January 23, 2013, 11:56 AM

How Drupal 7 opens up business for e-marketplace OpenSesame

With Drupal, OpenSesame says it can better manage content for hundreds of sellers.

Lead Photo

Kelly Meeker

Since launching in late 2010 as a web marketplace for buyers and sellers of online training materials, OpenSesame has quickly grown to offer content for more than 21,000 courses from more than 260 sellers. But less than a year into its business, it realized it needed to upgrade both its content management system and e-commerce platform to handle its growth.

OpenSesame.com was initially built in-house on open-source shopping cart software from UberCart along with the Drupal 6 open-source content management system. In addition to serving up content for the thousands of course materials—offered in dozens of categories ranging from business marketing and web design to electrical safety and health care techniques—OpenSesame also must pull many reports for its sellers. The reports, requested by OpenSesame’s largest customers as well as its sellers, cover such areas as the most popular sellers and products, and the highest value customers.

But generating the reports consumed too much of the time of OpenSesame’s software engineers, says Kelly Meeker, community manager for the e-marketplace. In early 2011, the company decided to upgrade to Drupal 7, which offered more sophisticated software modules for managing content. It deployed Drupal 7 through Drupal Commerce from Commerce Guys, a company that specializes in deploying Drupal technology for web site clients. Drupal Commerce also provides OpenSesame with a new e-commerce shopping cart for processing purchases. OpenSesame is privately held and doesn’t report annual revenue.

The immediate benefit of deploying Drupal Commerce was in the amount of time saved by OpenSesame’s software engineers in pulling custom reports, Meeker says. “Instead of using an engineer’s time to run sales, customer and accounting reports repeatedly, Drupal Commerce allowed us to automate that activity completely,” she says. “With all the reporting required by our enterprise customers and content partners, this easily saved dozens of hours of engineering time every month.” Enterprise customers include large organizations like corporations or hospitals that buy training materials in large volumes.

The new Drupal Commerce platform also meshes more smoothly the Drupal 7 content management software with the online shopping cart for managing the issuance of course licenses, Meeker says. “OpenSesame’s proprietary course delivery technology requires tight integration with Drupal Commerce,” she says. “When a customer completes a purchase, OpenSesame automatically generates a custom license to deliver the courses purchased.” That requires the Drupal Commerce system to collect the appropriate content about each course, plus such information from each customer as the number of licensed users, to generate a license. “Customers can now purchase courses using a credit card and download license files instantly,” Meeker says.

Other advantages of Drupal Commerce not available under the prior set-up, Meeker says, include:

● Sellers can upload their own course content for sale;

● Sellers can create multiple tiers of product pricing discounts based on the volume being ordered;

● The OpenSesame marketplace now automatically figures the revenue share it receives from each seller, which is based on each seller’s agreement with OpenSesame.

Working with Commerce Guys and design consultants, OpenSesame’s in-house team of seven software engineers took about 1,800 engineer hours to complete the upgrade to Drupal 7/Drupal Commerce, Meeker says. Among the more challenging parts of the upgrade was integrating open-source Apache Solr site search technology with Drupal 7, a complex process that took extra time from software engineers, Meeker says.

Going forward, OpenSesame plans to continue adding more content features, including wish lists and the ability to bundle products from multiple sellers in a single order, Meeker says.

Drupal 7 and Drupal Commerce are free to companies that want to deploy it themselves. As with all open source software, users have access to the software code for building their own application, in OpenSesame’s case a Drupal content management system integrated with an e-commerce platform. Commerce Guys provides consulting, training and expertise in deploying Drupal Commerce and developing additional software modules.

A web site owner working with a software consultant could deploy Drupal Commerce for as little as about $5,000, though Commerce Guys generally deals with projects for which it and possibly other participating technology services firms may charge a total of about $100,000 in fees, says Commerce Guys president Mike O’Connor.

Commerce Guys also provides site hosting services and operates Commerce Marketplace at marketplace.commerceguys.com, where companies can search for other vendors that provide technology and services for Drupal Commerce. These other vendors include be2bill for online payment systems and Yotaa for web site optimization.
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