Build a Platform, Not a Site Part I: The Factory Approach

What is a digital factory platform, and what are the necessary transformations an organization must make to become factory ready?

At the 2016 Acquia Engage conference, I stood in front of a customer panelist group ranging from digital platform experts in planning, delivering, and managing a digital factory platform; and I said to them, “We are going to discuss building a platform and not a site today.”

Each panelist knew exactly what I was talking about because each of them – Australian Department of Finance’s Sharyn Clarkson, Nestlé’s Raúl Jiménez, Warner Music Group’s Jeremy Kutner – had made amazing digital transformations from originally building project-to-project websites to building a digital factory that is now the most efficient platform for delivering digital experience content and applications across their entire organizations.

This newfound efficiency has allowed these organizations to bring sites and digital experiences to market twice as fast than they could before, and those digital experiences are more consistent and more effective. If you want to equip your organization to be successful in scaling your digital experiences, the importance of investing in building a platform is imperative. So how do you build a platform, not a site?

In this two part series, I will go through what a digital factory platform is, and I will discuss the necessary transformations an organization must make in order to become factory ready. The first part of the series covers the approach, and the second details the automation.

What is a Digital Factory Platform?

From the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, a span of about one hundred years, the world experienced a revolution in how companies created and delivered goods to consumers. Previously, goods were created by hand. No one item was identical to any other.

This resulted in wasted effort performing the same process many times with minor differences, poor maintainability due to the lack of interchangeable parts, and inconsistent quality control. The industrial revolution changed all of that by bringing scalability, repeatability, and governance to the world of manufacturing.

Today, we are experiencing a similar revolution in the world of digital. Companies face the same problems of scalability, repeatability, and governance, and they are applying the same factory model to the production of delightful and engaging digital experiences.

Consider SABMiller, a company that manages multiple brands. Separate teams manage the digital experience of each brand. Since each team has a slightly different idea of what makes a good experience for every brand, features often differ across each digital experience.

If an organization wants to implement centralized management to ensure the security and maintainability of each experience, they will need to perform assessments and updates for each property, with slight variations every time. As the organization grows, this manual effort becomes unmanageable.

Unmaintained apps become vulnerable to security breaches and degraded performance, putting the entire brand at risk.

A digital factory platform is a highly efficient, standardized approach to assembling, manufacturing, and running the foundation for digital experiences (i.e. digital sites). The digital factory provides the right site components like templates, branding, CMS configuration and integration modules, access control and security, and cloud infrastructure resources to deliver and manage digital marketing and commerce experiences. Digital sites power digital content and applications as a service for the online branding, marketing, commerce, and customer service experiences across your business.

The very image of a “factory” depicts standardized components, processes, and management that work in a hyper-efficient factory automation mode to assemble, deliver, operate, and govern digital businesses. As a result, the digital factory becomes the focus, IT project, and the platform.

With the factory being at the epicenter, the task at hand is to build a platform not a site. Build a digital factory platform that manufactures, delivers, runs and enables all of your digital sites and experiences for your company across the globe.

Inside the Digital Factory Platform

The factory platform is 75% approach and 25% automation. The reason why 75 percent of your efforts should be spent on the approach is because it is the foundational framework and mindset, both technically and organizationally, that is integral to mobilizing your entire IT digital and marketing teams to work in unison as a factory. Adopting both makes it a factory.

Let’s first examine the approach that you need in order to have a functioning factory. The approach is largely focused on organizational requirements within your IT digital team, as the group and its individuals are the ones ensuring the factory is running smoothly. It’s worth mentioning that our approach is meant as guidelines; it does not need to be followed down to a T.

The Digital Governance Team

Start the adoption by defining role-based teams. The exact number of people can vary based on the IT digital organization, digital projects, and overall platform scope. The teams and/or individuals can be centralized or distributed across the organization.

  • The Assembly Role: When building a factory, you’re now in the business of manufacturing sites at scale, not hand-crafting individual items. The assembly role owns the assembly of the shared Drupal distribution. This role analyzes site requirements for content types, integrations, digital assets, and management needs up-front and creates a site model to define the core Drupal distribution. The assembly role provides continuous distribution lifecycle management to maintain Drupal versions, modules, assets, and all platform required code. The benefit is the digital organization can set company-wide standards, without limiting individual flexibility.
  • The Delivery Role: This role is both internal and often an external digital development firm or agency. This role or team is responsible for the process of taking the shared Drupal distribution provided by the assembly team and customizing it to the individual site needs. It becomes a straightforward, less technical activity to customize sites provisioned by the standard platform in which corporate standards are baked in. Creative branding and content activities can work efficiently using the same shared distribution. If the platform does not meet all of the requirements, the assembly role is asked to upgrade the Drupal distribution for new requirements.
  • The Operations Role: The main responsibilities of operations consists of provisioning and operating the digital sites at scale. Working closely with the IT operations and support organization, this team provides all site changes, site content updates, security, and site retirement. Digital sites are the foundation for “living” experiences and the operations team needs to be prepared to treat them as such.
  • The Governance Role: The governance role consists of product or business managers, IT digital platform leaders, digital platform architects, and other experts who are involved in establishing standards and policies to support digital platforms. This role provides a unified company playbook for the people, policies, and standards for digital sites including planning, developing, delivering, and operating digital sites and experiences… basically, everything.
Digital governance team

Organizing and restructuring to be factory-ready can sometimes seem like a daunting task, especially for organizations that have small teams and limited resources. However, digital transformation doesn’t have to happen all at once – in fact, it’s best that you take the time to do it right.

To make transformation easier, getting creative with how you form digital teams and assign certain roles is a must. For example, the digital organizations that have creative and development partners may choose to have their partners as one of the roles listed above (often the partner takes on the delivery role). At Acquia, we provide professional services and dedicated technical account personnel who eventually become part of an organization’s digital team as well.

In the next part of this blog series, I will go through the automation transformation approach. This part of the approach is all about technical changes and requirements.

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