A scalable Drupal multisite for event agency OGZ with technical and design highlights

The case
Publishing / Media
Organisatie Groep Zuid (OGZ)
ShopWorks created a multi-site for OGZ that included external interfaces, an improved event schedule, and a new design. Technical challenges resulted in a keen eye for detail and solutions that retained all the requirements specified by OGZ. All the sites have their required functionalities and the OGZ design, yet also still have their own look and feel. The goals that OGZ had envisioned for the w
Project description
1. Intro
Organisatie Groep Zuid (OGZ) is a full-service, independent agency that organises various trade fairs in the Netherlands and Belgium. Their portfolio includes a wide range of events, co-productions and conferences in such sectors as e-commerce, IT and education. Quality, added value and relevance are important cornerstones in the work that OGZ does, supplemented by a client-oriented approach. Building on that, OGZ aims to provide the perfect platform for organisations and institutions to showcase themselves and inspire their visitors. Events such as the Webwinkel Vakdagen, Big Data Expo and Onderwijsbeurs are a few examples of what OGZ organises.

OGZ and ShopWorks worked in close collaboration to create the new websites for every event in the OGZ portfolio.

2. Background & goals
Maintaining the old websites took a lot of time. OGZ organises many different events, which means that they also run many different websites. Each website demands a certain amount of maintenance and upkeep. Also, with each new event that was launched, they needed to build a completely new site and system all over again. Moreover, various functionalities were no longer running properly, and the overall design was in need of an overhaul.

Important goals for OGZ in the creation of the new website were:

• being able to implement modifications themselves
• platform scalability
• speed in setting up new sites
• branding: more unity and uniformity between websites
• responsive platform

The scalability of the platform is an important aspect for OGZ. They wanted to be able to apply newly developed functionalities directly to all event sites. Speed was also an important item. OGZ wanted to realize a platform where the organization could launch a website for a new event in a very short time (days instead of weeks) that immediately had all the functionalities of the platform. In addition, a fully responsive platform was an important precondition for OGZ. They came from a situation with several separate mobile environments, which were managed separately. Finally OGZ also prioritised recognisability and the value of the business case. As a forward-looking and progressive organisation, OGZ is always working on optimising their services and processes, and of course that also includes their websites. The consistently recurring question is ‘what are the benefits?’.

Every year, ShopWorks attends the Webwinkel Vakdagen event, one of the events OGZ organises, so we also view that website from a user’s perspective. From that angle, we were also able to gain insights into improvements and optimisations for users. This insight proved extremely valuable both prior to and during the process.

Based on the information above and a technical inventory of the previous structure, ShopWorks advised OGZ to create its new website in Drupal. The reason for the recommendation was that Drupal is a secure platform with excellent options to interface with the systems that OGZ works with. In addition, the block builder tool provided by ShopWorks is perfect for clients to build and maintain their own webpages.

3.1 A redesigned look
ShopWorks built the new OGZ websites completely from the ground up: from design all the way to functionalities and interfaces. The design of the websites was based on the OGZ company style. Each OGZ website still has the same uniform style, but there is a distinct differentiation in colours, fonts and logos. Each event and corresponding website is recognisable as part of OGZ, but is also distinctive with its own characteristics. The design was worked out in more detail in an extensive style guide.

Event schedule
ShopWorks also designed and created the interactive programme that visitors could use to check out the event schedule for the corresponding trade fair. Extensive filter functions are available, and visitors can browse the schedule with a click and drag function. With the Webwinkel Vakdagen event, it was a challenge to provide a clear overview of the extensive schedule comprising 200 sessions. That is why it was absolutely key to create an efficient filter.

3.2 The multi-site
After thorough research, ShopWorks advised OGZ to use a multi-site and then created one for them. The reason a multi-site was chosen was because a multi-domain approach proved unsuitable for their purposes. We worked from one single Drupal code repository in which each individual site had its own sub-theme based on the OGZ main theme. The Webwinkel Vakdagen website was created first, and then cloned with the same source code and modified per site. Using this approach, each event has its own website with its own style, but at the same time benefits from the same programmed functionalities. This way of working ensures that all functionalities of the system will be available for each website – which was one of the main goals for the new websites.

Peak traffic
Another reason to set up the websites as a multi-site structure was to be able to compensate for peak traffic on the sites. The websites for the various trade fairs usually ‘open’ a few months in advance. However, it is only shortly before the event takes place that it becomes really busy. About a week before the event takes place, most of the registrations roll in; an entire workflow was built to ensure that everything is handled properly and that people receive their tickets. Thanks to the multi-site set-up, individual websites are not affected by peak traffic on one of the other websites.

One central login for exhibitors
Another functionality of the multi-site is the central login for exhibitors. This custom component was a specific requirement of the client. Some exhibitors participate in multiple events, and OGZ did not want to give these exhibitors separate logins for each corresponding event. Now exhibitors can access all the information about the OGZ trade fairs that they will be attending, all shown in a single overview.

OGZ frequently uses the Webforms module on their sites, and some forms include additional opt-ins or calculation modules. Visitors register for trade fairs by means of forms, are entered into the system based on that input, and immediately receive their tickets for the trade fair by email. The forms are interfaced to several external systems: Summit, N200 and Copernica. The same applies to exhibitors. They have a built-in calculation module in the forms to calculate the costs of the stand based on the preferred size and the costs for additional services.

3.3 Interface & configuration management
The multi-site has interfaces with various ERP systems that OGZ works with. N200, Summit and Copernica systems are interfaced and constantly aligned. Roughly speaking, the events organised by OGZ can be categorised into e-commerce events and education fairs. The e-commerce event websites have an interface with N200 in conjunction with Copernica for compliance and ticket system processing. The education fairs use Summit for that purpose, in conjunction with Copernica. In the continued development of the websites, these interfaces will be optimised on an ongoing basis.

A link has also been made towards the 'shop' for exhibitors: the online exhibition handbook. In addition, ShopWorks has made a connection with Datatrics, allowing OGZ to build better marketing profiles and to personalize campaigns. For this, all Drupal content (speakers, exhibitors) is also available in Datatrics so that OGZ can use this in email marketing and other online campaigns.

Configuration management
Using configuration management, we manage the various sites operated by OGZ. During the process, OGZ wanted to be able to make modifications to various individual websites. To implement these changes without losing the concept of the multi-site, in which everything is in principle identical, we used the Config Split module. This makes it possible to implement different updates and interfaces at the same time, while maintaining individual changes. This saved a great deal of time, since it was now possible to make minimal changes per website.

Block builder tool
OGZ specifically requested to be able to implement changes in the new websites themselves. To achieve that, ShopWorks used the block builder tool. A proprietary production by ShopWorks, this tool enables the user to easily build a page and configure it to their own preferences by using blocks. The blocks consist of texts, images, videos, webforms or other custom elements, like a block introducing the speakers at the events. We started out by taking inventory of what type of stacks were needed, and then we created them.

4. Results
In the project for OGZ, we eventually delivered 17 websites, all of which operate from the same Drupal code repository. Because of this set-up, all the websites can use the same functionalities. With the new design, each website has its own unique look and feel, but based on a uniform, recognisable and consistent OGZ style. That means that all the goals for the new websites have been achieved.

OGZ recently also switched their own company website to Drupal by using a clone of the project repository. Due to the various stacks that we had already built for their trade fair websites, they were able to build their new website with minimal assistance from ShopWorks. The new ogz.nl website will go live very soon.

The current OGZ websites:
The biggest challenge in this project was the technical aspect, specifically what it involves to create a multi-site that met all the OGZ requirements correctly in a way that could be sustained in the long run. Since OGZ also wanted to be able to make various changes in the individual websites, we faced the challenge of designing a technical structure to accommodate that. This is where the Config Split module proved effective.

Another technical challenge was in deploying a multilingual website interface. The first website in this project, webwinkelvakdagen.nl, was set up based on Dutch and English. Each subsequent site would then be rolled out in both languages. And then OGZ indicated that one site should be set up in Dutch and German, not in English, but a number of other sites only needed to be in Dutch. Although this request did not seem complicated at first, it proved to be very difficult to add or remove a language for just one website, in conjunction with configuration management. In the end, we solved it by enabling Dutch, English and German for all sites. Now OGZ is able to use the language switch to decide per website whether or not to use multiple languages.
Community contributions
At ShopWorks, we firmly believe that collaboration and interaction with the community are key. However, the majority of the projects we carry out are so specific that it is not always possible to give something to the community directly, for instance in the form of modules. Thankfully, we can do so indirectly. With our beautiful Drupal projects, we hope to inspire other users and showcase the tremendous possibilities offered by Drupal, even when designing tailor-made solutions. Drupal is highly flexible and can deliver on virtually any requirement.

In the OGZ project, we built an address field type webform linked to a Postal Code API. When the visitor enters the postal code and house number, it looks up the corresponding street name and city to ensure a correct address is entered. This tool has not been made available to the community (at least not yet), but it may be eligible for community release in the future. To be continued…