Drupal Support Demand Picking Up : How To Find Quality Help

Drupal 7 release has been very well received by international clients. We have already developed 5 sites in Drupal 7 and are working on few more.

I recently engaged an intern and asked him to review current state of Drupal Support and how clients are coping up with Incidents, Upgrades and Issues with manpower crunch. It seems that most Development Shops and clients are struggling to find resources who have deep Drupal Expertise.

This is also impacting their ability to upgrade their site to Drupal 7.x. Of course, I personally do not think Drupal 7 is yet fully ready for any Large 6.x to 7.x upgrade as there are still many issues in core/contrib modules that keep cropping up and slow down the upgrade/development cycle.

There is a huge rush from clients to move to Drupal. We have also received inquiries from other technology product companies to help them in writing custom integration modules that will help in wider adoption of their products by Drupal community.

I then went deeper in our discussion and asked – “What are the top 5 things that clients would want to see in Drupal community?”. We looked at many challenges faced by clients like Developers Dropping projects midway, Incorrectly coded site, Unable to find skillset, What was a hobby project now is a large site and wanting inputs how to monetize it so it can be self-funded, performance & scalability issues, how to be informed on “What is the next cool feature I can add in my site”, How do I protect my Intellectual Property, and of-course – Where can I get emergency support….

When I analyzed this at 10,000 feet level – one thing comes out clearly.. Quality Advisory & Support is lacking. So next question is – how to identify quality resources? We had many discussions on Certifications and many who started Drupal Certification initiatives including ourselves did not come through with it. We couldn’t get the Drupal Certification project going due to a) Workload and b) Attrition. After executing 130+ Drupal Projects, I really wanted to see if I can help to bring out Drupal Certification that will help community in general. When I looked at resource commitments and did a budgeting exercise, it was a huge effort that I think I was not ready for. If some organization can take this up, I think it will be a huge money spinner for them.

When a new client looks to get his site developed, he has a challenge to find one in thousands of developers. Working with freelancer has risks in itself like he may get sick, not have full skill-set for a complex site, may drop project mid-way,etc. On the other hand working with consulting firms also has challenges like fixed price, support model, etc. Most Drupal projects have heavy needs in beginning and once the project goes live the resource requirements go lean. This is obvious as Drupal being CMS, many small clients would then only require limited hand-holding. The shops would move on to new projects, large projects and when a support request comes from and old client after say 3 months – they may not have time to promptly reply to them. Secondly these shops would have to bill them for analysis, downloading code and db to dev env, making changes, uploading back, invoicing, etc. Most of the time clients who earlier paid for all such times will frown on seeing costs. They do not understand that the moment their support request comes, a resource drops his work and spends actual hours in doing all of the above only for client. Time spent on client’s activity is to be billed to the client. I can gurantee that almost every client thinks that 30 min support request should not have 2 hour billing but they don’t understand that there is actual 2 hours spent for them to help them.

So what happens? – Interactive Agencies, Small Dev shops, etc tactfully drop support and try and help client transition support to some other player. They recommend to find an offshore partner for long term support. But offshore partners also have similar challenges as Drupal skillset demands are huge. So client ends up in no mans land and starts cursing “Drupal” when he has issues.

Here is what I always recommend to my clients :

1) Have a long term retainer with fixed monthly hours booked with you dev shop. This way they will keep up staffing levels and are bound to provide you Drupal Support when issue arises. Consider this as insurance payment that you pay on month to month basis. We have many clients on this model for last 4 years and have not had a single complaint of not providing timely support. And at the same time we also do not have financial implications as sometimes the support request is very light and we still get to bill the client. Challenge for us is when request comes at short notice for a urgent feature request with short delivery time and when this happens with multiple clients in parallel, we have to provide support. Of course we bill for additional time spent on development but our staff works overtime when such a situation arises.

2) Hire ethical resources. Find out companies who will go out of the way to support you provided you also reciprocate, understand that they are working in your interest and pay them for their time.

3) Do not try and work directly with employees of companies if you have signed non-solicitation clause. You are hurting the Drupal ecosystem in doing so. Employees working in offshore firms are very unethical in this regards. They directly approach end clients and work directly with them and leave their parent companies. Any business will not want that and if clients think themselves, they would also not want this in their business. So please avoid this.