By Charlie Stewart, CEO, Rogerwilco
While there are numerous content management software (CMS) offerings out there, across the globe there is a tendency to stick with the big three open source frameworks when it comes to web development – Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. Of these, Drupal gets the least love from South African developers. The relationship perhaps needs some reconsideration, especially since internationally, there is a strong move towards its use in larger, more demanding websites.
The international upswing: Globally, the list of Drupal clients is increasing by the day, with news organisations (The Economist, Al Jazeera, Weather.com), the public sector (www.whitehouse.gov, London.gov.uk, World Economic Forum), large enterprises (Johnson & Johnson, Cisco), and universities (University of Cape Town, University of Oxford) all making the switch.
There are numerous reasons that contribute to this rise – in 2014 the inclusion of Drupal (albeit under the auspices of Acquia, the commercial enterprise set up by Drupal’s founder) in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for CMSs, came as a shock to many. It was the first time a ‘lightweight’ open source framework had dared compete against closed proprietary platforms. When the same report was issued last year, Drupal was the only framework to show growth, giving the likes of Adobe a run for its money.
Drupal’s ability to do complex heavy lifting was one of the things that attracted Gartner, so too its approach to security. In a world where hackers send shivers through boardrooms, a platform that can keep attackers out will prove popular. In the context of security, I’ve heard people liken Drupal to iOS. No-one is foolish enough to say it can’t get hacked, but it is prone to fewer attacks and it seems to withstand those that do hit better than most web platforms.
But then locally…
While internationally Drupal is on an upward trajectory, at home its use isn’t picking up steam fast, losing out mostly to Wordpress when it comes to clients’ demands.
It is true Drupal is not exactly the easiest CMS to work with, as might be the case with others and for any new developer it will take a few months to come to terms with its intricacies. Yet with the latest version, Drupal 8 now available, there is a range of new tools that makes not only the developer’s life easier - both in learning and programming - but also those who eventually need to administer the website.
Luckily, there is a global Drupal community to count on in times of need, with this CMS having it by the bucket load. Indeed, Drupal 8 was collaboratively built by 3290 contributors and 1228 companies worldwide, with more than 28 000 active developers working in Drupal. Since it is open source, Drupal is entirely dependent on its community to move it forward.
Locally, active “Drupalistas” are making their voices heard, organising the community, offering support, and planning local meetups. Importantly, it is the Drupal Association South Africa which plays a key role in fostering Drupal’s growth.
Our salvation might lie elsewhere
For many, however, the commitment in time and effort to master Drupal might just be its saving grace. There are far fewer competent Drupal developers than, for example, both Wordpress and Joomla. But the question remains – if the local market is not yet as supportive of Drupal as it should be, should Drupal developers not rather cast their eyes across the pond for projects? If they have not done so yet, from Rogerwilco’s perspective, the answer is a definite yes. As South Africa’s largest Drupal agency, much of our work originates from elsewhere in Africa and Europe.
The rand’s current weak position to the dollar might not help when trying to buy the latest gear, but it does provide a very strong case when bidding for overseas tenders. However, looking for skilled Drupal web developers operating for decent costs, the tendency is for UK and US-based brands to still turn to India.
While Indian pricing is very competitive and skills on offer of high quality, South African-based Drupal web developers have the upper-hand when it comes to communication skills and project management. As anyone who has been involved in the building of a large website can attest, these ‘soft skills’ are of essential value, not just in the planning stages when scouring a brief, but throughout the project, especially in understanding and effectively executing the client’s goals.
South Africa’s alignment to European time zones as well as a cultural affinity are two more reasons that stand out when choosing South African Drupal developers as the go-to choice.
The move forward
It might be that the case for picking local Drupal developers is on the rise, but it is important for the South African Drupal community to collectively raise our profile internationally in order for more outsourced work to make its way to the country. Now more than ever there should be a concerted push towards uniting the local community, raising skills and promoting visibility, so that South Africa can pick the fruits going forward.
Indeed, the stronger the South African Drupal community can become, the easier it will be to bid for overseas jobs. While this is reason enough to make the effort, it is true that if more international work rolls in, the demand from South African companies will likely also increase. And that is truly when local Drupal developers will have the best of both worlds.