Deep into Drupal, Cisco starts to give back to open source community

Cisco Acquia

Cisco's Jamal Haider, speaking at Acquia's Engage conference, has encouraged his team to use Drupal's standard modules to benefit from the open source community's efforts.

Credit: Bob Brown, Network World

Cisco’s Jamal Haider acknowledged during a presentation this week that his team that works on the company’s open source-based customer support portal hasn’t given much back to the wider Drupal community yet, but he said this talk at the sold-out Acquia Engage conference in Boston is part of an effort to change that.

And why not? Cisco has plenty of reasons – more than $400 million of them, in fact – to be grateful for Drupal since migrating its Support Community portal to the open source content management system early last year. Cisco started working on project requirements in 2013 with Acquia, a SaaS provider that has commercialized Drupal offerings.

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Haider, Cisco’s director of social, SaaS and mobile platforms, claims the company has saved hundreds of millions of dollars since revamping the site, which previously was based on technology from Jive Software. These savings are attributable largely to “deflecting” the cost of supporting customers – in other words, enabling customers to help themselves through a greatly improved portal rather than getting on the phone with actual Cisco technical support personnel. Haider cited a 77% deflection rate thanks to the portal, which Cisco aims to make the place to go for detailed technical, and some marketing, information.

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Cisco’s online support community has been around for 12-plus years, originally as a forum. Now it is a bustling center of customer activity with a modern user interface that attracts more than 38 million visits a year and counts 600,000 active users. The multilingual site delivers a wide range of information on everything from routers to switches to wireless to security, including in video and document formats. The portal also ties in with information on Cisco events and products, as well as with the company’s social media channels. Cisco even drums up revenue by running ads from other companies on the portal. Key to the Support Community's success is the contribution of Cisco Designated VIPs, non-Cisco employees from professors to consultants, who provide answers to those asking questions on the support site.

Haider, who earlier in this career worked for Apple and Microsoft, says about 40% of the modules Cisco uses on Drupal are customized, though he has encouraged his team to use Drupal’s standard modules whenever possible “so that way we can get the benefit of what’s available in the community vs. doing everything custom [and then having to do the maintenance work].” He said the feature velocity of Drupal was an attraction.

When asked about whether Cisco had contributed any of that custom module work back to the Drupal community, Haider replied "I would like to say we have but..." that his small group had not had a chance to do so, even though they have "done some cool stuff."

Doing so might become more feasible given that Cisco has built up its internal Drupal expertise over the past year (Haider's overall team has now grown to about 25-30 people, not all of whom work directly for Cisco.). Haider said appearances like the one he was making at the Acquia event, where 550 Drupal enthusiasts congregated, could be seen as a start. 

Going forward, the Cisco Support Community team has plenty in development, including advanced personalization capabilities, a responsive mobile app and better integration with Cisco's events organization. What's more, Cisco is working with partners so that they can spin up their own private-label versions of the support community portal via a SaaS subscription model.

This story, "Deep into Drupal, Cisco starts to give back to open source community" was originally published by Network World.

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