Evan Liebman Talks Drupal 8 and the Importance of Community at MSK

Over the past several months, our team has had the pleasure of helping to build Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s (MSK) new sites on Drupal 8. Evan Liebman, Director of Online Communications and Technology at MSK, shares his experience with Phase2, Drupal 8, and everything in between.

Q: How did the culture of innovation and leadership at MSK play into the decision to adopt Drupal 8?

A: When we were evaluating our CMS options, what drew us to Drupal 8 was its clear alignment with several of MSK’s strategic pillars. First, innovation. We have researchers and clinicians at MSK who regularly push boundaries to innovate and generate new knowledge. We are inspired by their relentless efforts and are driven to do the same in our space. Second, sustainability. Because we were migrating from a Drupal 6 site, we had to choose between upgrading to Drupal 7 and quickly following a launch with a move to Drupal 8 or making the leap to Drupal 8, which was still a beta. We saw more of a long-term future with Drupal 8. Third, talent recruitment. The use of Symfony and Object Oriented Programming in Drupal 8 means that Drupal is becoming more accessible to more developers. In essence, their inclusion is a signal that the Drupal community will only continue to grow, Drupal and MSK growing with it.

Q: What was the most unexpected thing about building in Drupal 8?

A: To be honest, the most surprising part was how easy it was! From the things we’d heard, we thought it was going to be extremely difficult, and there was a learning curve involved. But once we’d gotten past that, Drupal 8 wasn’t as challenging as expected. The tools built into Drupal 8 core really helped to speed up the process. For instance, we went from 40 custom modules on Drupal 6 to 10 on Drupal 8 because more functionality was included in core.

Q: What is the biggest benefit of building in Drupal 8?

A: The most beneficial thing about Drupal 8 is the community effort that surrounds it. This is really important to us at MSK. Our clinicians and researchers work together across departments and specialties to give our patients the best care possible. It’s a multi-stakeholder effort. So the opportunity to be a part of the Drupal community, giving to others and knowing that in some ways it comes back to us — that was a major benefit of Drupal 8. Then, of course, there’s the added benefit of having the most up-to-date technology, which is important for being on the cutting edge in the healthcare industry.

Q: What are the most important Drupal 8 modules/code Memorial Sloan Kettering contributed back to the community?

A: One of the most exciting contributions is an alternative to Web Forms we created using YAML, thanks in large part to Jonathan Hedstrom of Phase2 and Jacob Rockowitz of Big Blue House. We’ll be sharing more details on that one atDrupalCon LA. But a big part of our contributions related to un-blocking issues and fixing bugs in core. As of now, 53 patches have been directly contributed and committed to Drupal 8 as part of this project, and nearly 100 issues have been reviewed. All of this work has kept Drupal 8 moving forward toward an official release.

Check out Jonathan Hedstrom’s blog post for details on specific Drupal 8 patches, issues, and modules!

Q: So we’ll be seeing Memorial Sloan Kettering at DrupalCon?

A: Yes, you will! This was a really unique project in that it brought together three different organizations — MSK, Phase2, and DigitasLBi — as we all collaborated to learn the ropes on new technology. We feel it is important that we tell our story together, especially because there is a lot to tell! So you can look for us on stage at the business showcase at 10:45am on Wednesday. I will also be joining Frank Febrraro and Michael Le Du of Phase2 to discuss Drupal 8 for enterprise organizations on a panel called “Drupal 8, Don’t Be Late.” In addition, MSK will participate in several BOFs throughout DrupalCon, including one focused on the YAML Forms module — so stayed tuned for more information on those!

Q: What are some ways in which the MSK team collaborated with Phase2 and Digitas to move the project forward?

A: Before we can effectively collaborate with our partners, we develop a core internal team to help us navigate through the project. Then, it’s very important that each organization had a seat at the table from the beginning, so everyone could see the roadmap from the start. Equally crucial was keeping open lines of communication. MSK really prioritized internal and cross-organizational communication, and that paid off during the later stages of the project.

Q: What advice would you give to other enterprises embarking on a Drupal 8 project?

A: Take the plunge! There’s a sense in the community that Drupal 8 is daunting, and although that may be true in the beginning, your velocity picks up quickly. There’s definitely a learning curve, but it lasts for a relatively short period of time. So if you’re on the fence, go for it! But make sure you choose wisely when selecting your partners. We chose Phase2 because of their experience as early adopters of previous versions of Drupal, and that expertise served us well.

Learn more about Phase2’s work with Memorial Sloan Kettering here.

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