Industry Insights

Why Acquia Pairs Well With the Digital Strategy of EDU

The digital strategy of higher education has the same components as many others, that of engagement, conversion, transformation and curating an experiential journey for the customer, or in this case, the vast array of constituents of the organization. The backbone of any successful strategy is a reliable WCM system that can not only support the demands for content and experience, but also be able to reach every user when and where information is needed, be easy to use for users involved at every level of the organization while maintaining a solid brand presence every step of the way.

Having previously worked in the higher education sector myself, it has been wonderful to see the advancements made by organizations and the ways in which they are utilizing advanced technologies like personalization, cloud, chatbots etc. in bringing the age-old experience of colleges and universities into the modern era of technology. While attending Acquia Engage 2017 in October, I noticed a great amount of customers I was speaking with were from the EDU sector, sparking my interest in why there were so many. Was it a coincidence, or was Acquia a commonly used platform in this vertical, and if so, why? Upon investigation, I found out it was the latter, and I felt this was a great story to tell through a few interviews you will find below.

Flexible and Scaleable Wins the Race

To kick off my understanding, I wanted to start at the source so I sat down with Matthew Gargano, Key Account Manager for Acquia. He spends a lot of time working with many of Acquia’s Higher Education customers, giving him a deep understanding of the strategic objectives and digital roadmap needs of this unique vertical.

Matthew emphasized: “We have found such success within Drupal and Higher Education just because of the fact that higher ed institutions serve such a distinct area within the digital ecosystem, serving a multitude of constituents being parents, faculty and students, they need a flexible and scaleable solution to be able to serve those constituents.”

It is incredibly important for higher education organizations to have a solid web presence to, at a high level, accomplish three major things, attract and inform students, attract and inform parents, and sustain that engagement with information that will carry the student through their entire educational journey with relevant content, for both parties, when and where they need it. Additionally, it should also serve current and potential faculty and employees in the same way.

Individualizing the Student Experience

Now it was time to talk to some customers, to hear firsthand experience of their work with the platform. Mike Fite, Webmaster at the College of Southern Nevada, discussed how their organization, like many other colleges and universities, are understanding the impact their digital presence has on their market of students. For that reason, he was tasked to come in, reformat and rebuild the website for the College of Southern Nevada. Acquia was a great fit for them because they not only offered the support they were looking for from a vendor, but he felt the passion they have for their own students, was reflected in Acquia’s passion to bring the needs on their internal digital team to life within the platform.

One of their needs, was to offer their students a truly individualized experience, which is enabled through the use of Acquia Lift. As Mike explains in our interview, “We wanted to give each student their own interaction”, but further to that, they wanted to empower students with information not only for the current time period but also nurture their transformation towards their career path goals, show them what is available and in terms of advising especially, feed them information that would get them talking to somebody in person.

The Cloud is a Good Place to Be

There is always a process to bringing an organization up to speed, and in sitting down with one of Acquia’s newest customers at the event, Andy Smith, Associate Director, Web Development & Operations at George Washington University, he let us in on his excitement for their move of about 350-400 websites onto their new Acquia Cloud Site Factory, and how he led the charge in convincing his stakeholders of the benefits of the Cloud.

“I have been trying for about four plus years to get my internal people to understand that cloud is good, and I have really had a struggle specifically on the security end of things with people understanding that the cloud is not in a place that is insecure place to be.” There is definitely a freedom to be gained from the use of their cloud is that hosting and support is not something clients have to worry about, leaving digital teams to arrange their workflow around much more timely and beneficial tasks.

SUNY Oneonta

One organization I was also eager to talk to, was SUNY Oneonta, located in Oneonta, New York, as they had recently moved to Acquia Cloud to alleviate some of the challenges they were facing: “Many of Suny Oneonta’s strategic priorities revolve around student recruitment, as graduating high school student cohorts become smaller, future institutional success will depend on maintaining market share of traditional-age students and attracting graduate, transfer, international and online students in greater numbers. Because the college’s website is its biggest recruitment tool, service interruptions, downtime and the inability to migrate key pages into the responsive Drupal environment hampered the college’s recruitment efforts.”

To gain tangible insight on their experience with a move from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 and the utilization of Acquia Cloud, I was connected with Jennifer Smith, Web Coordinator at SUNY Oneonta. My conversation with her is below:

Describe the ways in which SUNY Oneonta are utilizing the Drupal platform?

“SUNY Oneonta recently upgraded from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. Drupal 8 core includes a number of great improvements (reducing the amount of custom code), and will be continuously developed, making burdensome overhauls a thing of the past. Our homepage and campaign landing pages were built to support multivariate testing, using panels. Views allow us to manage content in one place and display it in multiple places, creating efficiencies and reducing the chance of inconsistent information. Workbench gives us the ability to provide hierarchical permissions for unit “micro-sites” that have their own editor(s). Being our first content management system, editors are happy to have WYSIWYG functionality, SAML single-sign-on with our college-issued user accounts, and access to edit their pages from any computer with the internet and a browser. Whether choosing to develop in-house or out-source, it’s important to make sure your developers understand best practices and Drupal standards in architecture, coding and theming. As we experienced first-hand previously, your CMS can become crippled, inhibiting performance and scalability.”

What were the underlying strategic priorities that made Acquia Cloud a great choice?

“Acquia Cloud was chosen when SUNY Oneonta realized we needed an enterprise-level host for stability. Prior to Acquia, the website had been hosted off-site, but the host was not dedicated to Drupal, and the amount of downtime was ever-increasing. The development and staging environments are helpful for development and quality assurance testing before pushing changes to our production environment. Since our development work is completed off-site through a Drupal development agency (including a switch from one agency to another), granular permissions are necessary, and Acquia Cloud makes it administration effortless through the use of individual permissions, as well as teams. Acquia also made requiring SSL very easy. When we made the decision to rebuild the site on Drupal 8, Acquia brought up an additional codebase for the D8 build to run parallel to our live D7 instance, and on launch day, we were able to switch our domain from our D7 codebase to the new codebase with a few simple clicks.”

What are the biggest benefits you have noticed since making the switch?

“Improved uptime/reliability is the biggest benefit we’ve experienced. Other benefits include multiple environments (dev/staging/production), daily backups, ease of adding SSL certificates myself (at no additional cost), and ease of managing users/teams.”


It was wonderful to meet and converse with so many customers from EDU at the event and after, especially to hear one of the reasons the platform was such a great fit is they felt their passion for an impactful college and university experience was mirrored in the Acquia team members they worked with.

I also loved to hear the excitement around the new advances within Acquia and how they would be employed to bring an even higher level of engagement to students, parents, faculty and staff of their organizations. The priorities that underpin the digital strategy of those in the EDU, surround recruitment and engagement but it does not stop there. With the rising number of students who either drop out or change schools before they graduate, it is paramount to ensure the engagement of students and parents for that matter, throughout the entire journey of their educational experience but also nurture the transformation that prepares and propels students into their chosen career path to succeed with all the tools available to them.

Laura Myers

Laura Myers

A digital business, marketing and social media enthusiast, Laura thrives on asking unique, insightful questions to ignite conversation. At an event or remotely, she enjoys any opportunity to connect with like-minded people in the industry.

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