2018 Acquia Engage Conference

While I genuinely enjoy going to developer’s technical conferences, I sometimes learn more about where the industry is headed from gatherings that aren’t quite as focused on code. This year’s Acquia Engage Conference was that type of event.  It provided a glimpse into what technologies enterprise-level marketing clients are looking for and how the industry is scrambling to meet that demand.

While Engage is not as big as say, Dreamforce — Metallica probably won’t be playing Engage any time soon — there are plenty of notable companies in attendance. Representatives from NBC, Pfizer, Accenture, Wendys, Charles Schwabb, and AMD were all in attendance sharing experiences on the Acquia platform and scouting what’s next from the Boston-based company.

Frankly, there’s a lot there: Acquia is quickly moving in a new direction and some of its new offerings are really interesting. If you are a marketing technology manager, you’d have to consider Acquia as a primary support partner. And, if you were carefully paying attention to what happened at Engage, you might have walked away with some of these conclusions…

Marketing Services are Acquia’s Future

Acquia is clearly a company in transition, transforming from a hosting and support provider, to a marketing technology platform that just happens to have Drupal at its core. While this change has been in the works for the last few years, the company became more aggressive in 2018, releasing a slew of new offerings and expanding its R&D budget by over 90%.

The changes are aimed at leveraging customer journeys and content personalization, while rounding out its core services with more robust functionality in areas like DevOps. It’s invested heavily into Lift (content personalization), Journey (multi-channel marketing) and Acquia DAM (large-scale asset management).

Surviving in platform services can be very difficult. To execute this strategy, the company needs to make a compelling case to enterprise clients they can do things with Acquia they can’t do with other providers and systems. Meanwhile, they have to prove that their offerings are every bit as good as those from industry giants like Adobe, Salesforce and even Google.

Lift Gets an Update

Acquia debuted a new interface for its Lift marketing automation platform aimed at simplifying task management and system control.

Lift is one of the most interesting products in the marketing automation space, since it’s designed to deliver content to visitors dynamically across devices based on visitor segmentation rules. This essentially turns Drupal into a dynamic content repository that can respond to visitor actions, devices, geolocations or other segmentation criteria.

While similar functions exist in other platforms, it’s hard to think of a system so completely integrated into a CMS. (Using Lift, a savvy marketing team could create what amounts to completely different websites for users in different segmentations, using any content available across the system.)

When used correctly, this technology can drastically increase visitor engagement. In one session, AMD’s Ron Myer gave a comprehensive overview of how the microprocessor company is using Lift’s personalization services to radically improve its customer engagement scores. For example, when AMD served content targeted to specific device user groups, click throughs went up 220%.

Decoupled Architecture is Front and Center

Acquia’s DevOps capabilities are quite good for traditional development. But Drupal is also a fairly sophisticated system for handling decoupled (headless) projects, and Acquia offers DevOps services for headless deployments making it possible to host both back-end and front-end code on the same system. For the non-technical, that means it’s a lot easier for developers to manage their work.

Acquia clearly sees headless as a path forward and they’ve even released a version of their base ‘Lightning’ profile for headless development. (More on this later.)

Layout Builder In Lightning

If you’re a content manager building landing pages, Drupal’s options for handling page layouts have always been problematic. It’s not that they don’t exist, but it’s never been easy and they’re certainly not intuitive. Jeff Beeman, Acquia’s Senior Director of Product Management, demonstrated one of the new features in

Drupal that is now integrated into its Lightning Profile — a feature called Layout Builder.

Layout Builder is arguably the most important change for Drupal content managers since version 8 was introduced. It provides a true drag-and-drop interface for managing content layouts that finally makes Drupal feel like the advanced CMS it actually is. While layout builder is now an experimental module in Drupal core, it was great to see it in action as part of the Acquia Lightning profile. (In Drupal parlance, an “installation profile” is a pre-compiled package of modules and configuration that add functionality to Drupal when the CMS is first installed.)

Isobar has used Lightning as starting point for site development for the last several years, and it hasproven highly effective. In fact, Isobar used Lightning and Acquia’s exceptional Build and Launch Tool, aka BLT, for Southwestern Health Resources. It was so effective that we won the 2018 Acquia Engage Award in the ‘Lightning in a Bottle’ Category. BLT deserves a full post, so stay tuned for a full overview.

Multi-site Services

One of the most common asks from enterprise clients is the ability to “spin-up” new sites, subdomains and landing pages. They want to do this quickly, without needing the help of developers, and want to do it all at the punch of a button.

While Drupal natively supports running multiple sites, that process isn’t exactly developer-free. It can take hours to set up a new site, and requires tedious repetition. Acquia’s Site Factory is designed automate this process and it delivers on the (almost) one-button promise.

While Site Factory has been around for awhile, its interface was recently updated, making it somewhat easier to use. It’s also interesting that Acquia called out Site Factory at this year’s Engage. There’s clearly a demand for it, but with so many changes happening in DevOps, Containerization and decoupled services, the whole multisite approach to architecture is an area sure to undergo substantial changes in the near future.

For now, though, Site Factory is a solid approach to quickly launching multiple sites.

The Acquia Engage conference was insightful and definitely inspired some excitement.  Stay tuned for more!