Interview with Roger Soper: Senior Developer for Drupal Support

1. Tell us about Drupal Connect Support: what is it and how does it differ from say regular development work?
We started offering Drupal Support about a year ago and quickly realized there was a significant demand for high-quality Drupal skills in a more flexible package than what other providers were able to offer. Our clients are extremely happy, we have well over a 90% retention rate.

In many ways, our Support work is exactly the same as our Development work. We still mainly tackle issues with custom code, site specific problems, gaps between contrib modules, and server issues: we don't really do a lot of module upgrades or some of the "easy" things that some folks initially think of with Support. Everyone on the Support team is an experienced Drupal developer, there aren't any junior devs. So the major differences with Development are scale and budget. We sometimes add smaller, new features; but we don't do rescue projects that are half done. Really, our internal measure for Support vs Development is probably somewhere around 150-200 hours.

One of our biggest, common challenges is that many of our clients come to us because their site is, for example, only 90% complete and mostly working; so we inherit a fair amount of mediocre legacy code. We have to balance the desire to fix minor issues with clients' budgets and the overall ROI — sometimes you end up with some hassles until it's time to reskin the site, do an upgrade, or rewrite a major portion of the site.

Over the last six months, we have really focused on deepening our relationship with Acquia — they also offer outstanding Drupal Support. Although it might seem like we would be competing, we really offer complementary services. In fact, Acquia has been one of our largest and most consistent sources of referrals for some time now. It's nice working with Acquia because we can coordinate our services and ensure there is a good handoff, so the Acquia sites don't start with as much technical debt as many of our others.

We're excited about our current growth and looking forward to the future, we love what we do!

2. So how does Acquia Support complement Drupal Connect's Support?
As I mentioned above, our Support really is small-scale Development. We get in there and get our hands dirty. This is great for SMB. We've been able to help a lot of clients would otherwise have been left out in the cold.

On the otherhand, Acquia has tremendous resources at their disposal, there are integrations with AWESOME services like New Relic; 24/7 Support; an incredible knowledge base (their forum and docs are top notch); and folks that help you diagnose issues and plan things out from the start. So Acquia really provides end-to-end support, where we come in at the end of a project or after it has been completed for a while. Acquia's Support dovetails with their Training and Hosting, but they don't do development which is of course our bread and butter. We overlap a bit on Training, but our training tends to be specific to the client and the custom code; whereas Acquia provides more general Drupal training, best practices, and even introductory Drupal development.

Acquia also has Enterprise Support. We have worked with clients that literally had to have enterprise-grade support in order to use Open Source software like Drupal. For larger corporations, it's often more about the risk profile and the accountability of the of the provider than anything else. So it's nice that Acquia provides this infrastructure and literally enables us to get jobs we otherwise could not.

So we are definitely happy with the services Acquia provides and find that they naturely complement ours.

Lastly, I have to mention a TON of the code in Drupal core and contrib is from Acquia rock stars! Besides being super cool in and of itself, they have an amazing amount of institutional knowledge of core and contrib code and functionality. So that adds another pleasant emotional component to our partnership with them.

3. What kind of trends have you noticed on our Support work?
Well, we usually go from fixing or finishing sites to full on day-to-day support work, where we respond to new business needs or make smaller adjustments that take a couple of hours or less. So this general long-term trend toward stability is something we are seeing with a lot of the clients.

As far as trends in Drupal or across clients, there's lots of movement toward mobile. Clients are super interested in the mobile space: iPhones, iPads, and Android. Clients want their websites to be mobile friendly and optimized.

4. Who is our best Support client and why?
Ha, well I couldn't say a single client is the best client. But Astor & Black in CA are a good one. They understand the development process, how we run our business and that we're a consulting company. They pay for our time and knowledge, and we feel respected and a valued part of their team. Richard Valve is another good one. They have 3 sites with us, and we're going to have 4 more sites soon.

Usually what works best for the support team are mid-sized businesses, although we work with some larger and smaller ones of course too. They understand that there is an inherent cost for doing things, they respect our time and our processes. They're also the most appreciative. They can extract themselves from the day-to-day and focus on the larger picture. They have multiple stakeholders that discuss more about what the project needs to be and then make group decisions accordingly.

5. Why should clients start to think about Support sooner rather then later?
If you don't stay on top of maintenance issues and updates, you'll quickly get to the point when it becomes a big issue. And then all of these deferred costs add up and multiply, so it becomes much more costly. Planning ahead makes things so much easier.

6. If there was one piece of advice you would tell a new Support client, what would it be?
To think through your request. Understand what you really want and are asking for. Really a good support strategy is all about planning. If you plan ahead and plan for a flexible framework and feature-set for your website going forward, you are going to allow yourself much more freedom in the long-term. Drupal is inherently super flexible, but this flexibility can at the same time be Drupal's biggest downside. So it's critical to think long-term about the functionality you want your site to have. It might cost you a few extra hours now, but in the long-term you're going to be way better off!

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