Beware of the Drupal 7 "Experts"
Drupal 7 application owners and managers are entering a very dangerous period. The available time to get a D7 instance migrated to D9 is dwindling - quickly. Some people anthropomorphize organizations. So (for the purposes of this article), let's assume organizations do have some human-like qualities. Assuming that (and if human nature dictates people are much more likely to make poor decisions when they are feeling rushed), then organizations with Drupal 7 installations are quite vulnerable right now.
They are vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous agencies. Marketing agencies and/or digital solutions agencies, in-particular, are among the worst offenders when it comes to holding themselves out as Drupal migration experts... and it makes complete sense if you think about it for just a minute or two. A marketing agency is very good at targeting specific audiences - or at least, the proficient ones are. Any marketing agency worth its salt realizes when and why certain search terms (e.g. Drupal 7 migration, etc.) are "hot". So, they target those terms... and the less-well-informed can be susceptible to sales pitches from marketing agencies which have (suddenly) morphed into "Drupal migration experts" over the past year or so.
With so many Drupal applications still on version 7.x (and due to the fact D7 will be end of life (EOL) in just over 12 months from the date of this article's publication), search engine queries relating to Drupal 7 and Drupal migrations have been proliferating - and they will continue to do so. The one thing marketing agencies are best at is selling - anything. In this current environment, they're sharpening their Drupal sales pitches. The best defense is to understand the difference between a marketing agency/digital solutions agency and a development agency - and to realize it takes a development agency to properly perform a D7 to D9 migration. (By the way - if you're wondering what happened to D8, you can stop wondering. That ship has sailed. D8 is EOL in just a number of weeks (November of 2021). A D7 site will migrate directly to D9, now.)
Understand, a marketing agency's strength lies in (quite obviously) marketing. Most marketing agencies today focus on winning an organization's business, first. How to properly handle that organization’s business comes in a distant second. In most cases, they farm out the actual development work (the ultimate core of a Drupal 7 migration) to a development agency. Take it from an agency which has received more than its share of marketing agencies desperately seeking a Drupal partner. We get calls regularly asking if we'd be interested in partnering with such agencies to do the development work - and there has never been one case where the inquiring agency budgeted nearly enough resources to make the job they just won profitable for them. So, what do they do? They go to less-experienced (hence, less costly) agencies or (worse, yet) they go off-shore with the work... and in the case of a Drupal 7 migration, that's always bad news.
We're Experts in Drupal and...
This is NOT a fabrication: A read through a very prominent agency's site this morning described that agency as "experts" in no less than nine different, completely unrelated platforms. NINE. Why don't we see doctors specializing in nine different fields of medicine. We don't even see doctors specializing in two unrelated areas - say, obstetrics and neurosurgery. Why not? After all, it's all medicine. Well, it may be all medicine but different parts of the body perform very different functions and (therefore) operate very differently from other parts of the body. It takes doctors years to become experts in a given area of medicine (and they're always learning something new). For the same reasons, we shouldn't see web agencies claiming to specialize in more than one platform. Usually, it's very difficult to become an expert in any one thing. Becoming expert in two or more differing skill sets is exceptionally difficult.. arguably, nearly impossible. It may all be web development - but different frameworks operate very differently from one another. Nevertheless, we see agencies advertizing their development prowess as "expert" in two, three or more content management frameworks every day. When we inherit projects from agencies which "specialize" in Drupal and... (WP, Joomla, Kentico, .NET, etc. - pick one... or three), we adjust our expectations, accordingly. We've seen enough to become quite adept at pegging just what level of workmanship to expect from projects coming from such agencies. These are agencies which are really best defined as "Jacks of all trades, masters of none". We have yet to encounter the agency which can truly lay claim to being "experts" in more than one CMS. Often, the work we inherit from such agencies ranges from "Holy cow. Agency 'X' clearly didn't know what they were doing." to "At least, it's not worse than it is." to "Not bad. They just exhausted their in-house skill set."
Don't misunderstand us. We're not stating marketing agencies have to specialize in a particular market (although, that can be an advantage). However, marketing agencies should stick to what they do best - marketing things. The problem occurs when the marketing agencies morph into "Digital Solutions" agencies. The goal of such businesses is to widen their respective nets and catch as many "fish" as possible. They make it seem as though it's all connected... but that's only true to a certain degree. While most things digital are connected in one way or another, certain items can not (and should not) be lumped together. A marketing agency may be great at marketing your organization's Drupal site but that doesn't make them Drupal experts. Yet, that is exactly what so many marketing and digital solutions agencies are attempting to get you to believe. It's not, necessarily, intentional - but it is irresponsible. They simply don't know what they don't know. It's okay if you don't know something. "I don't know." is a perfectly acceptable answer to a question - as long as you then endeavour to find the correct answer. After all, no one person knows everything. However, marketing and digital agencies don't often subscribe to that belief. They believe an "I don't know" response indicates weakness to potential clients. So, they make claims and promises based on assumptions rather than auditing a client's application and working off of the obtained results... and that is very, very dangerous. They're great at promising the moon. After all, that's their job. Delivering it is another story... and for some organizations, it's a very sad and very costly story.
Usually, marketing/digital solutions agencies will proclaim their selves to be "platform-agnostic" - meaning, they do not favour one platform over another. They will implement whichever platform is best suited for the task. This is an issue in and of itself, as the agencies are almost always considering the current needs of the client. Little (if any) thought is given to which platform may be best suited for the organization's long-term goals... but then, that's part of the plan, isn't it? If the client outgrows their web application, the "experts in all things digital" get to sweep in again and put the client into a different platform. However, the biggest issue with being platform-agnostic is the proclaiming agency has no deep knowledge of any one platform. The marketing agencies assume they'll be able to choose an appropriate platform and then find a development agency willing to build what they need - all without ever really knowing if the chosen platform is the best solution for the intended use case.
Now, it may seem to be the case an agency which is dedicated to one platform will always try to squeeze the solution into their platform of choice... and that has often been the case (insofar as work we have seen coming from other agencies). Many are the sites we have seen which have been built on Drupal - for no other reason than that is what the agency/developer which originally built the application preferred. It was painfully clear the organization's site was constructed on a platform of pure overkill. We've seen plenty of flip-side cases, too... applications built on some other platforms which were screaming out for Drupal. No sane agency prefers to turn away clients. It's only the truly honest agency which will tell a potential client they require a different platform and therefore, a different agency. The way we view the situation, it's our job (as a competent, professional development agency) to guide the client down the proper path - whether that path leads to our doorstep or to another's.
It does no one any good to lead potential clients down the wrong road. Such clients end up with applications which don't truly fit their needs - and the agency ends up with clients who are not entirely satisfied, at best... and entirely dissatisfied, at worse. Usually, it's only a matter of time before such clients become frustrated (Can you blame them?) and goes looking for a new agency. No one wants unhappy clients. It's bad on so many levels. It bad for the agency's reputation. It's bad for the client's workflow. It's bad for resource conservation... the list goes on. Plus, as an agency devoted to resource conservation, we can't stomach the thought of having a client consume resources in a wasteful manner. Putting a client into a $100,000 website when a $10,000 site would have been equally effective (and utilize resources so much more effectively) is just inimical to our ethos as an agency. It may seem difficult to believe but there are some ethical agencies which place values over cash-flow. We're not naive. We simply believe partnerships (of any sort) which endure are only those which leave both parties feeling as though they've received fair value for the resources they've allocated to the project (or task) at-hand.
That doesn't let the potential client off-the-hook, entirely, though. Just because we won't accept a project if we truly believe Drupal is not the proper platform for the organization's project doesn't solve a client's problem. An agency which does specialize in the platform to which your project is best suited must still be located and accepted. We can help (to a degree). We can point clients in the proper direction and give them some helpful pointers regarding what to look for (in both an agency and a platform). What we can't do is the legwork for you.
If Drupal is the right platform for you and you've allowed yourself enough timeline and budget then look no further. You've found the solution to your project or task at-hand. If not, your work is just beginning. Do your research. Make certain you're comparing apples to apples. Don't expect an agency claiming to be expert in nine different platforms or services to be more than "just okay" at any of them. Do these things and you should, at least, get what you pay for (one way or another). Do them not and you will pay for what you get (one way or another).
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