After exactly 11 years of running miggle, the last seven of which have been as specialists in providing solutions in Drupal, I have decided to make a significant change in the services we offer, which I believe will still be true to the core mantra we’ve always worked by. This is to be a safe pair of hands, delivering operational freedom for our clients in order to help make them self-sufficient.
A big part of operational freedom has always been about us being honest when we think our clients should embrace change, even if that means we part ways. We did this in 2011, when we started to pare back on offering content management services, because we thought there were more cost-effective ways for our clients to access those services. Now, in 2018 we’re at that point again, in terms of how we offer Drupal web development services.
We’re very proud of our involvement with the Drupal project. In the seven years we’ve been working with the CMS we’ve seen it mature as a flexible framework, suiting complex client requirements. The power of both community and open source have been key in this journey and Drupal 8 embodies this. It’s a very impressive piece of software, and as its founder Dries has said, it’s perfect for ambitious digital experiences.
This has, however, created challenges for us as an agency. To move our business forward we’ve needed to be in a position to win the sort of work to which Drupal 8 is best suited – those larger, ambitious projects. At that end of the market we’ve found it harder to compete with suppliers who have more established sales and marketing resources than we do. Often they’ll offer a wider breadth and depth of services across a range of technologies and functions. A number of these also make use of less costly labour outside of the UK, not always by outsourcing, but by virtue of having dedicated international offices.
At the smaller or less complex end of the web design/development market, the process has become increasingly commoditised. While Drupal 8 is perfectly suitable for building smaller sites more easily than its predecessors, there are sometimes more cost-effective and quicker ways to build simple sites. Many of those options have a lower technical ceiling, but many organisations see these restrictions as risks worth taking.
We’re also finding that a lot of remaining Drupal 7 site owners, who are looking for new suppliers, do so because existing agency relationships have failed, either with outfits going out of business, or with sites being in a poor state of repair because of a lack of application of Drupal standards, investment or just keeping up with security updates.
Digital is also becoming more complex. Best practice demands improved processes, increased skills, more compliance, tighter security and heightened performance. This all costs more. The clients that understand that are harder to win because they’re generally after a full service offering that goes beyond what we do. The ones that are still in trouble with the basics don’t know what they don’t know, and as such, often make unfathomable decisions. miggle have found that hard. I’ve found it very frustrating. We’re often finding ourselves in the middle between commodity and enterprise.
If I were ten years younger, and at a different point in my home life, I’d look to rise up and address these challenges, as they are all fixable - and not use them as excuses. However, the more miggle has grown the less excited I’ve become about maintaining it as the type of agency needed to continue being successful at taking on projects lock, stock and barrel.
The driving force however is that I also feel it’s time for a change at home too, as well as work. I count myself as extremely fortunate that I am in a position to have the options to alter both. I want to spend more time with my family while they seem keen to spend time with me. That time is now. I can work longer hours again in 10 years time when, fate willing, that isn’t the case, but I’ll have to fund them to do stuff anyway!
While I’m not yet sure on what is next professionally, I want to look at how I can use more of my own skills, rather than feel overly reliant on the talents and efforts of others: namely the hard-working, exceptional miggle team. I’m yearning to do more hands-on product management. I’d like to spend some time focussing on seeing if there are ways I can help businesses make more effective supplier or partner decisions, as well as support them with resourcing projects which are predominantly delivered by in-house teams. In fact, on this last point we will continue to provide those services for clients who engage us on that basis already. I’d like to help organisations understand more about their objectives and help establish what their digital needs are – what the investment case is based on what they know about their sector, their attitude to risk, their audience and what digital means to their organisations. These are all potentially directions I’d take miggle in.
I’d also like to help other agencies and freelancers look at how they can be more efficient. I’d like to put my Small Business Mentor hat back on again and see to what extent I could help people who are running their own outfits, whatever they are, and especially where they might need help with digital and IT. Fintech is an exciting area, especially around blockchain development and I’ve been writing a bit on that of late.
Finally, in terms of my own education, I’d like to study further and maybe even get a few bits of training under my belt. One downside of having worked in digital for 23 years is that my various roles have always been either senior enough, or in the early days, indescribable enough, for there never to have been a need to look at things like Scrum certification, as an example. That 23 years has also seen digital affect the most profound sense of change on society so quickly that I don’t think we’ve even stopped to think about it. Some anthropological shaped post-grad study might help me get my head around that a bit.
So, how does this affect miggle and our clients? Well, having communicated this to my team back in September, in November I started explaining to clients that we wouldn't be able to support them in web development beyond August 2018. The window we're in gives everybody time to plan an effective migration - and for most this is now well underway. The smoothness in which that can be executed for me is the best bench test there could ever be for what we’ve always called ‘operational freedom’. Belief in open source is key to that, and in that respect, our clients have made sensible decisions by being on Drupal. As such, they are all well placed to move onto greater success. Making that work is of primary importance to me, alongside making sure that for the miggle team, as the strategy changes and as what I want out of life alters, I can support them in that transition too.
This after all is the very least I can do. I've had a lot of support from my team and clients in the past, and throughout this process, which I'm very grateful for.