Online Management Tool for Your Alliance
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Linked to a database and an administrative control panel, your website may become the only tool you will ever need in order to manage your Alliance. Well-designed websites now do it all: they inform, advise and sell in 3 clicks of the mouse. As the culture of services evolve toward online services, websites resolutely entered their third generation.
The first websites used to serve as a simple business card referring to services you could get by phone, by mail or on site (web presence).
Then came websites that would take user input and send it to the service provider, most of the time via email. Although convenient for the users, this model made up for time-consuming data processing and redundacy nightmares on a management stand-point: user data would have to be be collected and manually re-entered into the many management tools that any office uses (contact database, accounting software, registration logs... etc.). Most Alliance chapters providing online services still resort to this technology; most complain about the waste of time and human resources involved in the process, all recognize that data reduplication creates inconsistencies in the records and eventually failures to provide reliable services.
Third generation websites cut through the data processing bottleneck by fully integrating management tools. The concept is to manage the user input as well as the administrative functions from a single online database: user input enters the management tools in real time and can be manipulated at will on the administrative side.
A Case Study: Alliance Française de Washington new website and administration
The Alliance Française de Washington launched its new website in April 2005. Its previous website, set up in 2002, was designed to collect a wide range of user data that would be transfered manually into 3 separate databases. As the volume of online transactions increased, it was becoming more and more obvious that some system had to be designed in order to automate user data processing. The main concept was to offer services comparable to those of an online retailer such as Amazon.com with administrative tools that would minimize staff intervention on the backend.
Out of the 6 web service providers who had submitted a proposal on this project, the AFW retained Caudill Website Design & Construction, Inc for their commendable experience in contracting for government agencies, for the originality of the solution they brought, and for their convincing effort to understand the specificities of an Alliance chapter. They also had experience in setting bilingual websites, notably English/French. As a result of the database project, the website would be redesigned, future updates to its contents would be made easy for non-developers, an instant e-Newsletter would be added to the main properties of francedc.org. The new system was in development from November 2004 to April 2005, a period during which the original software previously created by Caudill Website Design & Construction, Inc has been adapted to the specifics of the AFW school and cultural center.
To learn more: An Online Demo
You will find here a quick review of the online management tool implemented for the Aliiance de Washington. The online software deals with class registrations and management, event reservations, as well as various purchases (membership, books ...etc.)
As a regular user, you can browse the various catalogs and proceed to online purchases, for which you establish a user profile recording your contact information, your subscription to the online AFW Newsletter, your credit card number (as an option), your various preferences. You may want to experience for yourself the user-side of the management tool by accessing the actual AFW website: www.francedc.org [then 'Sign In']
As an administrator, your user ID and password let you access a secured administrative panel from which you can monitor and edit any administrative function. See LOGIN
The Administrative Panel then allows to...
- monitor in real time all the orders placed to the website ['Orders']
- control separately each type of transaction: event reservations, class enrollment, membership applications...
- create a cultural event and define its properties for the user ['Cultural events 1' Cultural events 2]
- define, browse, edit all parameters for each class (students management, room allocation, schedule, session, costs, materials...) ['School 1' School 2, School 3 , School 4]
- browse and update all the contacts ['Contacts']
- update the website contents ['Website content' and 'Publish' function]
- compose a Newsletter by simply selecting contents and articles which will be automatically formatted by the software according to a template (see Newsletter preview) . The system then proceeds to send the newsletter to the subscribers list.
Some Technical and Financial Considerations: Who Is It for?
The cost of developement represents an important initial investment. This considered, the AFW solution proved competitively priced, especially for being all-inclusive; standalone management tools typically cost as much, or more, than the package that included management, webdesign and the e-Newsletter tool.
If you were to adopt this kind of solutions, your website hosting services would probably need an upgrade. The system indeed runs on a dedicated Windows SQL server (starting at around $90/month for the less reliable solutions).
Since all the transactions and updates are managed online by the administrative staff, your office will also need an broadband internet connection (1Go minimum, about $80/month)
Last but not least, this type of project requires a substantial amount of time from at least one AF staff member, who should act as internal project manager until the development is completed.
So, who is it for?
Online management tools are probably not worth the effort nor the investment for chapters with less than a 1,000 registrations a year (all included, school, cultural events, ...etc.) or, for instance, less than 200 students per session.
Beyond this limit, it is about assessing the 'staff to member ratio' and/or assessing the quality of the service currently provided to your AF members. If registrations always go smoothly and nobody goes home after 8 pm, if the class lists are always accurate and nobody spends several days each month reconciliating records from 4 different databases (memberships, contacts, classes, cultural events), there is probably no need for such a development effort.
With these parameters in mind, it still makes for the only viable long-term management solution for all medium and large-size AF chapters in the US. (Pascal Saura)