Websites can do more than "just" present information. Do you have some sort of data management task that involves a lot of manual work? You may well be able to streamline that using a custom web application.Enter survey data

Endelman & Associates@ is a firm in Seattle that conducts accessibility surveys on buildings and properties, and presents a detailed report of its findings to the building owners. They have built out a custom database application that contains a master catalog of the standards, copying those to project catalogs to complete. We are in the midst of upgrading this application to Drupal 9, using progressive enhancements built with Vue.js to make the data entry screens work on tablets, allowing them to insert photographs while they are on site.

Their existing application is in Drupal 7 with a lot of custom Javascript -- progressive enhancements aren't necessarily a new technique. With this kind of application, progressive enhancements make the application work as well as traditional non-web applications -- only parts of the page need to get updated, and the user entering data gets a lot more context to make sure they are adding data to the right place.

Organize Work

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We are building more and more into web applications. In our internal systems, we needed a way to associate work with an invoice. We've built approval screens to reconcile the work we've completed with the invoices we're sending. Other screens give us a view of sites to update, and with progressive enhancements we can drag those sites to "completed" as we work through the list.

There are so many different ways progressive enhancements can improve a website, and most of these delve far beyond what people think their websites can do -- they can revolutionize your entire business! Take a look at what your staff does over and over. Spend a lot of time explaining concepts to users? Consider creating content that can help users learn these concepts on their own, or with organized content you can lead people through in a session all at once.

Spend a lot of time writing similar documents, cutting and pasting or editing a template? Moving this onto a website may make it far easier for users to interact with -- and if there is private data involved, may well improve the privacy and security of your process.

Have a lot of moving pieces to keep track of? Creating a kanban board to keep track of what's done, what's in progress, what's blocked, and what's up next may well improve your throughput and minimize repeating work.

Websites vs Web Applications vs Ad Hoc

If what you have to deliver can be improved through automation or information systems, it might be possible to build into your website, especially if your website is built in Drupal or a similar content management system. But should you?

There's all sorts of factors to consider:

  • Who needs to access the system?
  • Do you have another system already set up where these users interact?
  • Is there related functionality that makes sense to group with this improvement?
  • How much time will building this functionality save your staff when it's complete?
  • Will the quality of your results improve because of this automation?

When we're evaluating a business process to automate, these are the kinds of questions to explore. We manage many stand-alone web applications that are not public facing, and this is often the best way to go. Drupal can be a good solution for these, especially if you want to have an internal portal that aggregates a bunch of different processes. Ad Hoc solutions are generally what you're doing now -- piecing together information from a bunch of different places, which makes the job difficult, inconsistent, and error-prone.

Sometimes it makes sense to build these into your customer-facing sites, especially if what you're trying to do involves a lot of back-and-forth with the customer.

What should I add to my public website?

Certain kinds of websites lend themselves to progressive enhancements of this kind, and building something into your website could prove to be a huge competitive advantage. Some ideas:

  • You want to offer some sort of business process as a service to customers
  • You sell things that require an extensive selection process
  • Bulk-order forms for a wholesale e-commerce site
  • Calculators - e.g. Carbon Use calculators, energy use calculators, payroll calculators
  • Itineraries/favorites lists
  • Prioritization tools, estimation tools

When you start delving beyond delivering marketing messages alone, your website can become far more valuable to your business!

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