Last October I was commissioned by Stone Signs to develop a web portal for them. They needed someone who was both familiar with website design, database design, and applications development. They wanted someone who could pull those three elements together into a web portal development project.
Stone Signs – A Profile
Stone Signs are a long established, family run business based in Worthing. They have provided services to estate and letting agents for erecting, changing and removing sign boards since 1974. They work extensively across the south coast region of East Sussex and West Sussex.
Stone Signs had been receiving requests for signs and last minute changes via email and phone calls. The administrative work to handle these requests from multiple sources throughout the day was becoming costly. They decided they needed a digital solution to their needs. What they wanted was a web portal where estate agents could make and update requests. They also wanted Stone Signs to be able to refer to those requests and plan their work for the day.
Stone Signs went to considerable effort to design a specification for their needs. The web portal would allow both agents and Stone Signs to enter and edit requests. It also would allow users to see those requests both as a list and on a map. Stone Signs wanted the web portal to help them with their invoicing process, generating invoices and tracking payments received.
All aspects of the web portal needed to work on desktop computers and mobile devices.
The Web Portal Design
My first step was to meet with Stone Signs to get a full picture of their needs. From this meeting I then produced a detailed specification and a quote for the project. Stone Signs were pleased with my detailed analysis of their needs and selected me to develop this project for them.
The Web Portal Development
The first step in the web portal development was to decide on the architecture. I elected for a REST based design. This meant the user interface could be displayed to the users while data was still being fetched from the server. It also made future changes to the design easy to implement.
I then began crafting the basic design for the user interfaces. Providing some simple back end data so that they could be tested for display purposes. The data entry pages were straight forward in design, for this project and at the request of Stone Signs I opted for the use of a Submit button. For the lists I opted for the excellent DataTables component. I have previously discussed DataTables in my article on Dynamic Tables. For the map view, I initially looked at implementing Google Maps but ongoing costs made this option too expensive. Instead I chose to use Open Street Maps with OpenLayers providing the API. You can read more about these in my recent article on Map Services.
Once the user interface was completed the next step was to develop the business logic and backend database. This had to be performant over a mobile connection, handle multiple simultaneous requests, and be secure. While working on the business logic, I kept Stone Signs informed of my progress. This allowed them to remain confident in their planned go live date on the 1st January.
Once the system had been written and tested, I made it accessible to Stone Signs so that they could carry out their own extensive tests. Giving them time to request any alterations they felt it needed before they went live.
As with any new system, there were of course tweaks required to achieve the best workflow possible for Stone Signs and their clients. I worked hand in hand with Stone Signs through December, to ensure all their additional needs were met before they opened up their new web portal to their clients.
Once the site went live, I remained on hand to provide any technical assistance needed during the first week of usage. Following the pilot week, I have continued to remain available to Stone Signs for any technical queries or further changes they needed.
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