Back to Front

Recently I was tasked at work to create a customer portal, a front end, for our customers to view the inner workings of our back end databases.  The customer portal would give our customers access to their services as well as the ability to directly request adds and changes to existing services.  In addition, there would be a quote tool that would pull from our database to quickly provide quotes to customers on key services and products we provide.

Originally, we had contracted this project to a company , as they had the experience and expertise for it.  In the spirit of cooperation, I put together a Visio of all the database tables, their fields, and what information would be available to the customer, how they would access it, and how they could manipulate the data in the tables (for specific fields).  I even mocked up the design of how the pages would look (mimicking the bill our customer receives from us).

However, after several meetings and viewings of what they had to offer, and after several weeks of no headway or even demos of work they have yet to complete, my boss called me into his office and asked my thoughts on the interface and overall flow of the website in regards to the quote tool.  I told him: “It looks like he’s putting an Excel spreadsheet on our website.”

And it’s still my opinion.  When you look at the order form, all you see are rows upon rows of descriptions and columns next to columns of input fields.  Doesn’t sound very friendly, does it? It certainly didn’t look user friendly when I saw it.  Rows and rows of unrelated fields to choose from. Who wants to sort through that kind of information when all you’re looking for is a quick quote for your company?  It was after this that I made the before-mentioned Visio chart.

My flow chart essentially showed the user only what they wanted to see after selecting some fields.  If they want more information, the flow allows for additional quotes to be combined into a master quote.  Better yet, selections and input not only helps the user get their quick quote, but it also collects their information for us on the back end, so if they happen to call in, we already have their quote and related information ready.  In addition, because we are collecting information such as business addresses, this will allow me to build carrier and service related foot prints for easy access and readability via Google API.  This information can then also be fed into our circuit monitoring database automatically allowing us to further expand those services.

This automation makes mine and my colleagues’ jobs easier as we don’t have to manually input information, risking human error.  Everything is provided by the customer and helps us provide more and better quality services to them.  My interface flow is not only friendlier to the user, but also friendlier for the company.

More to come as the project progresses.