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Insights / Blog / Tech

5 Things Every CMS Vendor can learn from Drupal and Acquia

March 27, 2015
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

If there has been a winner in the CMS industry during the past years then it's Drupal. No other system has a greater share in the enterprise segment and no other system is able to convince heretofore critical corporations of the possibilities of Open Source software. I've listed the following five points that in my opinion are essential for the success of Drupal and Acquia.

Symbiosis between Business and Community

I am continuously amazed about how Acquia / Drupal maintains the balance between community and commerce. Here are two statements from both the business- and community perspective:

" Acquia has been instrumental in leveraging its associated Drupal community to accelerate product development and help close the gap on some of its competitors. While other communities can show a high degree of activity, Acquia has helped bring focus to some of that activity to enhance its overall offering."
" To speak here of Drupal 8 as ‘Acquia's software’ is more than wrong and unfair to the vast majority of developers who are not at Acquia."

Of course, speaking statutorily it is not the case that Drupal and Acquia form a unit. But the perception in the market (decision makers) is a different one. Drupal is Acquia and Acquia is Drupal. Acquia very skillfully plays with this and carefully considers which wording is appropriate for all publications while keeping boundaries blurred.

For good reason: Were Acquia “just” an integrator with a few additional products, then the company would surely not be relevant for Gartner. Smile, for example, is a bigger integrator and we at AOE are well on track to shortly operate in similar dimensions. On the other hand, were Acquia focused solely on the commercial aspects then it wouldn't be possible to maintain such a large community. Achieving this balance is something akin to art and is probably so successful because community and commerce share the same unifying figure.

How difficult it is for a group to orient itself in this area of conflict between FOSS and today's Open Source business model can be observed in the current discussion concerning the future of the TYPO3 Association.


CMS as we have known it during the past ten years is increasingly losing in significance. Acquia recognized this early on and has continuously created additional products in recent years that support its vision:

We're going after a big dream to become the preferred platform for what has been called the ‘pivot point of many enterprise tech stacks’ – the technologies that permit organizations to deliver on the promises of exceptional digital customer experiences from an agile, open, resilient platform.

Obviously, it's not primarily about CMS (even if it is sold like that in most pitches), but rather about becoming the digital platform-of-choice for a company in the mid-term. This means that, aside from content and the customer experience, functionality will gain in importance. Not just the possibility of creating functionality on one's own platform, but also the possibility of integrating functionality from external sources.

In actuality it is quite possible to build extensive platforms in many areas using Drupal, Acquia Lift, Acquia Cloud, Acquia Commerce, etc. Not all the features designated by Acquia as products are standalone software lines, but rather simple Drupal module sets. This situation exists in many other Open Source CMS. However, from a sales perspective it is very clever to present these as products. In this manner, the sheer variety of functions becomes tangible for decision makers (who are only accustomed to "proprietary wording").


A leadership figure is essential for all communities, regardless of whether they are societal and/or commercial. A good leader motivates on a broad basis, assists wherever qualitative or quantitative bottlenecks occur and ensures that everyone feels comfortable within the community and progresses. And he makes decisions when the community is lost in argument and a standstill threatens.

Such a leader is not a king; rather, he is a unifying figure and reference point for people with vastly different points of view, but a common goal. Take a look around; companies and projects with such a leader usually function better than those without. And it isn't even about having a leader who makes all the decisions. On the contrary, he maintains the decision-making process as open-ended as possible (within the strategic framework) and gives a wide variety of stakeholders a voice where necessary.

External Funding

Acquia has never had a fear of contact regarding funding: 118.5 million US-Dollars in seven rounds of financing from ten investors speak for themselves. Many an Open Source (CMS) manufacturer would have achieved so much more had the company not subscribed to the partially romantic and idealistic notion of self-financing. What does Acquia need this money for? Dries gives a beautiful answer to the question in the 2014 Retrospective:

" It's not like Tom Erickson and I enjoy raising money, but building and expanding a sales and marketing team is notoriously difficult and requires big investments. At the same time, we're building and supporting the development of multiple products in parallel."

And regarding development / Drupal 8:

" We contributed significantly to Drupal 8 and helped it to achieve beta status; of the 513 critical Drupal 8 bugs fixed in 2014, Acquia's Office of the CTO helped fix 282 of them. We also funded work on the Drupal Module Upgrader to automate much of the work required to port modules from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8."

I don't want to create the impression that a large part of the funding is invested in the developing Drupal. However, whenever things get critical and Drupal is faced with challenges, Acquia is ready to meet them whenever necessary. If I were a decision maker on the client side, this would greatly reassure me in terms of my potential investment in a Drupal platform.

Strategy before Technology

We can repeatedly observe how NIH and code infatuation hinder an in and of itself terrific product in its development. In choosing Symfony, Drupal/Acquia made the strategically correct choice, since they can profit from the distribution of Symfony. One can already recognize the advantage of this decision in the context of dozens of discussions with decision makers regarding their future CMS platform. The majority is waiting to also evaluate Drupal 8, as most people already use Symfony-based software in their companies. If that makes sense from a technological perspective is initially irrelevant. For most of them it is already a great advantage not to have to, once again, point out the pros of a new technology to the company's board.

I don't think that Drupal should server as the sole flagship model for other CMS manufacturers. They still lose enough pitches – simply because they still do some things more poorly than the competition in many areas. All total, however, many things are done right at Drupal/Aquia and one can advise all CMS manufactures, especially the proprietary vendors, to keep an eye on the company.