What was the scope of their involvement?
Aten moved our news site from WordPress to Drupal 8, and then built some other specific functionality that we needed in order to run our business including applications and forms. Even though they didn’t want to be the project manager, they ended up doing a little bit of that role with us.
When they were really ready to roll up their sleeves and start building the piece for us that they had signed up for, they came to town to meet with us for 2 days to make sure that they totally get everything. When they did that, I was the project owner, and I spent a lot of time with Eric [Senior Developer] and Andy, who has since left Aten. It was really easy to trust them because it was clear that they knew that their work was going to be good. Because they understood the scope of the entire project, they could see where it was going to fail. That’s really risky for a vendor. Some vendors would just keep their head down and not necessarily criticize another vendor, but their loyalty to us as a customer was apparent. That was refreshing.
This is a news site that serves the whole journalism world. It has a custom tagging system. We put all of our courses on Open edX which is a learning management system. Aten built the skin around those courses, so when our customers see the marketing pages for those courses, they’re actually seeing it through a Drupal skin that they developed, and it had to call out information from Open edX in order to display it. They built those interactions.
They also built an application system for us and some custom forms so that we could take information from our clients. They built all sorts of functionality so that we can go to all of our authors and see all the work that each of the authors has done. There are recommended links on the sites for affiliated content. When you go to one article, you see related courses, articles, and other events which they built. That technically isn’t working right now, but they’re working on the fix for that involving an installation of Apache Solr.
What is the team dynamic?
For the build out, Andy originally was the lead, and then Eric took over as the lead. We also had James [Frontend Developer] and Gabe [Backend Developer], and 1 or 2 other people that were designers. There were a couple of other people on the calls we had. Eric is our main point of contact now.
The maintenance has been mainly Monica [Project Manager] and James, but then Eric has stepped back in. It’s such a complicated site and because a lot of the post-launch maintenance is building out new features that didn’t get built out in the original launch, he’s has stepped back in as the lead on that. The team was their decision. They assembled the team that was necessary for both the short-term and long-term tasks.
How did you come to work with Aten Design Group?
We received a grant to do this work. Part of that grant required a 2-step discovery process in order to come up with the RFP. That discovery process was done by firms that the foundation recommended to us. We went through that process and created an RFP that, when I look back on it, it was far from perfect. It was more conceptual than detailed requirements.
We looked for a bunch of different firms to bid on the RFP and to take it. We actually asked Aten to do that, and they said that too much of the work was outside of their expertise. They said that while they were very interested in doing the Drupal development, that they didn’t have a lot of experience with Salesforce and they also didn’t have a lot of experience with Open edX. Which was the platform that we were going to use to house our courses on our learning management system.
We ended up, rather than going with an outside agency, hiring a project manager and doing the work ourselves, and then contracting out the individual pieces of it. That was when Aten came back into play with this particular project. We had a previous relationship with Aten which actually pre-dates me. They had done a lot of Drupal development for us over the years. Because they were already familiar with our existing Drupal systems and because they understood our company, they offered a very competitive bid for re-launching our news site on Drupal. That was originally the scope of the work that we were going to do with them.
The project, from the point that it went out to bid, until the point that it launched, was about a year long. Through that, we had a variety of vendors, and the vendors all had to communicate with each other. Aten ended up stepping up and taking more of a project manager role with some of that because of some of the flaws and the other vendors that we contracted with. They really ended up going above and beyond what they originally signed up for when they recognized that some of our other vendors were in over their heads. And because these systems were supposed to integrate, as Aten was trying to talk to those vendors about the integration, they raised some red flags with us in ways that were very delicate and appropriate. It allowed us to see where the project was about to go off of a cliff, and helped us step in and rescue some portions of the project that weren’t necessarily going to happen, or happen in a way that they could integrate with the rest of the project.
How much have you invested with them?
The overall project was close to $1M, but I don’t know how much of that went to Aten.
What is the status of this engagement?
We’ve had a long-standing relationship of between 5 to 10 years. This project started in July 2016, and they’re doing ongoing maintenance on the site.