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From zero to hero: Suncorp's Drupal 'leap of faith'

When the Suncorp Group tapped Drupal to manage its online presence, it was not a straightforward decision

For Chuong Vu and the other members of Suncorp Group's new media team, the decision to standardise on Drupal to manage the banking and insurance corporation's Web presence was not a decision taken lightly.

When Suncorp took the first steps on its Drupal journey on 2009, not only did going with an open source solution for Web content management seem like a radical decision for a bank, but there was a complete lack of Drupal infrastructure within the bank and almost zero experience with Drupal within the team itself.

But Suncorp desperately needed a new Web platform, and needed it quickly. The 2007 acquisition of the Promina Group had meant the company had a strong portfolio of brands, but also meant that its online presence was governed by many disparate systems.

The brands that comprised the Suncorp Group "had their own systems, their own processes, own cultures," Vu explained during a presentation at the inaugural DrupalCon Sydney conference.

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"The challenge for us was to bring it all together and merge it so that it became one group, one team. But that took time, especially in the Web systems."

"We had systems that were running on personal servers, systems that were outsourced to agencies; we had even systems running on laptops," Vu said.

"It wasn't an ideal situation. Companies [that made up the group], because they were quite small, they can't afford to have large systems to run their platforms, so they had to make do with whatever was there.

"And as a result around that time, even though we knew that online was an important channel, it wasn't really profitable for Suncorp."

The sites made money, but they weren't profitable because maintaining them was so expensive.

"Most of the sites were actually non-supportable," Vu added. "There was no system to actually produce content, create content, maintain content. [Content] was created once and remained for quite a while."

Even a typo could last for five days before a corrected version of a site could be pushed live. There were also security risks inherent in the web of systems used to maintain brands' online presence. In addition, the sites were not designed to be search-friendly — consumers would often have to know a product existed, and know its URL, in order to find it.

Suncorp group needed a flexible content management system, and needed it fast if it was to keep up with its competitors in the online space.

Even so, choosing Drupal as a standard Web platform for the bank was a radical decision. However, the CIO at the time "had a vision that said the future is open source, and that's where we headed," Vu explained. Prior to this turn to open source, Suncorp had been very vendor-centric, Vu said.

The company conducted a rigorous assessment process and considered a number of open source content management systems, including Drupal, DotNetNuke, Joomla, WordPress and Liferay, as well as IBM's proprietary Web Content Management system.

(IBM was one of Suncorp's major vendors, and the level of Java skills within Suncorp made choosing WCM a possibility, but Vu said that it wasn't chosen because they felt it lacked the flexibility Suncorp was looking for.)

The current version of Drupal at the time was 6, but the team also considered the system's roadmap and the enterprise-friendly features slated for Drupla 7. In the end, the Web framework's roadmap was the most promising out of the content management systems the team looked at.

Drupal "was the most flexible, the most scalable, and the community was very active and growing very quickly," Vu said.

A key factor that allowed the team to move ahead with Drupal was successfully bringing management on board.

"If you're in an enterprise, trying to get some of these fundamental changes through can be quite hard," Vu said. "The number of processes and the red tape you have to go through can be quite challenging unless you have that support."

Not everyone was convinced of the decision at the time. "Some of the main concerns were that 'we're an enterprise and we're using open source. Open source is not safe'... That was one of the concerns.

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