modelling, and forecasting. - Gartner

A statistical representation of data compiled by Statista delineates that predictive analytics is only going to grow and its market share will keep expanding in the coming years.

A Bar graph with blue-coloured vertical bars depicting statistics on market share of predictive analyticsPredictive analytics revenues/market size worldwide, from 2016 to 2022 (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista

A Personalisation Pulse Check report from Accenture found that 65% of customers were more likely to shop at a store or online business that sent relevant and personalized promotions. So, instead of resulting in alterations to the user interface, applying a predictive analytics algorithm to UX design presents the users with relevant information. For instance, a user who has recently bought a costly mobile phone from an e-commerce site might be willing to buy a cover to protect it from dust and scratches. Hence, that user would receive a recommendation to purchase a cover. The e-commerce site might also recommend other accessories like headphones, memory cards or antivirus software.

How does Predictive Analytics Work?

Following are the capabilities of predictive analytics according to a compilation by IBM:

  • Statistical analysis and visualisation: It addresses the overall analytical process including planning, data collection, analysis, reporting and deployment.
  • Predictive modelling: It leverages the power of model-building, evaluation and automation capabilities.
  • Linear regression: Linear regression analysis helps in predicting the value of a variable on the basis of the value of another variable.
  • Logistic regression: It is also known as the logit model which is used for predictive analytics and modelling and is also utilised for application in machine learning.

Leveraging Predictive Models in UX Design

Data will drive the UX in the future. Patterns that derive data make for a terrific predictive engine. This helps in forecasting a user’s intent by compiling numerous predictors that together influence conversions.

Data will drive the UX in the future

With the help of predictive analytics in UX design, conversation rates can be improved. For instance, recommendation systems leverage data such as consumer interest and purchasing behaviour which is then applied via a predictive model for generating a listicle of recommended items. 

Amazon, e-commerce giant, utilises an item-item collaborative filtering algorithm for suggesting products. This helps in displaying the books to a bookworm and baby toys to a new mother. Quantum Interface, which is a startup in Austin Texas, has built a predictive user interface with the help of natural user interface (NUI) principles. This utilises the directional vectors - speed, time and angle change - for forecasting user’s intent.

Implementing Predictive UX with Drupal

Predictive UX adapts content based on a user’s previous choices just like web personalisation does. But predictive UX extracts the power of machine learning and statistical techniques for making informed decisions on the user’s behalf.

While modern technology is oscillating from mobile-first to AI-first, predictive UX is the next huge thing which is going to be a trend-setter. It is meritorious as it helps users reduce the cognitive load because coercing users to make too many decisions will propel them to take the easy way out.

Drupal provides different ways of implementing predictive UX:

Acquia Lift

A drop shaped icon and a rocket passing through it representing Acquia lift logo

Acquia Lift Connector, a Drupal module, offers integration with the Acquia Lift service and an improved user experience for web personalisation, testing and targeting directly on the front end of your website.

It leverages machine learning to automatically recommend content based on what a user is currently looking at or has looked in the past. It has a drag-and-drop feature for developing, previewing and launching personalisations and has a customer data repository for providing a single view of customers.

It has the feature of real-time adaptive targeting that refines segments while A/B helps in keeping the users engrossed with the content that resonates.

ApachePrediction IO

Bay Area Drupal Camp 2018 has a session where a demonstration showed how predictive UX helps users decide. It was geared towards both UX designers and developers. It talked about how machine learning powers predictive UX and the ways of implementing it using Drupal.
 

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It exhibited a Drupal 8 site which had a list of restaurants that could be sorted by proximity. That means you can check out the nearest restaurant and order food. When users log in to this site, they see top recommendations customised to them.

There are some interesting things happening behind-the-scenes to show the recommendations. An API query is being sent to the machine learning server which, in return, shows a ranked list of recommendations. So, when users go to a restaurant and order food, all that data is sent to the event server through the API which is how data is being collected. Here, the Apache PredictionIO server, which is an open source machine learning stack, offers simple commands to train and deploy engine.

Gazing into the future of UX

UX Collective says that the future of UX is effulgent in the coming years. Demand for pixel perfect, usable and delightful UX is sky-high especially when digital transformation endeavours underway globally. Following graphical representation shows the top design-driven organisations against all of Standard and Poor’s (S&P) index.

Graphical representation showing a yellow line and a red line to depict Standard and Poor’s indexSource: Job Trends Report: The Job Market for UX/UI Designers

It further states that UX design will consist of more formal studies:

  • Study of cognitive neuroscience and human behaviour
  • Study of ethics
  • Artificial Intelligence advances, generated and unsupervised machine learning-based system interactions, predictive UX, personalised robotic services and so on

Conclusion

User experience will always be an integral component of any sector in any industry. While web personalisation is a sure-shot way of improving digital web experience, disrupting technologies like machine learning take it to another level. Leveraging machine learning algorithms, predictive UX can forecast user choices and help them decide. Implementing predictive UX is a praiseworthy solution to offer users an unprecedented digital experience.

When it comes to Drupal development, OpenSense Labs has been making steadfast in its objectives of embracing innovative technologies that can be implemented with Drupal’s robust framework.

Contact us at [email protected] to implement predictive UX with Drupal.

Nov 28 2018
Nov 28

More than five centuries ago, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the mechanical movable type printing and set the stage for the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. Years later, digitisation has brought a volte-face in the thinking and has carved out new ways of sharing and governing the content. Gutenberg editor, which is named after Johannes Gutenberg, is one of a kind and is destined to streamline website creation and editing even for the average non-technical users with its cutting-edge features.

Black and white image of Johannes Gutenberg and written text in the background


Other platforms like Medium, Squarespace or Ghost provide a really unique and refreshing experience for writers. This led to the development of Gutenberg editor. It was introduced to the world by Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, at WordCamp Europe in 2017. The idea behind this is to make the process of adding rich content to the site simple and enjoyable. So, how can Drupal and Gutenberg be combined?

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg editor allows you to govern website content in customisable chunks or blocks where you do not have to be adept with HTML or need to write shortcodes. The complete layout of the website can be controlled including both the front end and the back end from a single console.

Black and white image with the word ‘Gutenberg’ written in bold


By looking at the editor as more than a content field, Gutenberg allows you to revisit a layout that has not been touched for over a decade thereby enabling you to design a modern editing experience. Now, the question arises. Why does Gutenberg lets you look at the whole editing experience and not just the content field?

As the block unifies several interfaces, adding that on top of the existing interface would add intricacy as opposed to removing it. Revisiting the interface allows us to create a rich and modern experience while writing, editing and publishing and all the while keeping factors like usability and simplicity in mind. Singular block interface offers a clear path for the developers for the creation of blocks. By considering the whole interface puts the emphasis on full site customisation. Full editor screen not only entirely modernises the foundation but paves way for more fluid and JavaScript-powered future.

Gutenberg for Drupal

What’s the situation like in Drupal? Like Wordpress, Drupal is an open source content management system (CMS) and there is a never-ending debate on which one’s better (we have done our part as well). But providing a modern UI for rich content creation is a priceless feature which is what Wordpress has done by introducing Gutenberg editor. This decoupled React-based editing experience can work wonders for Drupal as well.

Difference between CKEditor and Gutenberg

Merging Drupal and Gutenberg is a killer combination as it allows us to empower content authors to develop rich landing pages inside a rock solid CMS framework. Before we jump into that, let’s see what the current mode of editing looks like in Drupal.

Admin interface of Drupal’s CKEditor module in action with an illustration showing a dumbbell, gym rope, pair of shoes, water bottle and a smartwatch kept on a smartphoneAdmin Interface of CKEditor module

The picture shown above is an example of the current text editor of Drupal which is CKEditor - WYSIWYG HTML editor. It is part of the Drupal 8 core modules and is magnificent to work around. It brings the stupendous WYSIWYG editing functions of known desktop editors like Microsoft Word to the web. It is super fast and does need any sort of installation on the client computer.

On the contrary, Gutenberg editor can make your words, pictures, and layout look as good on screen as they do in your visualisation. By leveraging blocks for the creation of all types of content, it removes inconsistent ways of customisation of Drupal and adheres to modern coding standards thereby aligning with open web initiatives. You can try it out yourself!

Table showing three columns and five rows for comparing Gutenberg editor and CKEditor


How does Gutenberg work?

In a session, held at Drupal Europe 2018, a demonstration showed how Gutenberg content editor would work with Drupal. Gutenberg module needs to be installed and enabled.

[embedded content]


Like the Drupal paradigm, all elements on a page are Gutenberg blocks. Blocks are basically the unifying evolution of what is now encompassed by shortcodes, embeds, meta-boxes, theme options, custom post types, post formats, and other formatting elements.

While Gutenberg comes with its own set of blocks, Drupal core has its own as well. That is, all the existing Drupal blocks are available in the Gutenberg UI and can be inserted into a page along with core blocks. In addition to this you can, of course, extend them or build your own. You can also access to Gutenberg Cloud library for more contributed blocks.

Gif showing the demo of Drupal Gutenberg with text on left-hand side and the settings on the right-hand sideA demo of Gutenberg

The block types that are working in the first release are:

  • Content positioning: Performing the positioning of content can be flexibly done as there is no separation between what’s inside the editor and what is before or after.
  • Font: It has an awesome font colour and size adjustment mechanism. The UI for altering fonts and colours is eye-catching.
  • Searchable blocks: In addition to having a search box at the top left, page blocks are accessible inline with the help of “/”.
  • Embedding: Whether you need to embed social posts or videos, just paste the URL. You will see it expanding by itself.
  • Layout: As the blocks can have child blocks, handling layout is simple. You can split your blocks into columns on a grid.

Conclusion

It is so wonderful to think that Drupal is the best way to get your ideas on the web (Of course it is!). But if you know how to write code, then you can unlock a world of beautiful features that Drupal can offer. Not everyone is adept with code. With Gutenberg editor, you don’t need to.

Gutenberg’s content blocks would metamorphose how users, developers, and hosts communicate with Drupal to make developing rich web content simpler and more intuitive. Thus, it democratises publishing and can work for everyone no matter what their technical proficiency is.

With our expertise in Drupal Development, we can help make your digital transformations dreams come true.

Ping us at [email protected] to know more on how Gutenberg can change the editing process on your Drupal site forever.

Nov 23 2018
Nov 23

There is a moment of realisation when we see how much we have actually evolved while reading a novel where the story takes us into the 20th century. When we see characters in that novel, who go to the office and have to keep an account of all the company documents that just keeps mounting up, we sense the burned-out feeling of all those office-goers. And then there is this internet era where all the documents are digitally managed, searched, shared and archived. Such is the effect of digitisation that something like a Document Management System helps an organisation to go paperless and govern complex files in an organised way.

Rolled printer papers on the table with a lady sitting in the background


Instead of searching for files and consuming a lot of time and effort, the Document Management System (DMS) is a one-stop destination for streamlining business workflow and improving team collaboration in the process. It helps in letting go of papers and having a positive change in the environment. Drupal, as one of the leading open source content management framework, has the provision for handling document management with a suite of modules. Let’s look at what DMS is exactly before we plunge into Drupal’s efficacy.

What is a Document Management System?

Document management system refers to the system that is developed specifically for authoring and governing electronic documents. Creating, sharing, organising, and archiving the documents are managed by DMS. It simplifies these processes for enhancing productivity while managing the documents digitally. Its central electronic location streamlines the process of finding documents, saves your time in the process, and helps you manage more of your organisation’s core operations.

Document management system refers to the system that is developed specifically for authoring and governing electronic documents.
Infographics with statistical information written below the logos of IDC, M-files, Harris interactive, and Ombud

DMS is quintessential. A compilation of statistics by Business.com delineates that document management is right up there and is very essential for efficacious business workflow. In a survey, IDC stated that 21.3% of productivity is lost because of convolutions in handling the document. Another report by M-Files states that poor document storage amounts to 50% of the loss of time due to difficulty while searching. Harris interactive says in a study that 83% of knowledge workers lose time in versioning and e-signatures reduce timearound times by 80% according to Ombud Inc.

Categories of Document Management System

The two common types of DMS include cloud-based and self-hosted.

Cloud-based DMS

In this case, the software is hosted by your provider which is accessible online. As long as you are connected to the internet, it is possible logging into the system. You won’t require an IT team for installation to keep it running properly. You can tap into the system from anywhere and anytime while files are automatically saved in the cloud thereby reducing the need for regular backups.

Self-hosted DMS

Unlike Cloud-based DMS, it is stored on your company’s servers. It is possible to store as many files as your server allows. The challenge lies in regularly backing up files manually. It is great for users who value being in control of their own system and do not have to rely on others to keep it running.

Features of Document Management System

  • Storage: DMS lets you archive your files in a single location so that they can be retrieved, stored and shared easily for future use.
  • Security: DMS helps you in avoiding unauthorised access by implementing role-based permissions for file entry. Some systems also restrict IP addresses.
  • Version control: You do not have to handle numerous copies of a single document thereby staying in control of your document’s versions. You can see all the versions made and sends alerts to all the members about the most up-to-date version.
  • Indexing: You can index files systematically for a swift, simple retrieval later on given its file key.
  • Uploading: You can upload documents in bulk efficiently.
  • Editing: It is easier to apply adjustments and modifications to a PDF file.
  • Branding: It is possible to define your organisation’s branding by setting up its colour, theme and logo to convey your brand’s look and feel.
  • On-the-go: You can access your files using mobile devices. This helps in easily capturing images of documents and uploading them swiftly.
  • Synchronising files: Online files with the copies of documents stored in your system can be synced which helps in updating the team members with the latest documents.
  • Audit trail: Referring to a document’s path in its lifecycle, audit trail feature of DMS helps in fetching detailed reports on the path that the file has followed.

Merits of a Document Management System

  • Centralisation: DMS lets you organise your file easily using tags and labels thereby centralising the document management.
  • Team collaboration: DMS allows team members to view and edit a document at the same time.
  • Data security: Many Document Management Systems implement a role-based access control for permitting entry only to specific users to the document.
  • File retrieval: Simple by using a keyword or keyphrase, you can look for a specific file. You can also use a document remotely.
  • Regulatory compliance: DMS leverages features like audit trails, security and backups to ensure regulatory compliance like the 21 CFR Part 11 and Annex 11.
  • Carbon footprint: Choosing DMS ensures that you are reducing carbon footprint by going paperless.

Examples of Document Management System

Alfresco, an open source Enterprise Content Management (ECM), offers document management, collaboration, knowledge and web content management, record and image management, content repository and workflow.

Seed DMS, an open source DMS, is user-friendly. It serves as a fully developed enterprise-ready platform for tracing, accessing, storing and sharing documents.

M-Files is another useful and easy-to-implement DMS. It helps in governing your information securely with its Check-out feature.

LogicalDOC is an open-source Java-based system which improves productivity and collaboration of document management system.

Ademero supports centralised control mechanism for storing documents at a single vault and allows scanned documents to be converted into PDFs using Optical Character Recognition feature.

How can Drupal be integrated with Document Management Systems?

Drupal offers an amazing set of modules and distributions that can help in incorporating the features of DMS.

Vardoc: Knowledge base system and documentation site

Logo of vardoc with an icon representing documents on left and vardoc written on right

Vardoc, which is a knowledge base system, a wiki system and a DMS, is Drupal distribution built for hosting an enormous amount of content in a structured and easy to find format. It lets you develop a connected organisation, product or knowledge area.

This is built on top of Varbase, which is an open source Drupal 8 distribution, and offers some useful functionalities like editorial features, search function, taxonomy, user management and customisable themes.

Moreover, it delivers top-of-the-line non-functional requirements like enterprise security, high performance, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), accessibility compliance and so on.

Document Module

Document module provides complete integration with Drupal node system and acts as a DMS for Drupal. This module adds a custom node type - document. Every document that you will create will be a Drupal node and therefore will reap the benefits available to a node.

It has the support for document revisions/versioning. The custom fields added by the module to the Document node type are accessible in Views. It also has the support for theming.

Moreover, the documents, being nodes, are entirely indexable by the Drupal search system. This module also provides its own custom search for documents. This module is available only for Drupal 7 version.

CMIS API

CMIS API is a suite of modules primarily offering an API for connecting to Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) compliant systems to bi-directionally syncing content between the CMIS ECM system and Drupal.

It also comes with features like creating, updating, browsing and searching content in the CMIS ECM system through the Drupal interface.

The objective of CMIS API is to offer an easy-to-use, web content management front-end in Drupal for ECM systems that are, most often than not, unfamiliar to web content managers.

Filedepot

Filedepot module gives you a Google Docs like feel. It is an integrated file management module that supports role and user-based security. You can save the documents outside the Drupal public directory for safe access.

Files of all type can be stored in filedepot and its flexible permission model lets you delegate folder administration to other users.

You can simply drag and drop files from local desktop and upload them in bulk. Also, users can receive notification of new files being added or altered. You can flag the document as ‘locked’ in order to alert users that it is being updated. This module is available only for Drupal 7 version.

Alfresco Module

Different coloured droplet-shaped icons forming a circle on left and alfresco written on right

Alfresco module provides integration between Drupal and Alfresco Enterprise CMS. It helps you in developing Drupal sites using the Alfresco’s document management repository for storing and sharing documents.

It governs Alfresco content items as Drupal nodes with the help of custom content type (Alfresco item). It also offers a Content Construction Kit (CCK) field type for Alfresco content items.

Bundled with AJAX-based repository browser, it lets you visualise, upload, search and retrieve nodes from the Alfresco repository. Please note that this module is not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy.

Web File Manager

WebFM module is based on a hierarchical directory structure and leverages AJAX for letting the administrators arrange files on the server in a similar way as done with file managers on the personal systems. This improves the manageability of huge collections of documents.

It lets you define permissions by role and file user ID. You can also attach files to numerous nodes and/or comments. This module is not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy.

Conclusion

Document Management Systems are essential for product documentation sites, agencies who want to document software, documentation for open source products/projects, organisations who want to document their process and online user manuals. Integrating DMS with Drupal is a praiseworthy option as you get the best of Drupal’s robust content management functionalities and the power of specialised DMS.

Drupal experts at OpenSense Labs are committed to delivering an incredible digital experience with its suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to leverage the power of Drupal and the DMS.

Nov 19 2018
Nov 19

Delicious. Sweet. Yummy. You may taste the jam and say these words or just the thought of jars containing jam stacked together may propel you to blurt out these words. Talking about the stack, in the technological space, we no longer talk about operating systems, specific web servers, backend programming languages or databases. In the web development arena, we think of different sorts of development stacks like the LAMP stack, the MEAN stack etc. And there is a new kid in the block called JAMstack which is not about specific technologies but a new way of building websites and apps.

Jars stacked together consisting an image of a tree on them and a red cloth over the lid.


What is the concept behind JAMstack?

To build a web development project with the JAMstack, three integral criteria should be met namely:

  • JavaScript: It governs the dynamic programming during the request/response cycle running completely on the client (e.g. Vue.js, React.js etc.)
  • APIs: Abstraction of all the server-side processes or database actions into reusable APIs is done which are accessed over HTTPS with JS (e.g. Twilio, Stripe)
  • Markup: By leveraging a site generator for content sites or a build tool for web apps, templated markup must be prebuilt at deploy time (e.g. Gatsby.js, Webpack).

Benefits of JAMstack

  • High performance: When it comes to reducing the time to first byte, pre-built files served over Content Delivery Network (CDN) enhances web performance. You do not have to wait for the pages to build on the fly as JAMstack allows you to generate them at deploy time.
Graphical representation showing uneven lines in purple and grey colours to explain time to first byteA high TTFB penalizes the Speed Index of a page
Source: DareBoost Blog
  • Robust Security: Abstraction of server-side processes into microservice APIs minimises the security threats. Also, the domain expertise of specialist third-party services can be utilised.
  • Better Scalability: CDNs are a great way of ensuring scalability when your deployment amounts to a stack of files that can be served anywhere.
  • Great developer experience: More targeted development and debugging can be done by the developers with loose coupling and separation of controls. Moreover, the need to administer a separate stack for content and marketing goes away with the expanding selection of CMS options for site generators.

Best practices

  • The entire site must be served on CDN. Rather than living on a single server, JAMstack projects can be distributed as they do not rely on server-side code.
  • Atomic deploys should be employed. This ensures that no alterations go live until all the changed files have been uploaded.
  • Governance of instant cache purges by CDN ensures that when a deploy goes live it really goes live.
  • Everything should dwell in Git. This minimises contributor friction and streamlines staging and testing workflows.
  • Utilise modern build tools like Babel, PostCSS, Webpack etc.
  • Automate markup builds. This is because JAMstack markup is prebuilt and content alterations won’t go live unless and until you run another build.

How is JAMstack different from other development stacks?

Three columns with headings LAMP, MEAN and JAM stack with icons below representing different technologiesSource: Memory Leak’s blog | Medium

Jamstack is an alternative to the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and MEAN (MongoDB, Express.js, Angular and Node.js) stacks.

LAMP is used to build dynamic websites and web apps. In this, pages are reconstructed from a database on request instead of being held as flat documents ready for delivery. It is easy to add content and modify them. However, JAMstack delivers content at a much faster speed.

MEAN and LAMP are more similar to each other and are very different from JAMstack.

MEAN is also designed for building dynamic websites and apps. All the MEAN components are written in JavaScripts. The key difference is that MEAN still assembles pages from databases on request like LAMP. MEAN and LAMP are more similar to each other and are very different from JAMstack.

Two columns with the heading LAMP workflow and JAM workflow and bullet points below themSource: Memory Leak’s blog | Medium

Implementing JAMstack and Drupal together

Web development projects that rely on a tight coupling between client and server is not built with the JAMstack. This comprises of a site built with a server-side CMS like Drupal, a monolithic server-run web app relying on backend language and a single page app that is using isomorphic rendering for creating views on the server at runtime. So, how can Drupal and JAMstack work together?

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In a session held at Bay Area Drupal Camp 2018, a demonstration showed a method of integration of Gatsby with Drupal. Gatsby is one of the leading JAMstack based static page generators. The demo showed that Gatsby is not a replacement for Drupal and Drupal would still control the content, site structure and how content is created. Whereas Gatsby would be governing little things like the public facing site.

Gatsby is not a replacement for Drupal and Drupal would still control the content

It talked about ‘Gatsby Drupal Kit’ which is under development stages that can help jumpstart Gatsby-Drupal integrations. It is designed to work with a minimal Drupal install as a jumping off point and provide a structure that can be elongated to a larger and complex site.

The demonstration focused on a base Drupal 8 site connected with Gatsby and the best practices for making Gatsby work for real sites in production. The emphasis was also on the sane patterns for translating Drupal’s structure into Gatsby components, templates, and pages.

Conclusion

Once you have fully understood the specific risks and put in place appropriate workflows, the JAMstack exhibits its share of opportunities. Creating a static site takes time and needs an architecture involving orchestration of several solutions. Today, it may seem intricate but so was your first dynamic site involving choosing a host, master FTP, juggling the web server logs and so on. With experience, JAMstack users would be more and more adept in leveraging its full potential.

OpenSense Labs has been making the digital transformation dreams come true for its partners with a suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to leverage JAMstack for Drupal sites.

Nov 16 2018
Nov 16

From the vantage point of a school, some of the features that prove its greatness are a library with a superabundance of books, science laboratory with advanced scientific instruments, projection room with 3D technology and so on. Today, where almost everything is happening through the internet, the education sector is not left far behind. E-learning platforms have taken the world by storm with its unprecedented provisions of online learning. And E-learning platforms need great features as well to be able to disseminate knowledge across multiple channels efficaciously.

Written equations on brown wooden board


A lot of significant features can spring up in your mind that you think should be in an e-learning platform. It can be tons of courses on a plenitude of subjects for the learners. Or it can be digital certifications that can be provided for a successful completion of a course. Drupal comes with some amazing set of modules for enabling essential features of an e-learning platform. Let’s look at some of the important features and see how Drupal has the answer for that.

Courses

Modern learners are infatuated with the notion of getting a top-quality education and love to choose from an extensive list of courses on an e-learning platform. Some of the Drupal modules that can be helpful in creating courses include:

Course module lets you build e-learning courses with any number of tracked requirements for completion. It allows any content type to be used as an e-learning course comprising of graded or ungraded course subjects. It offers course object API for defining learning objects that can be added to a workflow.

For assigning and mapping credit types to learner profiles and courses, Course Credit module is useful. On successful completion of an activity, online learners will be able to receive or claim credit for which they are eligible. 

To expose Course module as a Course object, Course relationships module is effective which allows parent courses to include sub-courses. It can grant access to sub-courses by enrolling into or purchasing a parent course.

Quiz

Through online tests and quizzes, an instructor can track the progress of students and analyse the effectiveness of the curriculum. Simultaneously, it paves the way for the students to track their own progress and improve their skills accordingly.

Quiz module allows you to build graded analytics in Drupal where a quiz is given as a series of questions and the answers are, then, stored in the database. During or after the quiz, the scores and results are displayed. Administrators can also provide automatic or manual feedback. This module can be leveraged as an object in a larger Learning Management System (LMS) or a supplemental classroom activity.

Certification

Skills and certification tracking is one of the important features of an e-learning platform.

Certificate module helps in creating and awarding PDF certificates with the help of tokenised HTML templates. It provides the interface for governing custom certificate templates and mappings and allows integration with Wysiwig for rich certificates.

Open badges, which are digital images used to recognise an individual’s skills and achievements, can be created with Drupal. Open digital badging module helps in providing a Mozilla OBI compliant badge empowered by the learning system.

To create badges earned by students on their successful completion of a course or a class, Opigno Mozilla Open Badges App module lets you integrate Opigno LMS with Mozilla Open Badges. In this, badges will be exhibited in the user profile and can be automatically synchronised with Mozilla Backpack.

Social learning/ Message boards

E-learning platforms should allow students to learn from one another.

Modules like Opigno Messaging and Opigno Forum, which are related to Opigno LMS distribution, govern the private messaging feature to let users share messages between them. It allows you to select a list of recipients and start a discussion thread with the selected users. It is worth noting that these modules are not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy.

Social Login and Social Share modules eliminate the need of creating a username and password by allowing you to log in using the social network sites and helps in sharing the content with your network.

Consistent instructor presence

The role of the instructor is significant in e-learning as he or she is instrumental in encouraging and inspiring the students.

Opigno instructor-led training module helps in implementing instructor-led training (ILT) entity. It can be added to learning paths in combination with online modules and virtual classrooms. ILT sessions let you register attendance of users and provide them with a grade. These sessions can be made mandatory in the learning path and are automatically added to the user’s calendar. Also, note that this module is not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy.

A well-designed LMS

A streamlined and a well-designed LMS means that it should be easy to navigate, well-organised, and must contain high-quality content.

The LTI Tool Provider module allows a Drupal site to act as a Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) Tool in any LMS that supports the LTI standard. LTI compliant LMSs include Angel, Blackboard Learn, Moodle, and Sakai. Please note that this module is not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy.

Kaltura module helps in integrating the Kaltura video platform capabilities into Drupal thereby allowing you to instantly enrich your Drupal site with video, audio, and images.

Chamilo integration module allows integration of Drupal with Chamilo LMS by offering ways to see Chamilo resources into Drupal blocks.

Would love to have a starter kit for building the LMS? Open LMS distribution, which is developed and actively maintained by OpenSense Labs, is a learning management system based on Drupal 8 that comes with robust features.

Open LMS offers numerous kinds of content type like textual study material, video lectures, documents that can be utilised as a course material for students. Also, it lets you add H5P, HTML5 based interactive video content type, to the course.

Moreover, it provides a quiz and subjective test functionality, assignment functionality powered by Webforms, and calendar functionality to schedule courses. Please note that Open LMS is not covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy.

Conclusion

E-learning platforms have changed the landscape of education. And Drupal as an open source software and a robust content store helps in innovatively build an efficient e-learning platform.

Some of the significant features have been discussed in this blog post that is fulfilled by Drupal’s incredible set of modules. OpenSense Labs has been powering digital experience dreams of its partners with its expertise in Drupal development.

Contact us at [email protected] to build a great e-learning platform with Drupal.
 

Nov 03 2018
Nov 03

A machine learning model, that could lead a driver directly to an empty parking spot, fetched the second prize in the Graduate level: MS category at the 2018 Science and Technology Open House Competition. It goes without saying that dreams of computer systems with godlike powers and the wisdom to use them is not just a theological construct but a technological possibility. And sci-fi éminence grise Arthur C. Clarke rightfully remarked that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

A robot sitting on a brown chair, draped in a red blanket, working on a laptop with a glass of wine beside him and river water falling over a real human working on a laptop


Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be the buzzword of our times but Machine Learning (ML) is really the brass tacks. Machine learning has made great inroads into different areas. It has the capability of looking at the pictures of biopsies and picking out possible cancers. It can be taught to predict the outcome of legal cases, writing press releases and even composing music! However, the sci-fi future where a machine learning beats a human in all the conceivable department and is perpetually learning isn’t a reality yet. So, how does machine learning fit into the world of content management system like Drupal? Before finding that out, let’s go back to the times when computers did not even exist.

Machine learning predates computers! 

In this day and age, self-driving cars, voice-activated assistants and social media feed are some of the tools which are powered by machine learning. Compilations made by BBC and Forbes show that machine learning has a long timeline that relies on mathematics from hundreds of years ago and the elephantine developments in computing over the years.

Machine learning has a long timeline that relies on mathematics from hundreds of years ago and the elephantine developments in computing over the years

Mathematical innovations like Bayes’ Theorem (1812), Least Squares method for data fitting (1805) and Markov Chains (1913) laid the foundation for modern machine learning concept. 

In the late 1940s, stored-program computers like Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (1948) came into the picture. Through the 1950s and 1960s, several influential discoveries were made like the ‘Turing Test’, first computer learning program, first neural network for computers and the ‘nearest neighbour’ algorithm. In the nineties, IBM’s Deep Blue beat the world chess champion.

Post-millennium, we have several technology giants like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Facebook today actively working on more advanced machine learning models. Proof of this is the Alpha algorithm, developed by Google DeepMind, which beat a professional in the Go competition and it is considered more intricate than chess!

Discovering Machine Learning

A gif showing a flowchart of machine learning through icons like computers, bulb, magnifying glass, Rubik's cube and boxes.

Machine learning is a form of AI that allows a system to learn from data instead of doing that through explicit programming. It is not a simple process. As the algorithms ingest training data, producing more accurate models based on that data is possible.

Advanced machine learning algorithms are composed of many technologies (such as deep learning, neural networks and natural-language processing), used in unsupervised and supervised learning, that operate guided by lessons from existing information. - Gartner

When you train your machine learning algorithm with data, the output that is generated is the machine learning model. After training, when you provide an input to the model, an output will be given to you. For instance, a predictive algorithm will build a predictive model. Then, when the predictive model is provided with the data, you receive a prediction based on the data that trained the model.

Difference between AI and machine learning

Illustration showing small boxes inside and outside a bigger box to explain machine learning and artificial intelligenceSource: IBM

Machine learning may have relished a massive success of late but it is just one of the approaches for achieving artificial intelligence.
 
Forrester defines artificial intelligence as “the theory and capabilities that strive to mimic human intelligence through experience and learning”. AI systems generally demonstrate traits like planning, learning, reasoning, problem solving, knowledge solving, social intelligence and creativity among others.
 
Alongside machine learning, there are numerous other approaches used to build AI systems such as evolutionary computation, expert systems etc.

Categories of machine learning

Machine learning is generally divided into the following categories:

  • Supervised learning: It typically begins with an established set of data and with a certain understanding of the classification of that data is done and intends to find patterns in data for applying that to an analytics process.
  • Unsupervised learning: It is used when the problem needs a large amount of unlabeled data.
  • Reinforcement learning: It is a behavioural learning model. The algorithm receives feedback from the data analysis thereby guiding the user to the best outcome.
  • Deep learning: It incorporates neural networks in successive layers for learning the data in an iterative manner.

Why is machine learning accelerating?

A pyramid split into 4 parts of a different colour with each describing the Intelligence capability business modelSource: The Apttus Intelligence Capability Model

Today, the majority of enterprises require descriptive analytics, that is needed for efficient management, but not sufficient to enhance business performance. For the businesses to scale higher level of responsiveness, they need to move beyond descriptive analytics and move up the intelligence capability pyramid. This is where machine learning plays a key role.

For the businesses to scale higher level of responsiveness, they need to move beyond descriptive analytics and move up the intelligence capability pyramid.

Machine learning is not a new technique but the interest in the field has grown multifold in recent years. For enterprises, machine learning has the ability to scale across a broad range of businesses like manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, retail, travel and many others.

Three boxes on top and three boxes at the bottom with small icons over each of the boxes representing different industries of machine learningSource: Tata Consultancy Services

Business processes directly related to revenue-making are among the most-valued applications like sales, contract management, customer service, finance, legal, quality, pricing and order fulfilment.
 
Exponential data growth with unstructured data like social media posts, connected devices sensing data, competitor and partner pricing and supply chain tracking data among others is one of the reasons of why adoptions rates of machine learning have skyrocketed.
 
The Internet of Things (IoT) networks, connected devices and embedded systems are generating real-time data which is great for optimising supply chain networks and increasing demand forecast precision.
 
Another reason why machine learning is successful because of its ability to generate massive data sets through synthetic means like extrapolation and projection of existing historical data to develop realistic simulated data.
 
Moreover, the economics of safe and secure digital storage and cloud computing are merging to put infrastructure costs into free fall thereby making machine learning more cost effective for all the enterprises.

Machine Learning for Drupal

A session at DrupalCon Baltimore 2017 had a presentation which was useful for machine learning enthusiasts and it did not require any coding experience. It showed how to look at data from the eye view of a machine learning engineer. 

It also leveraged deep learning and site content to give Drupal superpowers by making use of same technology that is exploding at Facebook, Google and Amazon.

[embedded content]


The demonstration focused on mining Drupal content as the fuel for deep learning. It showed when to use existing ML models or services when to build your own, deployment of ML models and using them in production. It showed free pre-built models and paid services from Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, Google and others.

Drag and drop interface was used for creating, training and deploying a simple ML model to the cloud with the help of Microsoft Azure ML API. Google Speech API was used to turn spoken audio content into the text content to use them with chatbots and virtual assistants. Watson REST API was leveraged to perform sentiment analysis. Google Vision API module was used so that uploaded images can add Face, Logo, and Object Detection. And Microsoft’s ML API was leveraged to automatically build summaries from node content.

Another session at DrupalCon Baltimore 2017 showed how to personalise web content experiences on the basis of subtle elements of a person’s digital persona.

[embedded content]


Standard personalisation approaches recommend content on the basis of a person’s profile or the past activity. For instance, if a person is searching for a gym bag, something like this works - “Here are some more gym bags”. Or if he or she is reading about movie reviews, this would work - “Maybe you would like this review of the recently released movie”.

But the demonstration shown at this session had advanced motives. They exhibited Deep Feeling, a proof-of-concept project that utilises machine learning techniques doing better recommendations to the users. This proof-of-concept recommended travel experiences on the basis of kind of things a person shares with the help of Acquia Lift service and Drupal 8.

With the help of Instagram API to access a person’s stream-of-consciousness, the demo showed that their feeds were filtered via a computer-vision API and was used to detect and learn subtle themes about the person’s preferences. Once a notion on what sort of experiences, which the person thinks are worth sharing, is established, then the person’s characteristics were matched against their own databases.

Another presentation held at Bay Area Drupal Camp 2018 explored how the CMS and Drupal Community can put machine learning into practice by leveraging a Drupal module, taxonomy system and Google’s Natural Language Processing API.

[embedded content]


Natural language processing concepts like sentiment analysis, entity analysis, topic segmentation, language identification among others were discussed. Numerous natural language processing API alternatives were compared like Google’s natural language processing API, TextRazor, Amazon Comprehend and open source solutions like Datamuse.

It explored use cases by assessing and automatically categorising news articles using Drupal’s taxonomy system. Those categories were merged with the sentiment analysis in order to make a recommendation system for a hypothetical news audience.

Future of Machine learning

A report on Markets and Markets states that the machine learning market size will grow from USD 1.41 Billion in 2017 to USD 8.81 Billion by 2022 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 44.1%.

The report further states that the major driving factors for the global machine learning market are the technological advancement and proliferation in data generation. Moreover, increasing demand for intelligent business processes and the aggrandising adoption rates of modern applications are expected to offer opportunities for more growth.

Some of the near-term predictions are:

  • Most applications will include machine learning. In a few years, machine learning will become part of almost every other software applications with engineers embedding these capabilities directly into our devices.
  • Machine learning as a service (MLaaS) will be a commonplace. More businesses will start using the cloud to offer MLaaS and take advantage of machine learning without making huge hardware investments or training their own algorithms.
  • Computers will get good at talking like humans. As technology gets better and better, solutions such as IBM Watson Assistant will learn to communicate endlessly without using code.
  • Algorithms will perpetually retrain. In the near future, more ML systems will connect to the internet and constantly retrain on the most relevant information.
  • Specialised hardware will be delivering performance breakthroughs. GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit) is advantageous for running ML algorithms as they have a large number of simple cores. AI experts are also leveraging Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) which, at times, can even outclass GPUs.

Conclusion

Whether computers start ruling us someday by gaining superabundance of intelligence is not a likely outcome. Even though it is a possibility which is why it is widely debated whenever artificial intelligence and machine learning is discussed.
 
On the brighter side, machine learning has a plenitude of scope in making our lives better with its tremendous capabilities of providing unprecedented insights into different matters. And when Drupal and machine learning come together, it is even more exciting as it results in the provision of awesome web experience.

Opensense Labs always strives to fulfil digital transformation endeavours of our partners with a suite of services.

Contact us at [email protected] to know how machine learning can be put to great to use in your Drupal web application.

Nov 01 2018
Nov 01

Visualise that you are working for an organisation that builds web applications for its clients. Every time you gain a new client for a web application, you visit AWS or any cloud provider for that matter. You wind up with 2 VMs for running the app and for the associated database. You will need at least two copies of this infrastructure for production and staging and then start deploying the code for that client. And this process starts all over again for a new client and so forth. Instead, by utilising Infrastructure as Code (IaC), you run a bit of code and that’s it, you are all set to go!

Foundation of a building under construction on left hand side and fully constructed building on right hand side


Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) teams must disrupt their traditional infrastructure architecture strategies with IaC. This comprises of investing in hybrid cloud, containers, composable infrastructure and the automation for supporting these workloads. As we hurtle through the wall-to-wall internet of things (IoT) and edge computing, a holistic strategy for IaC becomes more significant to enterprises than ever before. It will be interesting to witness the power of Infrastructure as Code for the deployment of Drupal-based web applications. Before we dive into that, let’s see how IaC helps in efficient software delivery.

Solving environment drift in the release pipeline

Illustration showing sheets of paper on the left-hand side and a lot of computers on the right-hand side


Infrastructure as Code refers to the governance of infrastructure (networks, virtual machines, load balancers, connection topology) in a descriptive model by leveraging the same versioning as DevOps team uses for source code. In a similar principle of the same source code generating the same binary, an IaC model generates the same environment whenever it is applied. It is an integral DevOps practice and is used in combination with Continuous Delivery.

Infrastructure as Code refers to the governance of infrastructure in a descriptive model by leveraging the same versioning as DevOps team uses for source code

IaC evolved to solve the environment drift in the release pipeline because:

  • The teams must maintain the settings of separate deployment environments without IaCs.
  • Over a period of time, each environment becomes a snowflake. In other words, it leads to a unique configuration that cannot be reproduced automatically.
  • Inconsistent environments incur deployment obstacles.
  • With snowflakes, management and maintenance of infrastructure constitute manual processes which were difficult to track and contributed to errors.

Idempotence, a principle of IaC, is the property in which no matter what the environment’s starting state is, deployment command always sets the target environment into the same configuration. It is attained by either automatically configuring an existing target or through the recreation of a fresh environment by discarding the existing environment.
 
With IaC, DevOps teams can test applications in production-like environments early in the development cycle. These teams expect to provision several test environments and on-demand. Infrastructure represented as code can also be validated and tested for avoiding common deployment challenges. Simultaneously, the cloud dynamically provisions and tears down environments based on IaC definitions.
 
Implementing Infrastructure as code helps in delivering stable environments faster and at scale. By representing the desired state of their environments via code, teams avoid manual configuration of environments and enforce consistency. Infrastructure deployments are repeatable and safeguard against runtime issues that are caused by configuration drift or missing dependencies. DevOps teams can work in combination with a unified set of practices and tools for delivering applications and their supporting infrastructure quickly, reliably and at scale.

Benefits of Infrastructure as Code

Graphical representation showing horizontal bars in light and dark blue colours to depict benefits of Infrastructure as Code

 

  • Minimising Shadow IT: Allowing a fast response to new IT requirements through IaC assisted deployment ensures higher security, compliance with corporate IT standards and helps with budgeting and cost allocation.
  • Satisfying Customers: Delivering a quality service component with a short time period leads to customer satisfaction and enhanced perception of IT within an organisation.
  • Reducing operational expenditures: An enterprise can configure and deploy a completely tested and compliant new IT infrastructure asset in just a matter of few minutes either with minimal or no human intervention at all This saves a superabundance amount of work time and security-related financial risk potential.
  • Reducing capital expenditure: A developer accomplishing the task of several team members on his own, particularly in the context of DevOps, highly benefits the project capital expenditure.
  • Standardisation: When the creation of new infrastructure is coded, there is consistency in the set of instructions and standardisation.
  • Safer change handling: Standardisation assurance allows safer alterations to take place with lower deviation rates.

Challenges of using Infrastructure as Code

  • Organisational resistance to change: Largest organisational challenges stem from budget limitations as it can deter an organisation’s ability to hire or retrain staff lead to an overall resistance to change.
  • The dearth of expertise in-house: Lack of in-house expertise can pose a technical hurdle.
  • Shortage of tools, skills and the fear of loss of control: As IaC languages are more code-like than script-like, so developers are more comfortable with them in general but this poses issues for Ops team. Ops is more concerned with configuration control conflicts as they have traditionally had all control over configurations.

'Key recommendations' written inside a box at the top and some bullet points follows after that to explain Infrastructure as Code


Infrastructure as Code tools

Infographics showing a quarter of a circle inside a square-shaped box with several small circles inside it denoting the market presence of Infrastructure as Code toolsSource: Forrester Wave™: Configuration Management Software For Infrastructure Automation, Q4 ’17
  • The Puppet open source engine emphasises on supporting configuration management on numerous platform such that if a system is reachable by IP then it must be configurable.
  • Puppet Enterprise augments the open source Puppet providing a web-based UI to enable visibility into configurations, dependencies and events.
  • The Chef open source engine leverages an imperative approach with support for several operating systems, containers and cloud services.
  • Chef Automate builds on the Chef open source automation engine which incorporates respective projects of Habitat and InSpec and offers a web-based GUI and dashboard for compliance visibility.
  • The Salt open source project provides the option to run the modular software with or without agents and using push or pull processes.
  • SaltStack Enterprise builds on the open source Salt offering that gives you an enterprise GUI and API for integration.
  • Normation Professional Services sells plug-ins for Window/AIX support, auditing and HTTP data sourcing integration
  • Rudder is an open source automation platform that emphasises on continuous reliability.
  • Ansible open source project emphasises on minimalism and easy usage. It does not require any agents and relies on SSH and WinRM to remotely control member nodes which limits the resource usage and potential network traffic.
  • Ansible Tower is an enterprise solution for Ansible that emphasises on improving the open source project’s analytics and compliance capabilities.
  • Microsoft Azure Automation is a SaaS-based suite for process automation.
  • Microsoft PowerShell DSC is a configuration management execution engine which is developed primarily for Windows with support for Linux and MacOS added recently.
  • CFEngine Community Edition is an open source automation engine which is considered the father of modern-day configuration management.
  • The Enterprise version of CFEngine offers GUI/dashboard to manage and monitor node health, user-based and role-based management, richer reporting, asset management capabilities, and modules to support AIX and Windows 

Infrastructure as Code for Drupal

A digital agency showed how to automate the whole deployment process from the start to finish by leveraging Ansible. Ansible, being agentless, has a great ecosystem, the YAML syntax is easy to read, understand and maintain. This could be automated using any other provisional tool like Chef or Puppet as well.

Black background with ‘Ansible + Drupal’ written in blue and ‘ A fortuitous DevOps Match’ written in white below it


Project involved making the Ansible playbooks a part of their codebase. It will live alongside the Drupal code. Also, it is considered an industry-wide good practice to have infrastructure and deployment as a part of the code. It is still not technically 100% Infrastructure-as-Code setup as they only had the provisioning scripts checked in and not the code to spin the actual servers. The playbooks assume that the servers are already present with Docker, Docker compose is installed and having SSH access.

This setup made the deployment process consistent and repeatable as any developer with necessary permissions in the team could run the script and get the same results all the time. Moreover, when the build fails, it fails loud and clear where exactly things went wrong.

Challenges in the project

They did not guarantee a rollback for this process. If for instance, you perform a deployment and it fails, you would have to manually perform the rollback to the previous state. But it does store DB backups. So, it would not be an arduous task to add a rollback mechanism with the tag rollback and some parameters like what commit to rollback to, which DB to reset to etc.

Steps to be performed

A significant precursor to automating is to document and have a script for each step. They split the tasks into two categories namely

  • Setting up the system like creating DB backup directories
  • Running the DB updates via Drush

Ansible has the concept of tags for which 2 tags were defined namely ‘setup’ and ‘deploy’.

The listicle of setup only tasks included:

  • Creation of a directory for DB files to persist
  • Creation of a directory for storing DB backups
  • Creation of a directory for storing file backups

The listicle of tasks for both setup and deployment included:

  • Creation of a backup  of files and DB
  • Cloning the correct code, that is, specified branch or bleeding edge.
  • Creating .env file
  • Building and booting the latest containers for all services
  • Running composer install and DB updates, importing config from files and clearing cache (Drupal specific)

It is important to secure your servers prior to the deployment of the application. Ansible helps in storing the sensitive information in an encrypted fashion like DB credentials, the SSH key pair and the server user credentials. This setup enables you to easily build production replicas or non-production environment. 

In the years to come

IaC has a bright future with its ability in provisioning and managing computing resources. While it does come its own set of implementation barriers, the benefits that it delivers far exceeds the challenges it currently faces.
 
As the tools the frameworks that are associated with Infrastructure as Code mature, it has the potential of becoming the default standard to deploy and govern infrastructure.

Infographics showing statistics on Infrastructure as Code (IaC) using bar graphs, pie charts and relevant icons.


Technavio analysts forecast the global DevOps platform market to post a CAGR of more than 20% during the period of 2018 to 2022.  One of the major trends that are being seen in the global DevOps platform market 2018-2022 is the increase in the adoption rates of Infrastructure as Code. DevOps tools are being implemented by the organisations to shift from manual configuration of IT infrastructure to programmable IT infrastructure.

Increase in the adoption rates of Infrastructure as Code is a major trend in the global DevOps platform market

The report goes on to state that one of most significant reasons contributing to the growth in the global DevOps platform market is the need for reducing the time to market. Asia-Pacific region is projected to see the maximum enhancement in the market share of global DevOps platform. The Americas region and Europe-the Middle East-Africa region, which holds a large market share currently, will witness a decline in the market share over the forecast period.

Conclusion

Customer-obsessed technology puts the broader charter of service design on the infrastructure and operations team. I&O leaders should own the design for the full system of interacting parts that are sourced from a rich and dynamic software-defined ecosystem. Infrastructure as Code holds a great potential in disruption of traditional infrastructure architecture strategy and can be efficacious for Drupal deployments.

With years of expertise in Drupal Development, Opensense Labs has been providing a wondrous digital experience to its partners.

Talk to our Drupal experts at [email protected] to know how can we implement Infrastructure as Code with Drupal to power your digital transformation endeavours.

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