We’ve all experienced an “a-ha!” moment or two in our lives. It’s that sudden jolt during a well-established routine, an insight on how you can do what you’ve been doing faster, smarter, better, and with less effort.
In your personal life, your “a-ha!” might save a few minutes in your morning routine or ease a daily chore. But in business, the right insight can lead to more efficient processes, better client service, and ultimately a more healthy revenue stream.
We recently sat down with Justin Wellman and Sean Dietrich from inRESONANCE to talk about how their website development team found their workflow “a-ha” moment. inRESONANCE was founded in 2002 to provide IT solutions for independent schools—including platforms for alumni tracking, fundraising, enrollment, applications and more.
In 2016, inRESONANCE acquired website platform Schoolyard. Helping schools build and administer websites would round out inRESONANCE’s service offering—but managing the service was a challenge for the small team assigned to the job.
Read on to see how standardizing on Pantheon inspired the “a-ha” moments Wellman and Dietrich needed to make Schoolyard a stable, effective service that supports over 100 school websites.
What does the inRESONANCE team look like? What roles and resources did you have available?
Dietrich: When Schoolyard was its own company, I was the only one focused on the technical aspect. We had five people that included one designer, one project manager and one salesperson. It was a small team. When we moved to inRESONANCE, we gained some talent there. We’ve almost tripled our team.
Wellman: We’re a decentralized team. The majority is here in Northampton, MA. Our team here includes a support specialist who handles 95% of our incoming support. We have a site builder, themer, two project managers, me (who fits in wherever I can), then we have a developer in New York and Sean in Sacramento.
When inRESONANCE acquired Schoolyard, what state was the service in?
Wellman: Well, when we acquired Schoolyard, we also acquired their current hosting situation. There were sites spread across Rackspace and Linode. We started moving them to AWS. But we quickly found that supporting the existing Drupal 6 sites and developing the Drupal 7 platform on multiple hosting environments was complicated. We were not equipped to handle the hosting infrastructure and support of these Drupal sites in an effective way, at the level of service we demand of ourselves for our clients.
What were the biggest challenges in your day-to-day operations?
Wellman: I was overseeing the day-to-day operations, and especially the support channel, of the organization. We offer 24-hour support to our clients. But we’re a very small team, and the reality is while we have 24-hour access to support, we don’t have a call center or people who are available 24 hours a day.
So if sites or servers were going down, there were times when no one was available to investigate the issue. Plus, we didn’t have internal talent that was able to understand, diagnose and resolve the problem. It was literally myself and one manager in a completely different department, we were the on-call folks. We were the first to jump into action when a server went down. And I’m definitely not a server guy. I felt like I had my hands tied behind my back, because I didn’t know what to do in most cases.
So it definitely was a support challenge. When and if there are outages, how do we handle those?
Dietrich: From the development side, we had a lot of things to maintain. How do we keep backups current? How do we get the site from the development environment to the production environment? How do we make adjustments to the development environment and push them into production? From a technical aspect, we were finding we lacked people who could do some of these things in a timely manner.
Also, we had multiple servers across three different companies. At one point we had 13-14 different servers to manage. Between that and PCI compliance, running updates and backups, it became a huge headache. We started off with five servers when I began with Schoolyard, and we quickly grew. The biggest issue was we had a small amount of people who could actually manage the servers, and it just became overwhelming.
What were you looking for in a solution?
Wellman: Initially, we were looking for someone to take over a lot of the support burden. Someone who could watch over the servers, make sure everything was up to date and that patches were being done.
We were also looking for a common platform for all of the sites. Even though the majority of the sites were on AWS, they were still in different clusters. We needed a platform everyone could be on. We were looking for ways in which we could streamline our methods of operation, create a common starting point for all of our sites.
Dietrich: For a while, it was me and one other person handling most of the support. Any kind of issues that came up, any needed modifications in code, any pushes from dev to production environment—we didn’t even have a test environment at the time. The majority of the technical work fell on two of us—pushing sites live, making sure we were available at certain times, and on top of that doing additional development of the platform. So we were just lacking in resources.
We wanted to see what kind of tasks we could offload. No longer having to worry about server maintenance was one of them. Not having to worry about pushing clients from a dev environment to a production environment.
Part of the dev team’s job was to create sandboxes for clients to start adding content to, and for our themers to create new themes for our clients. So at any given day, we’re creating 5-10 sandboxes. How can we take this off of dev’s back and give it to someone else to handle and maintain? How can we automate that process?
Wellman: Just keeping security up to date was a challenge. We had to patch sites on a case-by-case basis. It was almost a full-time job, applying security patches and module updates, all of those things.
What led you to Pantheon?
Wellman: I’ve been part of the Drupal community for the past 11 years, so I had experience with Pantheon by way of their community involvement. Sean had experience with them through some of the clients and sites he maintained on his own. So the two of us had positive experiences with Pantheon, and we brought that to the table. We were looking at one other solution, but Pantheon was a better fit for our needs.
Was there a single aspect of Pantheon that set us apart?
Wellman: From an implementation perspective, it was the Dev-Test-Live workflow. It allowed a lot of what Sean was talking about—setting up sandboxes, moving code between test and dev environments, those sorts of tasks we had to lean very heavily on the development team to do, we could take those on in the implementation team. It’s allowed us to be much more effective and efficient at our jobs.
We used to have to schedule the ability to respond to our clients around when Sean was available to the team. With the Dev-Test-Live workflow, my team is empowered to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. That really sold it for me.
You participated in the Agency Fast Track program. How did that affect your onboarding and migration process?
Wellman: The Pantheon team were phenomenal in the way they taught, the way they introduced the platform. But what helped the most was talking through our workflow with them. We had a pretty complicated workflow that was ever-evolving as we were constantly trying to handle these disparate sites and their various configurations.
Steve at Pantheon was willing to sit back and listen to us talk through that, then try to overlay that onto the Pantheon platform. They were a completely neutral 3rd party that could say, “have you considered doing it this way?” And they would watch us try to finagle the workflow to see if that would work, and allow that process to happen. Then they would take us a little bit deeper, matching our workflow to what made sense on Pantheon.
Together we wound up cutting so much unnecessary stuff in our process. It allowed us to be much more streamlined in how we were handling things. They helped us pull our processes apart to see what we could do without involving the dev team in the capacity we had to previously. For me, that exercise of thinking through our processes and having Pantheon offer constructive feedback was invaluable.
Dietrich: We went into the meetings with a diagram of our current process. And we would modify it, come back later, modify it again. Until we reached a point where it made sense, and it was the most efficient for the platform. We learned about the tools that Pantheon offers that really do make work more efficient. That face-to-face conversation was a lot better than trying to communicate with someone through a screen share or over the phone.
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What were your “a-ha” moments once you got Schoolyard up and running on Pantheon?
Wellman: The “a-ha” for us was, “Oh my God, we can create our own sandboxes.” That was such a relief. Then rolling that into the MultiDev concept, and being able to support ourselves… it took a day to sink in, for us.
And it really wasn’t until we started actually building our own sandboxes—I went to my project manager and asked if she had scheduled dev time to start building the sandboxes for a project, and she said she had already taken care of it herself. It was that moment of, “Woah, this is real.” That was my big moment.
Dietrich: My “a-ha” moment was during the Fast Track meeting. We had this huge diagram of all the different steps we were taking, and we saw how we could cut five steps out of the process because Pantheon was already taking care of those pieces.
Like Justin said, when I had a meeting with our project manager to show her how to create the sandboxes, that was another “a-ha” moment. And teaching our support person how to push sites live was another. To this day, I am still having “a-ha” moments as I see what the platform can do.
What are the biggest benefits you have discovered on Pantheon?
Wellman: From a support perspective, we can use the dev environment to test and explore issues that arise. We’ve easily saved 2-3 hours a day, just in that piece.
On the site building side, we can spin up our own sandboxes without having to schedule Sean. It’s saving us 2 days, maybe more, on each project.
For clients, we have reduced the number of voices a client has to talk and listen to. Our team can more directly control the level of engagement with a client. We have much greater control over the flow of how the project moves. Things are more organized from the client perspective. We have to remember that they’re educators—they probably have 40+ other tasks they’re responsible for. We need to be efficient in our engagement with them. With Pantheon, we can provide a higher level of service.
- The Myth-Busting Guide to Agency Growth and Scale [MICROSITE]
- How inRESONANCE Provides Nimble Drupal Development & Rapid Support on Pantheon [CASE STUDY]