Tag Archives: LinkedIn

The Expansiveness of Mobile Computing

Volume 3, Number 5

What Mobile Computing means to Consumers and the Enterprise

The arrival of the next generation of smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone  and the G1 based on Google’s Android technology heralds a new era in mobile computing. But what does this mean to consumers, and how do enterprises leverage these new devices without sacrificing security?

These are good questions, but let me start out by saying what this article is not. This article is not a review or endorsement of either the iPhone or the G1 phone or any other smartphone as there are simply too many features that matter disproportionately to different types of users.  Besides, there are already plenty of reviews on the specific devices.

Instead, this article abstracts the notion of mobile computing and suggests ways it can and will enhance our lives, whether we are consumers checking our email and stock market investments or as members of a business, collaborating with our peers while away from the office. 

Implementing State-of-the-Art Audience Response Systems

Volume 3, Number 4

“This game is simple,” says Bob Sagat on NBC’s 1 vs. 100 television game show. In this NBC show that airs in prime time on Friday nights in the United States, multiple choice questions are asked, and people are eliminated as they answer incorrectly.

In a “1 vs. 100″ game, a contestant is pitted against one hundred other people, known collective as the “mob,” and collects money for each mob member who gets eliminated. The contestant attempts to increase the pot and take home a sizable amount of money, either the accumulated total of the pot or a million dollars if all members of the mob are eliminated. If the contestant answers incorrectly, the remaining mob members who answered the last question correctly split the pot up to that point.

What may appear “simple” on screen is the result of the successful operation of a multitude of integrated systems in what has to be one of the most technically advanced game shows ever conceived. Behind the scenes is a major IT effort, controlled by a custom version of DataPlex’s state-of-the-art Audience Response System (ARS).

1 vs. 100 set under construction showing four rows of handsets

A view of two of the eight rows
of voting handsets during
construction of the 1 vs. 100
TV game show set (U.S.)

Mob members are placed into the various “pod” locations and often rearranged at the discretion of the director. Each pod has is own graphics display behind the player, microphone and voting handset. There are groups within the mob — lawyers, cheerleaders, janitors, kid geniuses — that are each tracked statistically. Our ARS system supplied through our client Quick Tally Interactive Systems for 1 vs. 100 has a player registration module that is used to set up the demographics and print badges with barcodes for each potential player. Once the mob members are in place in their pods, portable scanners are used to associate all mob members to their locations whose data is then processed by another one of our ARS modules.

Now, how simple is that?

The director likes to know which pods contain returning mob members (mob members who continue to answer questions correctly are carried forward into another game) and how well have they performed in the past. Often, there is a “reigning mob champion,” someone who has answered a significant number of questions correctly over several games. A sophisticated SQL database platform is used for managing the ARS data from multiple games. In a matter of seconds, the ARS data from previous games is processed along with the player location information of the current game, and a report is generated.

There are other IT processes, for example, if a mob wins, a list of the remaining mob members and their information is generated for the show’s accounting department. Also, post production uses demographic-based reports to show interesting factoids on the bottom of the television screen.

Not Your Father’s Audience Response System

A typical Audience Response System, also known as an ARS, collects votes and can generate a limited amount of graphs — bar charts of answer choice selection percentages, pie charts, and some cross reference displays. More recent systems can export directly or indirectly to Microsoft Office™ products, for example to PowerPoint for presentation purposes and Excel for further off-line number crunching. Reasonable stuff, actually.

DataPlex’s experience with audience studies started when in 1980 its early client ASI Market Research wanted to convert an analog dial system to a digital version.  The digital dial version was a huge success and is still used today for allowing audiences to evaluate movies, television shows and commercials before general release.  The audience feedback often had a significant impact on a show’s editing or whether a commerical was shown or not. In the 1990′s this system was expanded for remote voting outside of theaters and for supporting text-based answers by survey respondents.

In 1988, DataPlex started selling its DataPlex DataKeeper, a handheld mobile computing device that featured a world clock, professional time billing, a mileage logger,  and an easy-to-use database manager.  This database manager was used by several customers to conduct surveys where at the end of the survey period, the survey information from each device would be downloaded to a central PC, consolidated, and summary reports produced.  In the mid 1990′s, the DataKeeper received wireless communication capability where survey information and votes could be monitored and analyzed in real-time.  Around that time, several companies developed wireless ARS system packages specifically to handle surveys and votes in a localized region such as a meeting room or a conference hall.

The demands on ARS continue to grow. No longer are more demanding customers content with single location polling and simple summary bar charts. They want to know what’s behind the summary results. They want to compare ARS results across multiple sessions and locations and also correlate the results with those of their other systems.  They want to delve into the data and statistically pull out significant information that will help them improve their business.

On the high end, ARS are expanding above being merely a localized vote gathering tool. Now, it is asked to number-crunch, produce custom reports, feed other systems in real-time, and perform advanced digital and analog I/O (input/output) control.

Metadox ARS performing additional I/O

DataPlex Metadox ARS
Software driving ten individual
player video monitors for
Reader’s Digest’s Word Power
Challenge Championship

In another Metadox application supplied through DataPlex client Quick Tally Interactive Systems, the Reader’s Digest National Word Power Challenge, the application additionally controls ten video monitors with custom statistics for each of ten contestants. Metadox generates special graphics for each display, including showing each player’s name in large text and a red “X” when a player gets a question wrong. Different methods of revealing which players got what question correct or wrong keep the proceedings lively by preventing monotony.

Implementing a State-of-the-Art ARS

With the older ARS, you install the software from a CD that arrives in the mail or downloads from a website, configure it, and you are good to go. On these systems, as features are added, the configuration can get bogged down, and some of the new features may not work with your particular installation.

A state-of-the-art (SOTA) system has the pertinent features tested and qualified by an engineer as part of the process of delivering an exacting product. This step includes testing any hardware add-ons and writing and testing any custom programming code.

Once delivered, a SOTA ARS will require some additional fine-tuning because the installation is brand new. Fortunately, with technical support only a phone call away, most issues can be dealt with quickly.

In extensive applications that require much more customization than is typical, the ARS purveyors might recommend that a feasibility study be performed as a first step as a way to document the scope and detail a reasonable plan for development, lest the project run amok, which of course, is to no one’s advantage.

We are Engineers who Customize for Specific Applications

DataPlex’s niche is providing engineering and consulting services to meet exacting, custom requirements for existing or brand-new systems. We pride ourselves on providing quality products with appropriate levels of training and support. For more information on audience response and voting systems for your own needs, please visit our clients’ sites below.

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The Advantages and Pitfalls of Updating Old Electronic Designs

What is an Old Design?

By “old,” we mean systems that were designed more than a generation of technology ago. “Generations of technology” are usually indicated when the class of the components are superseded by a new one. Here are some examples:

  • Microprocessor controlled hardware replacing hard-wired circuits. (There are many advantages for doing so; the resulting design is often less expensive and more flexible.)
  • Digital analog to digital converters (ADCs) and digital to analog converters (DACs) replacing analog circuits. (Typically, a microcontroller site between ADCs and DACs to provide digital processing of the digital version of the signals.)
  • HCT Series CMOS superseding LS Series TTL for driver and interface circuits. (CMOS has faster switching, lower power and can be made smaller.)

A particular hardware circuit is comprised by different sections, and each section may be different numbers of generations old, so a weighted analysis can be used to explore trade-offs of a design upgrade.

For lack of any other measure, an electronic design can be considered old if it is more than ten years old. The electronics industry as a whole advances quickly, and few electronic components are used in the same way ten years later.

One useful question to ponder: If a qualified engineer were to design a circuit today for the same application, how would it be different? The answer helps to point us in the right direction. A new electronics design will utilize parts that are currently available and have a complete yet cost effective feature set. If the design were to be significantly different, then that is a strong argument for not perpetuating the approach of old design, although.

That said, an engineer might still choose to perpetuate an old design based on economic, compatibility and political factors. He may wish to use up existing supplies of old parts, or continue to provide products which meet with customer expectations. Something more technically modernbut significantly different may be perceived by customers as inferior or undesirable. Other technical reasons relate to support and repair and intellectual property issues.

How an Old Design is Updated – The Nine Step Process

Once the decision is made to update an old design, the update process is straightforward. Here is the general process we use at DataPlex:

Step 1
Locate or Develop a Specification of the Current Design

If it was not the first step to break inertia, this should be the easiest step. Old manuals and product datasheets are often useful references.

Step 2
Identify the Key Features of the Current Design

A bit more challenging, identifying key features requires an understanding of the products and, not only how it is used by customers, but also how is it not used. Features that are under-utilized but require significant ongoing support may need to be dropped.

Step 3
Develop a List of New Features, Ordered by Priority and Usefulness

Probably the most difficult step, choosing which features remain and what new features need to be developed has to take into account what are the expectations of the marketplace and weigh them against the up-front engineering expense, the per-unit production cost, and what alternatives provides and what competitors are doing.

Step 4
Research Components and Design Approaches

The design team researches components and explores overall design approaches that seem to optimize between cost, reliability, serviceability and an appropriate feature set. For economic and development schedule reasons, not all features will make the cut (hence the need to order them).

Step 5
Begin Design Approaches

Begin to develop in a top-down approach several different designs to see how then begin to flow. Often one design will leap ahead of the rest as a better or less expensive way. Pick it as the primary design.

Step 6
Review the Designs

Explore the designs with management and (very important) also with key customers to see how well their feature sets fit with their actual needs and requirements.

Step 7
Iterate the Design

At this point, a design team may iterate back to an earlier step should, with management and customer feedback, it become obvious that none of the design alternative sufficiently meet expectations.

Step 8
Start the Primary Design Phase

Once a design seems to be acceptable, the actual primary design phase begins. While it may feel as though the actual design work is a long time in coming, actually most of the difficult decisions have already been made, the complete function set is known, and it is just a matter of implementation. Backup designs can also be begun now or held off for a later time. Also, the design team should work with management to prepare contingency plans should something go wrong.

Step 9
Don’t be Afraid to Go Back

While the main design phase is underway, should any new information indicate that the results may not meet expectations, management should decide which earlier steps should be reviewed to make the necessary adjustments to bring the design back in line. In some occasions, an alternate design replaces the originally preferred design based on the new information. Within reason, it is much better to take some extra time to develop a product that is right for the marketplace rather than push throw with one that is known to be inferior.

When the Design is Complete

When the design is complete, we move on to prototyping and testing.

What Can Go Wrong?

Updating an old electronics design is still an electronics design process and can derail for any number of reasons. For updating a design, a design team must be sure to meet the important targets of feature set, backwards compatibility, production rates, delivery schedule and price points.

It is especially important to get one or more prototypes ready as soon as possible so that the targets can be evaluated by different groups such as management and key customers. These prototypes can also be used for showing to potential customers and demonstrating trade shows while production ramps up. At all times, be vigilant for discrepancies between the prototype and the marketplace’s expectations and acceptance and review Step 9 if necessary.

Should something go wrong — say, production doesn’t ramp up quickly enough to meet the delivery schedule – there is no need to panic. Management should have already developed contingencies such as using more expensive vendors but ones that can fill in the production schedule as necessary.

One area that is particular debilitating is so vast that is deserves its own section…

Intellectual Property Legal Issues

While we do not practice law or offer legal advice, this article would not be complete without a discussion about intellectual property, both developing it and being sure not to step on others.

If it comes to your attention that you are stepping on someone’s intellectual property, you might see what it will take to license it. If the patent assignee’s (owner) is not a direct competitor, you should find a warm reception since you will potentially be providing a new revenue stream.

Or, if you think the updated design improves on the current state-of-the-art for the product class in a novel and unobvious way, you might explore applying for a patent. We won’t tell you that patents are easy — they are not, but should you get one, you will have a government sanctioned monopoly on the invention disclosed in the patent for close to 20 years, hindering competitors and providing a cash flow from licensing.

Note Well: There are ongoing changes to both domestic and international patent law, and you need to be informed about the precise process you will have to follow. For example, as of this writing, a United States invention must have its patent filed before it is first offered for sale lest it jeopardizes its international validity.

In any case, should you feel that you are in such an industry or have a product that requires or steps on intellectual property, gather your design team and consult your patent lawyer.

What to Do if You Have an Old Design

Please consider DataPlex as your one-stop design team. Our products can be found in many different industries and chances our experience staff and proprietary design tools can get you a redesign in quick order. Also, with our being technical and having been successful in written what are now issued patents, we can help you document any new inventiveness so that you can more readily apply for intellectual property.

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Maintaining High Reliability for New Electronic Designs Intended for Harsh Environments

Volume 3, Number 2

The Issues of Harsh Environments

Designing a piece of electronic hardware such that it works reliably from the get-go is a challenge, especially if it has to work outdoors or in extreme environments where temperature, humidity, vibration and radiation are the enemies of electronics.

Unfortunately, while a growing number of new electronic designs are destined to be used outdoors, the art of designing for harsh environments is not typically part of an engineering school’s curriculum. As a result, most engineers make the erroneous assumption that designing for a harsh environment is very much like designing for hospitable one but with a greater emphasis on testing and improving the design empirically, addressing the observed failure modes. Although this approach is certainly along the recommended path, it should not be the only extra consideration; otherwise, the deployment could fail.

What is a Harsh Environment?

A quick definition of a harsh environment would be anywhere not “indoors,” although this definition is incomplete. Any condition of extremes relative to the human condition applies, so that includes temperature, humidity, atmosphere (including pressure), radiation and shock, whether indoors or not. While one can easy to see that sitting outside at the south pole with minus 50 degrees winds blowing at 80% humidity easily meets the requirement, it isn’t readily apparent to him that a handheld device that could be dropped five feet also meets the requirement.

A simple test is asking the question, “if this device were a human being (scaled up or down as appropriate) and subjected to the conditions of its environment — the highest and lowest temperatures, the amount of pressure, or amount of shock, would it be expected to survive?” A cellphone operates in a harsh environment, indoors, because it can be dropped, and the amount of force it can hit a tile floor would be terminal to an appropriately scaled human being. (It often is to the cellphone too depending on the height of the drop and the quality of its design.)

The Engineering Approach

Addressing the harsh environment begins before the design phase, in the R&D phase. Knowing that the design includes a harsh environment, an engineer sets the research parameters and, later, the product specifications accordingly. Paramount of concern to him are meeting the minimum and maximum storage and operating condition limits.

To maintain high-reliability for a new design, the engineering approach must:

  • list the extreme storage and operating conditions
  • set the design specifications accordingly
  • select components that meet the specifications and reject others
  • be mindful of circuit board physics, e.g. trace lengths, component mounting methods
  • explore conformal coating and heating and cooling elements, as appropriate
  • ensure that the fabrication drawing is consistent with the harsh environment design
  • select appropriate mounting hardware, cabling and enclosure
  • test the sensor inputs and software over the complete range of operating conditions

“Testing over the complete range of operating conditions” is easy to write, but could be very difficult in actual practice, owing to the exponential increase of possibilities over an increasing number of parameters and ranges. We have found that Monte Carlo Simulation and linear programming are two very useful aids for analyzing the effects of different parameter combinations.

Post-Design & Post-Installation

No design for harsh environment is complete without a plan for follow-up during the implementation or deployment phase. A well-designed circuit may allow additional or alternative components to allow for tweaking the final design after production. For example, in one DataPlex design, a standard delay line circuit slowed down so much in cold temperature that an alternate delay circuit was automatically switched in, and the switch point was controlled by a variable resistance that could be easily changed in the field.

Software is Affected Too

It may not be obvious at all, but software can be affected by harsh environments as well. We are thinking here less of the actual computing hardware that runs the software — that is still covered by the hardware related issues discussed above — and more of the way that the software has been designed and tested in a warm, cozy lab. Software that received sensor data such as values from analog to digital converters (ADCs) may find itself attempting to deal with extreme values that it did not encounter in the lab, and that usually leads to bugs and possible failure.

Taming Harshness

In this article, we explored the nature of harsh environments, what constitutes a quality engineering approach to design a piece of gear for those environments, and the importance of follow-up in order to make adjustments and preempt out-of-spec operation or catastrophic failures.

If you have a requirement for a harsh environment design, we invite you to consider the experience of DataPlex’s staff with difficult environmental conditions and how our refined approach to R&D and engineering can mitigate certain risks for brand-new designs. Please contact us to discuss your project.

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Checklist for Website Design Considerations for Today’s Companies

Volume 3, Number 1, Appendix A

This checklist accompanies a DataPlex, Inc. article entitled Things to Consider When Building or Redesigning a Website.

Before any Design Work Begins:

  • What is the purpose of the website?
  • What are the goals of the firm for its website?
  • Who is the primary target audience?
  • What other types of visitors to be expected?
  • How will the firm present its message to its visitors?
  • Can aspects of the firm’s business be represented graphically?
  • How will the site’s content be organized?
  • Does the firm have trademarks or brands to promote?
  • Are there graphic images available that relate to the text?

Additional questions from the design team based on the characteristics of the firm, its industry, and its business procedures and the number of products or types of services, the size of its customer base, covenants, government regulations, etc.:

Graphical Interface

  • Is the overall graphical interface inviting?
  • Are some elements elaborate and distract?
  • Does the site look old or new?
  • Is there a balance between form and function?
  • Completely review with design team

Usability

  • Are the navigation controls appropriate for the site?
  • Review the placement of and margins for major site components
  • Check Colors, color depths backgrounds and graphical effects
  • Check Text and overlay brightness, contrast and transparency
  • Consider common screen resolution being used by visitors
  • Works well with desired browser and operating system types
  • Support Mobile devices with small screens such as cell phones
  • Support for visitors with special needs
  • Review with design team

Content

  • Is the content easy to read?
  • Is it consistent and focused?
  • Does it make clear points?
  • Will it keep reader’s interest?
  • Are there places of too much detail?
  • Is it structured and positions well for easy scanning?
  • Are there time-saving connections to other areas?
  • Is there content posted that does not meet with the site’s philosophy?
  • Reviewed by design team?

Coding

  • Are the coders experienced?
  • Has the code been well tested?
  • Do the pages render properly in all major browsers?
  • Is there any missing content or web pages?
  • Is the usability impaired in any way?
  • Is there any functionality that does not work?
  • Are there any gross web page errors?
  • Are there any broken navigational controls and links?
  • Are the pages being indexed well in Search Engines?
  • Are there any long download times?
  • Are there any incompatible or distorted graphics?
  • Does the design team ensure an ongoing, well-formed website operation?

Website Engineering

  • Obvious web site considerations:
    • graphics design
    • style sheets
    • content: text, pictures, music, video
    • interactive components (e.g. Flash)
    • easy to understand site navigation (e.g. menus)
    • request forms, guestbook or discussion forums, as appropriate
  • Non-obvious considerations:
    • low-level graphic and special effect issues
    • behind the scenes website organization & structure
    • compatibility with different browsers and computing devices
    • web server configuration and ongoing maintenance
    • backup and disaster recovery (e.g. mirrored sites)
    • database engine (e.q. SQL) and scripting languages (e.g. ASP, PHP)
    • sourcing, including and accounting of third-party advertisements
    • referring sites and Search Engine positioning
    • easy way for firm personnel to update content
    • transactional processing (e.g. handling payments and downloads)
    • Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s) for employees
    • email, ftp and other web-related services

Beyond the Website Design

  • Will the website need to be expanded soon for additional functionality?
  • Does the firm have custom programming requirements?
  • Are there software applications that could be integrated with the web?
  • Is there hardware that needs to or could interface with the applications?
  • Are there any other technical issues that could be addressed at this time?

Things to Consider When Building or Redesigning a Website

Volume 3, Number 1

Designing, implementing and managing a commercial website suitable for a modern-day company, firm or business enterprise has become both a software technology minefield and somewhat of an art form. While almost anyone with some basic web design experience can create a nice-looking website using off-the-shelf tools and some training, having a website perform precisely along certain desired lines to help grow a business is another matter indeed.

This article presents a case for a disciplined engineering approach to a website design, what we call “Website Engineering,” and includes a checklist of considerations, useful at various stages of the design and implementation phases.

The management of a firm might think that an in-house website development effort could both be cost-effective and yield high-quality results. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Most of these efforts are not successful because they are not provided enough time, planning or staff members with the necessary specialized training.

One reason why in-house efforts yield sub-par results is that the “minimal effort” to pull-off a successful website now involves several dissimilar technologies.

Every year, the bar moves up slightly where site visitors expect better performance and previously advanced features are now considered standard. A demonstration of the latter can be had by simply visiting a site that was designed ten years ago (example from ibm.com), before the advent of HTML 4 and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that “upped the bar” by allowing web sites to look like printed brochures. (For comparison, here is a modern-day IBM web page.)

Having a network technician or programmer on staff doesn’t necessarily mean that he (or she) knows which intricacies of website design and implementation would be required to best support the firm’s branding, promotional, sales and marketing activities. Conversely, having in-house graphic artists put together a site does not mean that they have the technical skills to develop the respective critical server-side elements such as databases, templates, scripts, security and access control for different types of site visitors nor able to effectively utilize such elements should they even already exist.

…a firm would benefit from having experienced developers approach their website’s design from more of a systems and software engineering perspective.

We submit that a firm would benefit from having experienced developers approach their website’s design from more of a systems and software engineering perspective. Inherently, engineer are trained to handle implementation pathways littered with technically advanced requirements and to resolve issues and solve problems that occur along the way. Also, such engineers can be conveniently called upon to address other technical issues beyond the scope of the website implementation.

Whether updating an existing site or starting from scratch, a firm should consider the following factors as they will influence the degree to which the resulting website is successful.

Research and Planning

A first step for a firm is conducting an adequate amount of research in order to help define the role, expectations and metrics for the website. Here are a few questions to ask before any design work begins:

  • What is the purpose of the website?
  • What are the goals of the firm for its website?
  • Who is the primary target audience?
  • What other types of visitors to be expected?
  • How will the firm present its message to its visitors?
  • Can aspects of the firm’s business be represented graphically?
  • How will the site’s content be organized?
  • Does the firm have trademarks or brands to promote?
  • Are there graphic images available that relate to the text?

These are just a few preliminary questions that could be answered. Additional questions will arise depending on the characteristics of the firm, its industry, and its business procedures and the number of products or types of services, the size of its customer base, covenants, government regulations, and so on. A good design team will interview a firm’s management to determine the proper requirements for the site. Once the requirements are set, an implementation plan to create the site can be easily developed and then adopted.

Graphical Interface

The overall graphical interface of a firm’s website needs to be attention-grabbing enough to invite people in, but not so elaborate that it take the focus off the main reason they came in the first place. If the design elements overshadow content, viewers could tire of it quickly.

On the other hand, if the site is lacking in presentation or looks like it was developed in the 1990′s, some viewers may extrapolate this deficiency to mean that the firm generally is in need of updating and that the rest of its technology (in whatever industry it is in) may also be out of date.

The firm may have the best, most advanced products in the world, but without a properly produced website, visitor will never know. A good design team will help a firm achieve a balanced design that combines both form and function without either becoming overbearing.

Usability

Usability determines how well visitors to the firm’s site are able to find their way around. The following elements all need to be considered when addressing usability:

  • Navigation appropriate to the site
  • Placement of and margins for major site components
  • Colors, color depths backgrounds and graphical effects
  • Text and overlay brightness, contrast and transparency
  • Common screen resolution being used by visitors
  • Browser and operating system types
  • Mobile devices with small screens such as cell phones
  • Support for visitors with special needs

If visitors are impeded from being able to easily comprehend the firm’s site, they may quickly decide to move on, quite possibly to the sites of the firm’s competitors. A good design team will ensure that usability issues are properly addressed.

Content

Sometimes too much detail in a large section of text, although accurate, can make readers grow tired.

The firm needs good content, but what does “good” mean? Whether it is repurposed marketing material or newly created web-specific content, it should be consistent and focused. Ideally, it should make clear points and be of enough quality to keep readers’ interest. Sometimes too much detail in a large section of text, although accurate, can make readers grow tired.

The content should be an easy read, easy to print and be structured and positioned well for easy scanning with time-saving connections to other areas of the site.A good design team will help a firm examine and constructively criticize its content, point out places where additional content could be advantageous, and ensure that only the content that meets the site’s philosophy is posted to the website.

Coding

HTML and XML serve as the most common base formats for web pages, and are responsible for representing the “look and feel” of content across the Internet. The raw “code” of HTML and XML looks very different from what you see in a browser, cryptic to the uninitiated, and when coupled with scripting languages, it becomes the domain of systems analysts and computer programmers. Improper coding and “bugs” will lead to internal and external website problems that degrade the visitors experience and the delivery of the firm’s message, no matter how otherwise great the presentation of the content.

Website problems can result in:

  • Impaired usability
  • Functionality not working properly
  • Gross web page errors
  • Broken navigational controls and links
  • Not being indexed well (or at all) in Search Engines
  • Website pages not rendering properly in different browsers
  • Missing content (e.g. content not being displayed) and web pages
  • Long download times from poor code or site structure
  • Incompatible or distorted graphics

If a firm’s site is hamstrung even for just a short while, a firm could lose its audience’s trust in its site, or worse, itself. Depending on the agreed-upon services to be provided, the members of an experienced design team can ensure ongoing, well-formed website operation.

Website Engineering

When world-class products are being designed, their producers are smart enough to solicit the right types of engineering so that the best possible product is made right out of the gate. Because of the short lifetimes of today’s products, there may not be a second chance.

Creating a website is an engineering effort, requiring an optimized balance between attractive design components and computer technology that has to strike a positive nerve when it is finally unveiled. As is often true in other engineering disciplines, the right approach requires some thinking, recognizing the requirements, and choosing the right tools, much of which may not be obvious.

  • Obvious web site considerations:
    • graphics design
    • style sheets
    • content: text, pictures, music, video
    • interactive components (e.g. Flash)
    • easy to understand site navigation (e.g. menus)
    • request forms, guestbook or discussion forums, as appropriate
  • Non-obvious considerations:
    • low-level graphic and special effect issues
    • behind the scenes website organization & structure
    • compatibility with different browsers and computing devices
    • web server configuration and ongoing maintenance
    • backup and disaster recovery (e.g. mirrored sites)
    • database engine (e.q. SQL) and scripting languages (e.g. ASP, PHP)
    • sourcing, including and accounting of third-party advertisements
    • referring sites and Search Engine positioning
    • easy way for firm personnel to update content
    • transactional processing (e.g. handling payments and downloads)
    • Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s) for employees
    • email, ftp and other web-related services

As you can see, a website is much more than just the graphics and the content; it involves the hardware platform on which the site exists plus all of the software and hardware components required to provide the desired functionality — in other words, an engineering effort.

That “engineering” is required to produce an effective website should not be considered a disadvantage or a turn off. Instead, wrapping a website’s development around an engineering banner actually begins an expedient and cost effective process. For example, DataPlex engineers took over a website, unfinished for years, and completed it in less than four weeks with additional functionality along with significantly better usability.

In another case where a high level of software engineering was applied, DataPlex developed custom applications too advanced for implementation through traditional Internet markup languages and then seamlessly integrated them with the client’s website.

A Checklist

We include the points made above in a convenient checklist that a firm can use as a starting point or modify for its own website design purposes.

Let Experts Help

For the reasons presented in this article, a firm thinking of building a new website or redesigning an existing website should rely on “website engineers,” a qualified team of experts such as the designers and engineers at DataPlex to develop its site. In so doing, a firm will have the non-obvious considerations properly addressed. It will realize a high-quality site in a quick and professional manner, with the best possible usability, resulting in a high percentage of impressed website visitors, with corresponding benefits that match up to its goals.

For more information, please visit: