Strengthening the Open Outreach distribution: a SWOT analysis

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Coming from discussion on drupal.org, this wiki page aims to analyze the current status of Open Outreach and generate strategies for improvement via a SWOT analysis and resulting strategies.

What are your thoughts about the strong points and weaknesses of the distribution? What opportunities or threats are out there? What are the most promising strategies for strengthening the distribution? Please add your ideas, either as comments or directly in the wiki!

Please don't delete any existing points and add any new ones to the end of existing lists (since we may use the numbering of points in the Strategies section).

Introduction

It's two and a half years since we began work on Open Outreach, aiming to produce a distribution that would allow even low resourced nonprofit, activist, and community groups easy access to powerful web technologies.

In this time we've achieved a lot but there's a long ways to go. Now is a good time to take a step back and ask: what is required to move the distribution to the next level? to ensure its sustainability?

In proposing a review of Open Outreach, it's important to keep in mind some of the conceptual work regarding target audiences and guiding principles.

Objectives (with a target of the end of 2013)

  1. Open Outreach is adopted by an increasing number of small and medium nonprofits and activist groups with an initial goal of 500 functioning Open Outreach sites.
  2. Those groups successfully using Open Outreach are able to assist newer users offering support and idea sharing.
  3. Open Outreach grows to become more of a true community collaboration rather than solely a project of Chocolate Lily.
  4. Open Outreach developers and contributors are able to earn some of their living by assisting groups with Open Outreach site building, enhancements, hosting or training.
  5. Further development of Open Outreach is funded through client contracts that seek to add functionality that can then be rolled back into apps or the distribution.

Strengths (internal)

  1. The distribution is very well maintained.
  2. The distribution features a strong set of apps suited to many typical nonprofit needs.
  3. There is a dedicated and very highly skilled development team.
  4. Extensive documentation is available on openoutreach.org.
  5. Commercial support is available.
  6. The distribution comes with a responsive theme based on the strong AdaptiveTheme base.
  7. Some of the included features would be costly for groups to have developed specifically for them, such as location and RedHen CRM, thereby providing a solid, economical basis on which to build.
  8. Users are able to selectively enable only those areas of functionality they require, ensuring that the complexity of the site mirrors their needs and abilities.

Weaknesses (internal)

  1. Open Outreach is produced by a tiny (two-person) Drupal shop, [http://chocolatelilyweb.ca|Chocolate Lily]], with limited financial and organizational resources.
  2. The main development team is small and has relatively weak skills in some areas, notably visual design and promotion.
  3. There is little in the way of a revenue stream to support ongoing development and maintenance. Most development and all maintenance is done in kind.
  4. On initial install, users report confusion as to what Open Outreach does. There are few visual cues as to what the developed site will do or look like.
  5. Open Outreach has install-time and post-install resource needs that exceed what's available in many lower cost shared hosting environments.
  6. The distro has relatively basic visual design that may not fit expectations of some target users, who may be more focused on the visuals than the underlying functionality.
  7. There is little information available on actual user experience.
  8. Users may have difficulty customizing the design and layout of Open Outreach sites.

Opportunities (external)

  1. With Drupal 6 ageing, many organizations with Drupal 6 websites face the need to upgrade to Drupal 7.
  2. Numerous groups in diverse nonprofit sectors have adopted Open Outreach. See selected sites listed on the Open Outreach project page.
  3. Several specialized Open Outreach hosting options are available, ranging from custom installation to mass hosting.
  4. Several Drupal contributors and shops have indicated interest in Open Outreach. Open Outreach aligns with the strategic focuses of specific Drupal shops based on shared technologies and strategies.
  5. As Drupal moves more towards serving high-end enterprise users, small groups more than ever need a distribution that will provide an economical yet powerful entry point.

Threats (external)

  1. Open Outreach has little visibility to its main target user groups.
  2. Target groups often lack the financial and technical resources to adopt the distribution.
  3. There's low adoption by Drupal shops and contractors specializing in nonprofit work.
  4. A Drupal 8 version will require major upgrades to the distribution.
  5. Target user groups may have difficulty relating the general distro to their specific needs.

Strategies

  1. Produce a new branch of Open Outreach based on Panopoly, providing much greater control over layout and design. Convert the more general purpose apps from Debut to Panopoly, increasing the potential user base and allowing Open Outreach development to focus in more specifically on nonprofit-related development.
  2. Provide sample content for all apps.
  3. Work to improve affordable mass hosting options for Open Outreach sites.
  4. Produce a set of Migrate classes and accompanying documentation to facilitate migration to Open Outreach.
  5. Provide documentation on how to use Open Outreach for specific use cases. Restore "streams" at install time.
  6. Work with other Apps and Features developers/contributors to test, fix, and apply patches aimed at reducing install-time resource usage. Possibly meantime add patches to Open Outreach. Patches: Rework batching to do one module at a time, Rethink the way features are enabled/disabled, [[http://drupal.org/node/1053608|Increase time limit for features rebuild].
  7. Define and adopt a new structure for Open Outreach that would allow more community collaboration and partnership.
  8. Within a new structure, recruit individuals who can bring expertise in particular areas that are currently lacking. This would include recruiting users to share that firsthand, grassroots experience as well as those interested in promotion and visual design.
  9. Introduce a system for Open Outreach users to collectively sponsor new features, similar to the "Make it happen" CiviCRM sponsorship model.

Comments

Open Outreach + Panopoly + Drupal LTS

niccolo's picture

I think Open Outreach would benefit greatly from shifting across from the Blocks / Context / Skinr paradigm to the Panopoly PANELS ux.

Perhaps a radical approach might be to merge the Open Academy distro (seeking new maintainers) with Open Outreach. There is a very large amount of overlap imho already and instead of a complete rebuild why not merge the two over 6 months?

I think also there should be a big push in Drupal to make Drupal 8 a defacto LTS edition. The refactoring in D8 actually makes this a possibility and quite frankly the TCO of Drupal is high because of an intense upgrade cycle. See this post and comments from crell http://www.garfieldtech.com/blog/off-the-island-2013

To be honest. I think Open Outreach as is, is a threat to custom build Drupal shops. Its the most complete, ready to go, general purpose distro. Its ignored because no one really has an interest in undercutting their own project budgets.

I think Open SAAS providers and big institutions like academies are potentially aligned strategically with the development of OO

Mystery abbreviations

djwesto's picture

Hi there Niccolo,

Your write-up is really interesting but (just to be clear) is there any chance that you could help me by explaining what LTS stands for? And, also could you confirm "TCO" is referring to "total cost of ownership"?

Cheers!

hi.by LTS I meant Long Term

niccolo's picture

hi.

by LTS I meant Long Term Support, as in Ubuntu or Mozilla or other product LTS

https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Releases i.e. Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS is supported until April 2017 https://wiki.ubuntu.com/PrecisePangolin/ReleaseManifest

TCO, Total Cost of Ownership. The Wordpress vs Drupal TCO or the Windows 7 vs Ubuntu TCO. Is it cheaper when everything is costed.. i.e. support, developers, hosting, troubleshooting etc etc etc

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