As my loyal blog readers know, at the beginning of every year I publish a retrospective to look back and take stock of how far Acquia has come over the past 12 months. If you'd like to read my previous annual retrospectives, they can be found here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009. When read together, they provide a comprehensive overview of Acquia's trajectory from its inception in 2008 to where it is today, nine years later.
The process of pulling together this annual retrospective is very rewarding for me as it gives me a chance to reflect with some perspective; a rare opportunity among the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day. Trends and cycles only reveal themselves over time, and I continue to learn from this annual period of reflection.
If I were to give Acquia a headline for 2016, it would be the year in which we crossed the proverbial "chasm" from startup to a true leader in our market. Acquia is now entering its ninth full year of operations (we began commercial operations in the fall of 2008). We've raised $186 million in venture capital, opened offices around the world, and now employ over 750 people. However, crossing the "chasm" is more than achieving a revenue target or other benchmarks of size.
The "chasm" describes the difficult transition conceived by Geoffrey Moore in his 1991 classic of technology strategy, Crossing the Chasm. This is the book that talks about making the transition from selling to the early adopters of a product (the technology enthusiasts and visionaries) to the early majority (the pragmatists). If the early majority accepts the technology solutions and products, they can make a company a de facto standard for its category.
I think future retrospectives will endorse my opinion that Acquia crossed the chasm in 2016. I believe that Acquia has crossed the "chasm" because the world has embraced open source and the cloud without any reservations. The FUD-era where proprietary software giants campaigned aggressively against open source and cloud computing by sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt is over. Ironically, those same critics are now scrambling to paint themselves as committed to open source and cloud architectures. Today, I believe that Acquia sets the standard for digital experiences built with open source and delivered in the cloud.
When Tom (my business partner and Acquia CEO) and I spoke together at Acquia's annual customer conference in November, we talked about the two founding pillars that have served Acquia well over its history: open source and cloud. In 2008, we made a commitment to build a company based on open source and the cloud, with its products and services offered through a subscription model rather than a perpetual license. At the time, our industry was skeptical of this forward-thinking combination. It was a bold move, but we have always believed that this combination offers significant advantages over proprietary software because of its faster rate of innovation, higher quality, freedom from vendor lock-in, greater security, and lower total cost of ownership.
Acquia has continued its evolution from a content management company to a company that offers a more complete digital experience platform. This transition inspired an internal project to update our vision and mission accordingly.
In 2016, we updated Acquia's vision to "make it possible for dreamers and doers to craft the digital world". To achieve this vision, we want to build "the universal platform for the world's greatest digital experiences".
We increasingly find ourselves at the center of our customer's technology and digital strategies, and they depend on us to provide the open platform to integrate, syndicate, govern and distribute all of their digital business.
The focus on any and every part of their digital business is important and sets us apart from our competitors. Nearly all of our competitors offer single-point solutions for marketers, customer service, online commerce or for portals. An open source model allows customers to integrate systems together through open APIs, which enables our technology to fit into any part of their existing environment. It gives them the freedom to pursue a best-of-breed strategy outside of the confines of a proprietary "marketing cloud".
We continued to grow rapidly in 2016, and it was another record year for revenue at Acquia. We focused on the growth of our recurring revenue, which includes new customers and the renewal and expansion of our work with existing customers. Ever since we started the company, our corporate emphasis on customer success has fueled both components. Successful customers mean renewals and references for new customers. Customer satisfaction remains extremely high at 96 percent, an achievement I'm confident we can maintain as we continue to grow.
In 2016, the top industry analysts published very positive reviews based on their dealings with our customers. I'm proud that Acquia made the biggest positive move of all vendors in this year's Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. There are now three distinct leaders: Acquia, Adobe and Sitecore. Out of the leaders, Acquia is the only player that is open-source or has a cloud-first strategy.
Over the course of 2016 Acquia welcomed an impressive roster of new customers who included Nasdaq, Nestle, Vodafone, iHeartMedia, Advanced Auto Parts, Athenahealth, National Grid UK and more. Exiting 2016, Acquia can count 16 of the Fortune 100 among its customers.
Digital transformation is happening everywhere. Only a few years ago, the majority of our customers were in either government, media and entertainment or higher education. In the past two years, we've seen a lot of growth in other verticals and today, our customers span nearly every industry from pharmaceuticals to finance.
To support our growth, we opened a new sales office in Munich (Germany), and we expanded our global support facilities in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia), Portland (Oregon, USA) and Delhi (India). In total, we now have 14 offices around the world. Over the past year we have also seen our remote workforce expand; 33 percent of Acquia's employees are now remote. They can be found in 225 cities worldwide.
We've also seen an evolution in our partner ecosystem. In addition to working with traditional Drupal businesses, we started partnering with the world's most elite digital agencies and system integrators to deliver massive projects that span dozens of languages and countries. Our partners are taking Acquia and Drupal into some of the world's most impressive brands, new industries and into new parts of the world.
I enjoy writing these retrospectives because they allow me to chronicle Acquia's incredible journey. But I also write them for you, because you might be able to learn a thing or two from my experiences. To make these retrospectives useful for everyone, I try to document both milestones and difficulties. To grow an organization, you must learn how to overcome your challenges and growing pains.
Rapid growth does not come without cost. In 2016 we made several leadership changes that will help us continue to grow. We added new heads of revenue, European sales, security, IT, talent acquisition and engineering. I'm really proud of the team we built. We exited 2016 in the market for new heads of finance and marketing.
We adjusted our business levers to adapt to changes in the financial markets, which in early 2016 shifted from valuing companies almost solely focused on growth to a combination of growth and free cash flow. This is easier said than done, and required a significant organizational mindshift. We changed our operating plan, took a closer look at expanding headcount, and postponed certain investments we had planned. All this was done in the name of "fiscal fitness" to make sure that we don't have to raise more money down the road. Our efforts to cut our burn rate are paying off, and we were able to beat our targets on margin (the difference between our revenue and operating expenses) while continuing to grow our top line.
We now manage 17,000+ AWS instances within Acquia Cloud. What we once were able to do efficiently for hundreds of clients is not necessarily the best way to do it for thousands. Going into 2016, we decided to improve the efficiency of our operations at this scale. While more work remains to be done, our efforts are already paying off. For example, we can now roll out new Acquia Cloud releases about 10 times faster than we could at the end of 2015.
Lastly, 2016 was the first full year of Drupal 8 availability (it was formally released in November 2015). As expected, it took time for developers and the Drupal community to become familiar with its vast array of changes and new capabilities. This wasn't a surprise; in my DrupalCon keynotes I shared that I expected Drupal 8 to really take off in Q4 of 2016. Through the MAP program we committed over $1M in funds and engineering hours to help module creators upgrade their modules to Drupal 8. All told, Acquia invested about $2.5 million in Drupal code contributions in 2016 alone (excluding our contributions in marketing, events, etc). This is the most we have ever invested in Drupal and something is I'm personally very proud of.
Acquia remains an amazing place for engineers who want to build great products. We achieved some big milestones over the course of the year.
One of the largest milestones was the significant enhancements to our multi-site platform: Acquia Cloud Site Factory. Site Factory allows a team to manage and operate thousands of sites around the world from a single console, ensuring all fixes, upgrades and improvements are delivered responsibly and efficiently. Last year we added support for multiple codebases in Site Factory – which we call Stacks – allowing an organization to manage multiple Site Factories from the same administrative console and distribute the operation around the world over multiple data centers. It's unique in its ability and is being deployed globally by many multinational, multi-brand consumer goods companies. We manage thousands of sites for our biggest customers. Site Factory has elevated Acquia into the realm of very large and ambitious digital experience delivery.
Another exciting product release was the third version of Acquia Lift, our personalization and contextualization tool. With the third version of Acquia Lift, we've taken everything we've learned about personalization over the past several years to build a tool that is more flexible and easier to use. The new Lift also provides content syndication services that allow both content and user profile data to be reused across sites. When taken together with Site Factory, Lift permits true content governance and reuse.
We also released Lightning, Acquia's Drupal 8 distribution aimed at developers who want to accelerate their projects based on the set of tested and vetted modules and configurations we use ourselves in our customer work. Acquia's commitment to improving the developer experience also led to the release of both Acquia BLT and Acquia Pipelines (private beta). Acquia BLT is a development tool for building new Drupal projects using a standard approach, while Pipelines is a continuous delivery and continuous deployment service that can be used to develop, test and deploy websites on Acquia Cloud.
Our core product, Acquia Cloud, received a major reworking of its user interface. That new UI is a more modern, faster and responsive user interface that simplifies interaction for developers and administrators.
Our focus on security reached new levels in 2016. In January we secured certification that we complied with ISO 27001: the international security and compliance standard for enterprise cloud frameworks. In April we were awarded our FedRAMP ATO from the U.S. Department of Treasury after we were judged compliant with the U.S. federal standards for cloud security and risk management practices. Today we have the most secure, reliable and agile cloud platform available.
We ended the year with an exciting partnership with commerce platform Magento that will help us advance our vision of content and commerce. Existing commerce platforms have focused primarily on the transactions (cart systems, payment processing, warehouse/supply chain integration, tax compliance, customer credentials, etc.) and neglected the customer's actual shopping experience. We've demonstrated with numerous customers that a better brand experience can be delivered with Drupal and Acquia Lift alongside these existing commerce platforms.
Entering 2017, I believe that Acquia is positioned for long-term success. Here are a few reasons why:
As I explained at the beginning of this retrospective, trends and cycles reveal themselves over time. After reflecting on 2016, I believe that Acquia is in a unique position. As the world has embraced open source and cloud without reservation, our long-term commitment to this disruptive combination has put us at the right place at the right time. Our investments in expanding the breadth of our platform with products like Acquia Lift and Site Factory are also starting to pay off.
However, Acquia's success is not only determined by the technology we back. Our unique innovation model, which is impossible to cultivate with proprietary software, combined with our commitment to customer success has also contributed to our "crossing of the chasm."
Of course, none of these 2016 results and milestones would be possible without the hard work of the Acquia team, our customers, partners, the Drupal community, and our many friends. Thank you for your support in 2016 – I can't wait to see what the next year will bring!
Nine months ago I wrote about the importance of improving Drupal's content workflow capabilities and how we set out to include a common base layer of workflow-related functionality in Drupal 8 core. That base layer would act as the foundation on which we can build a list of great features like cross-site content staging, content branching, site previews, offline browsing and publishing, content recovery and audit logs. Some of these features are really impactful; 5 out of the top 10 most requested features for content authors are related to workflows (features 3-7 on the image below). We will deliver feature requests 3 and 4 as part of the "content workflow initiative" for Drupal 8. Feature requests 5, 6 and 7 are not in scope of the current content workflow initiative but still stand to benefit significantly from it. Today, I'd like to provide an update on the workflow initiative's progress the past 9 months.
While Drupal 8.0 and 8.1 shipped with just two workflow states (Published and Unpublished), Drupal 8.2 (with the the experimental Content moderation module) ships with three: Published, Draft, and Archived. Rather than a single 'Unpublished' workflow state, content creators will be able to distinguish between posts to be published later (drafts) and posts that were published before (archived posts).
The 'Draft' workflow state is a long-requested usability improvement, but may seem like a small change. What is more exciting is that the list of workflow states is fully configurable: you can add additional workflow states, or replace them with completely different ones. The three workflow states in Drupal 8.2 are just what we decided to be good defaults.
Let's say you manage a website with content that requires legal sign-off before it can be published. You can now create a new workflow state 'Needs legal sign-off' that is only accessible to people in your organization's legal department. In other words, you can set up content workflows that are simple (like the default one with just three states) or that are very complex (for a large organization with complex content workflows and permissions).
This functionality was already available in Drupal 7 thanks to the contributed modules like the Workbench suite. Moving this functionality into core is useful for two reasons. First, it provides a much-requested feature out of the box – this capability meets the third most important feature request for content authors. Second, it encourages contributed modules to be built with configurable workflows in mind. Both should improve the end-user experience.
Drupal 8.3 (still in development, planned to be released in April of 2017) goes one step further and introduces the concept of multiple types of workflows in the experimental Workflows module. This provides a more intuitive way to set up different workflows for different content types. For example, blog posts might not need legal sign-off but legal contracts do. To support this use case, you need to be able to setup different workflows assigned to their appropriate content types.
What is also interesting is that the workflow system in Drupal 8.3 can be applied to things other than traditional content. Let's say that our example site happens to be a website for a membership organization. The new workflow system could be the technical foundation to move members through different workflows (e.g. new member, paying member, honorary member). The reusability of Drupal's components has always been a unique strength and is what differentiates an application from a platform. By enabling people to reuse components in interesting ways, we turn Drupal into a powerful platform for building many different applications.
While workflows for individual content items is very powerful, many sites want to publish multiple content items at once as a group. This is reflected in the fourth-most requested feature for content authors, 'Staging of multiple content changes'. For example, a newspaper website might cover the passing of George Michael in a dedicated section on their site. Such a section could include multiple pages covering his professional career and personal life. These pages would have menus and blocks with links to other resources. 'Workspaces' group all these individual elements (pages, blocks and menus) into a logical package, so they can be prepared, previewed and published as a group. And what is great about the support for multiple different workflows is that content workflows can be applied to workspaces as well as to individual pieces of content.
We are still in the early stages of building out the workspace functionality. Work is being done to introduce the concept of workspaces in the developer API and on designing the user interface. A lot remains to be figured out and implemented, but we hope to introduce this feature in Drupal 8.5 (planned to be released in Q2 of 2018). In the mean time, other Drupal 8 solutions are available as contributed modules.
We discussed work on content workflows and workspaces. The changes being made will also help with other problems like content recovery, cross-site content staging, content branching, site previews, offline browsing and publishing, and audit logs. Check out the larger roadmap of the workflow initiative and the current priorities. We have an exciting roadmap and are always looking for more individuals and organizations to get involved and accelerate our work. If you want to get involved, don't be afraid to raise your hand in the comments of this post.
I tried to make a list of all people and organizations to thank for their work on the workflow initiative but couldn't. The Drupal 8 workflow initiative borrows heavily from years of hard work and learnings from many people and organizations. In addition, there are many people actively working on various aspects of the Drupal 8 workflow initiative. Special thanks to Dick Olsson (Pfizer), Jozef Toth (Pfizer), Tim Millwood (Appnovation), Andrei Jechiu (Pfizer), Andrei Mateescu (Pfizer), Alex Pott (Chapter Three), Dave Hall (Pfizer), Ken Rickard (Palantir.net) and Ani Gupta (Pfizer). Also thank you to Gábor Hojtsy (Acquia) for his contributions to this blog post.
In this era of Open Government, constituents expect to be offered great services online. This can require moving an entire government to a new digital platform in order to deliver ambitious digital experiences that support the needs of citizens. It takes work, but many governments from the United States to Australia have demonstrated that with the right technology and strategy in place, governments can successfully adopt a new platform. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
In 2014, the Government of Canada began a project to move all of its web pages onto a single site, Canada.ca. A $1.54 million contract for a content management system was awarded to a proprietary vendor in 2015. Fast forward to today, and the project is a year behind schedule and 10x over budget. The contract is now approaching $10 million. As only 0.05% of the migration to Canada.ca has been completed, many consider the current project to be disservice to its citizens.
I find the impending outcomes of this project to be disheartening as current timelines suggest that the migration will continue to be delayed, run over budget, and strain taxpayers. While I hope that Canada.ca will develop into a valuable resource for its citizens, I agree with Tom Cochran, Acquia's Chief Digital Strategist for Public Sector -- who ran digital platforms at the White House and U.S. Department of State -- that the prospects for Canada.ca are dim given the way the project was designed and is being implemented.
The root of Canada.ca's problem appears to be the decision to migrate 1,500 departments and 17 million pages into a single site. I'm guessing that the goal of having a single site is to offer citizens a central entry point to connect with their government. A single site strategy can be extremely effective, for example the City of Boston's single site is home to over 200,000 web page spanning 120 city departments, and offers a truly user-centric experience. With 17 million pages to migrate, Canada.ca is eighty-five times bigger than Boston.gov. A project of this magnitude should have considered using a multi-site approach where different agencies and departments have their own sites, but can use a common platform, toolset and shared infrastructure.
While difficulties with Canada.ca may have started with the ambitious attempt to move every department to a single domain, the complexities of this strategy are likely amplified through the implementation of a single-source proprietary solution. I find it unfortunate that Canada's procurement models did not favor Open Source. The Canadian government has a tenured history of utilizing Open Source, and there is a lot of existing Drupal talent in the country. In rejecting an open platform, the Canadian Government lost the opportunity to engage a skilled community of native, Open Source developers.
Transforming an entire nation's digital strategy is challenging, but other public sector leaders have proven it is possible. Take the Australian Government. In 2015, John Sheridan, Sharyn Clarkson and their team in the Department of Finance moved their department's site from a legacy environment to Drupal and the cloud. The Department of Finance's success has grown into the Drupal distribution govCMS, which is currently supporting over 52 government agencies across 6 jurisdictions in Australia. Much like Canada.ca, the goal of govCMS is to provide citizens with a more intuitive platform to engage with their government.
The guiding principle of govCMS is to govern but to not seek control. Each government department requires flexibility to service the needs of their particular audiences. While single-site solutions do work as umbrellas for some organizations, the City of Boston being a great example, most large (government) organizations that have a state-of-the-art approach follow a hub and spoke model where different sites share code, templates and infrastructure. While sharing is strongly encouraged it is not required. This allows each department to independently innovate and adopt the platform how they choose.
The Open Source nature of govCMS has encouraged both innovation and collaboration across many Australian departments. One of the most remarkable examples of this is that a federal agency and a state agency coordinated their development efforts to build a data visualization capability on an open data CKAN repository. The Department of Environment initiated the development of the CKAN module necessary to pull and analyze data from a variety of departments. The Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet recognized that they too could utilize the module to propel their budget report and aided in the co-development of the govCMS CKAN. This is an incredible example of how Open Source allows agencies to extend functionality across departments, regardless of vendor involvement. By setting up a model which removed the barriers to share, govCMS has provided Australia the freedom to truly innovate.
A distributed model using multiple sites to leverage an Open Source platform where infrastructure, code and templates are shared allows for governance and innovation to co-exist. I've written about this model here in a post about Loosening control the Open Source Way. I believe that a multi-site approach based on Open Source is the only way to move an entire government to a new digital strategy and platform.
It can be incredibly hard for organizations to understand this. After all, this is not about product features, technical capabilities or commercial support, but about a completely different way of working and innovating. It's a hard sell because we have to change the lens through which organizations see the world; away from procuring proprietary software that provides perceived safety and control, to a world that allows frictionless innovation and sharing through the loosening of control without losing control. For us to successfully market and sell the innovation that comes out of Drupal, Open Source and cloud, we have to shift how people think and challenge the prevailing model.
In many ways, organizations have to see it to believe it. What is exciting about the Australian government is that it helps others see the potential of a decentralized service model predicated on Open Source software with a Drupal distribution at its heart. The Australian government has created an ecosystem of frictionless sharing that is cheaper, faster, and enables better results.
It’s difficult for me to see a light at the end of the tunnel for Canadian citizens. While the Canadian government can stay the course -– and all indications so far are that they will -- that path has a high price tag, long delays and slow innovation. An alternative would be for Ottawa to hit the pause button and reassess their strategy. They could look externally to how governments in Washington, Canberra, and countless others approached their mission to support the digital needs of its citizens. I know that there are countless Drupal experts working both within the government and at dozens of Drupal agencies throughout Canada that are eager to show their government a better way forward.
Growing up my dad had a watch from TAG Heuer. As a young child, I always admired his watch and wished that one day I'd have one as well. I still don't have a TAG Heuer watch, however I just found out that TAG Heuer relaunched its website using Drupal 8 and that is pretty cool too.
TAG Heuer's new website integrates Drupal 8 with their existing Magento commerce platform to provide a better, more content-rich shopping experience. It is a nice example of the "Content for Commerce"-opportunity that I wrote about a month ago. Check it out at https://www.tagheuer.com!
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