Drupal 101: What It Is, How It Works, Who It’s Good For
If you are in the market for a new website, the research process can be pretty overwhelming. There is no shortage of great web platforms out there, and each one of them comes with a technically complex set of functionalities and trade-offs. If you don’t work in web design, it can be difficult to sift through the vast amount of information that is out there to arrive at the right decision for your business.
Today we’re going to focus on one platform in particular: Drupal. You may have heard the name before but not really understood exactly what it was, or maybe you know a little bit about it, but not enough to make a decision. Well, we’re going to fix that today.
In this article, we’re going to go through a brief introduction to Drupal, explain (in layman’s terms) a little bit about how it works, and walk you through what kinds of businesses stand to benefit the most from Drupal.
What Is Drupal?
Drupal is a php-based, open-source, content management platform. That was a lot of technical words in one sentence. Let’s break it down…
Content Management Platform
A content management platform is like the set of materials that you use to build a house. A house made of brick will be different from a house made of metal. They both serve the same purpose, but which one is better? That depends on who you ask. There are trade-offs that need to be considered.
Content Management Platforms come with similar trade-offs. Whether a site is built on WordPress, Squarespace, Joomla, MEAN Stack, or Drupal, they will all serve the same basic purpose. To look at the front end of the website, it probably won’t be immediately obvious which platform it was built on. However, from the perspective of the developer who is looking at the backend of the site, there’s a big difference. And when it comes to what that developer will be able to do and how he will have to do it, there will serious trade-offs that need to be considered.
This term refers to a fundamental dividing line separating products released into the tech sphere. That dividing line is secrecy. Just like Coca-Cola has gone to ridiculous lengths to protect their secret formula, some tech giants, like Microsoft, prefer keeping the inner workings of their products (mostly) to themselves. We would call this “closed source” or proprietary code. This is the first school of thinking.
The second school of thinking is embodied by the open source community. If a product or platform is “open source,” it means that anybody can “pop the hood” and see exactly how it was built. This enables companies like us to make modifications when our clients have needs that were not anticipated by the original developers of the platform. The nature of technology is to change rapidly, so by taking the lock off the door, open source platforms widen the talent pool of people who are working and collaborating to make improvements. All around the world, nerds like us are working to solve problems and push things forward. In the open source world, a victory for one of us is a victory for all.
Drupal is an “open source” platform, and it has benefited greatly from being so! These days, it’s difficult to fathom a piece of functionality that has not already been developed by the open source community.
Php is the coding language that Drupal is written in. Or, to stay true to our house-metaphor, if a platform is the material that a house is made from (i.e. metal vs. brick), then the coding language of a platform is the molecules that compose those bricks or pieces of metal. Php is not the only language out there, and (just like different types of molecules) it will behave differently in different situations. Many software engineers like php because it’s easier to use than other languages like Ruby, C++, or Python, but it can’t do all of the same things as these other languages. These are some of those trade-offs, we’ve been talking about.
Drupal is not the only php-based platform on the market today. There are lots of other platforms and softwares that employ php to execute their functionality like, to give a relevant example, WordPress! Drupal and WordPress are competing platforms with a distinct set of trade-offs, but they share a common coding language. That should bring us up to speed on what Drupal is, so let’s get out of the weeds now and focus on what Drupal means for you and your business.
Benefits of Drupal
Drupal gives its administrators the gift of control, which can be very precious, depending on who you are. For large enterprises with complex organizational structures, managing permissions and security can be extremely challenging. Drupal does a better job than any other content management platform on the market of allowing site administrators to manage who can control what within their organization. This is valuable for 2 reasons: security and productivity.
Managing permissions is vital to the cyber security of any organization. This is especially critical to organizations that control or interact with sensitive information or data sets. However, this same functionality is also a useful productivity tool because it helps management and administrators delegate tasks and responsibilities.
Universal, Ready-Made Functionality
So, you already know what it means for a platform to be “open source” and the advantages that come with that. Well, this is one of those advantages. Because Drupal is open source, it’s hard to find a piece of functionality that somebody hasn’t already created. As developers, it makes our job a lot easier, and when we save time, our clients save money.
Similar to WordPress-based plug-ins, Drupal uses “modules” that have been developed, tested, and tweaked to perfection by its open source community to facilitate an ever-expanding catalogue of functionality. In fact, Drupal’s open source community is considered to be one of the most supportive and innovative in the world. For this reason, Drupal is the a clear leader amongst CMSs in the areas of versatility, scalability, and data-driven functionality.
At Horton Group, we believe that no two businesses are the same. Drupal allows agencies like us to easily develop finely-tuned collections of functionality that are as unique as you are. Drupal’s interface makes customization particularly easy thanks to a tool called “hooks.” Drupal uses “hooks” as injections points for pieces of highly specialized functionality. These pieces of functionality are best known for their ability to allow you interact with other sets of Drupal-based data in real time.
Once again, a platforms that saves our developers time is going to save our clients money. Rather than forcing us to write the code for every piece of functionality from scratch, Drupal helps us move forward and continue making your website into the digital identity you’ve always dreamed of.
YOU Can Learn To Use It
It’s true that, to take advantage of many of these traits in any sort of hands-on, back-end way, you pretty much need to be a developer. If you’re reading this article, then that probably isn’t you. You’re likely here in hopes of gaining a conceptual understanding of what Drupal has to offer your business.
Using Drupal as a CMS is something that anybody can do. The default user interface can understandably be a little more intimidating to the untrained eye than other platforms like Squarespace, but we can help you with that. At Horton Group, we’re pretty good at designing simple custom dashboards that anybody can use. We’re happy to train you and hand over the reins to your team at your request.
Request A Proposal from Horton Group for your Drupal Development Project
We’ll get the best out of the platform to leave your business better off.
What Types Of Organization Is Drupal Best Suited For?
As we’ve established, Drupal, like any content management platform, comes with trade-offs. It’s your job to weigh the pros and cons and make the right decision. Today, we’ve tasked ourselves with helping you do that, and there’s one last thing we need to tell you.
Drupal can do great things for any type of organization, but the consensus is that it’s better for some types of organizations than others. These are the top 4 types of organizations and businesses for Drupal according to our experience with clients and projects over the last 20 years.
Drupal For Educational Institutions
Education is the Drupal poster child. Schools and educational bodies have a lot to gain from using Drupal as their primary content management system. Why? Because the organizational structures of educational institutions are complex and include a wide variety of large, but entirely separate departments. For school administrators, the task of managing security and permissions can be a real nightmare. That’s where Drupal comes in.
The ability to delineate and actively manage administrative control between different departments and divisions within a single organizational body is a daily need for schools. Switching to Drupal can help, and we can help you switch to Drupal. The University of Minnesota, Georgetown, Harvard, Oxford, and the University of Chicago have already made the switch, so what are you waiting for?
Drupal helps healthcare companies in two ways. The first is security. Organizations working in the healthcare space have the responsibility to guard staggering amounts of confidential information. Drupal is one of the most secure platforms on the market, even more so than its php-based competitors, like WordPress. This is firstly due to the fact that the way Drupal is coded in a more secure fashion than other platforms like WordPress. Secondly, because Drupal has a smaller market share than WordPress (for example), hackers have less to gain from devoting their time and resources to learning how to penetrate Drupal’s security protocols.
The second reason that Drupal is a great options for healthcare companies is the way the platform interacts with large data sets. Drupal is well-known to be one of the best platforms for data-driven functionality that is on the market, and the out-of-the-box data-focused tool kit that comes with a Drupal site has proven to be extremely valuable for healthcare institutions. However, if you need to have custom data tools developed, we at Horton Group can help! Healthcare companies that have already gotten on board the Drupal train include the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Rush University Medical Center, Cancer Research UK, Doctors Without Borders, and more.
Governmental organizations stand to gain a lot from using Drupal as their content management platform. This stems from their need for air-tight security, and granular organizational control. Many government institutions are already using Drupal, most notably, the White House. Yes, the White House’s website was built on Drupal. Other good examples include the Government of Australia, the Government of Bermuda, and the Government of London. That should inspire a lot of confidence in Drupal from the rest of the governmental world.
To echo some of what we’ve already outlined for education and healthcare, the way that Drupal has been coded makes it one of the most intrinsically secure platforms on the market. Moreover, because Drupal’s market share is less than tech giants like WordPress, few hackers are willing to devote time trying to breach this system. Couple that with the ability to manage security, permissions, and control quickly and efficiently, and it is clear that Drupal has a lot to offer governmental organizations.
Last, but certainly not least, we’d like to talk about franchises. Drupal has a wide variety of features and advantages that should be appealing to management in this type of enterprise, not the least of which are security and organizational control. However, Drupal has something special that it can offer to franchises, which is made all the more valuable when it is paired with the ability to delegate, delineate, and micro-manage permissions with ease. That ‘something’ is eCommerce.
Drupal offers sophisticated eCommerce functionality that many franchises desperately need. The multi-locational financial tools that are a staple of this dynamic content management platform allow for rapid expansion around the global. Indeed, when it comes to franchises using Drupal, the bigger the better! Retail giants like Whole Foods, JYSK, and Chem-Dry use Drupal, so why not see what all the buzz is about? If you’ve got questions, feel free to reach out and ask us!