Developing a website with database publishing functionality

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ignition
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PostDeveloping a website with database publishing functionality
by ignition » Fri May 27, 2016 12:50 pm

I have been tasked with bringing in a new website and a supporting app for our organisation to improve the display of and interaction with our products and to improve the overall user experience. Edit: I'm project managing the process and not doing any technical development.

This is my first foray into this kind of project and since I have little knowledge of web-development and content management systems I could really benefit from some advice from those in the know to help me start on the right foot, reach out to the right developers and best ensure we end up with a good quality product that meets our needs.

What we need
I’ll go into more detail about our needs and the general development questions I have below, but, in simple terms, we are after 3 things:

    1) A new website – that is easy to update and modify as our remit grows

    2) The ability, on part of the website, to publish content comprised of component sections that are stored in a database (is this a feature of a content management system (CMS)?)

    3) A supporting app for iOS and Android (not of the full website, just for one (or more) product(s) that would benefit from mobile device accessibility, even with no data connection)
Our products and users
Our primary product is an online-only suite of best-practice industry guidance (text-based with occasional graphics).

Our primary users are employees of the industry and other associated industries nationwide, but the guidance will be freely viewable to anyone.

What we want the website to do
    1. General website

    Standard features: We want it to have the same sort of features as what most other organisations’ websites do (standard pages, banners, embedded images/videos, blog/news articles, social media integration etc).

    Control and modification: We want the ability to change layouts, add buttons and update and add new pages and content ourselves in the future.

    Is this all part of a Content Management System?

    2. Online guidance catalogue

    Publish content from a database: On a section of our website we want to be able to publish our guidance as a stream of collapsible/expandable text, but with each paragraph or section pulled through from a database. The reason for this is that a particular chunk of text could be relevant and need to appear across multiple publications and we only want to write/edit the content once and have it automatically pull through to everywhere it needs to appear in the online publications.

    User filtering: Our full suite of guidance will exist primarily in their predefined/default categories/publications, but we also want our users to be able to filter and select specific elements of the full suite of guidance that is relevant to what they want to see. i.e. they could tick some selection boxes for the component areas they are interested in and the website will pull the relevant information through from the database and display it as a continuous stream of text – a pic’n’mix of guidance.

    PDF conversion: We would like the ability for users to convert any publication viewed or created on the website to PDF with an embedded time stamp.

    Multiple linked publications displayed simultaneously: We would like the ability to have the option for users to see related text (also pulled from a database) in a separate frame next to the guidance. For example, if there is a training specification linked to a certain piece of guidance then we would want the option for that to be viewed (and then hidden) next to the relevant guidance.

    Are the above requirements all possible features of a CMS? If so, which can do this? Or are we in need of another piece of software?

    3. User profiles

    Subscription and alerts: We want to encourage our users to create and log in to user profiles to allow them to personalise their experience. We want users to be able to subscribe to the areas of guidance that are relevant/of interest to them to automatically receive alerts when these areas are updated or have associated activity (e.g. news articles).

    Save and share: We want users to be able to save links to any custom/filtered guidance they have created to their profile and share via email (either as a link or as time-stamped text).

    4. Discussion forum
    We want our logged-in users to have access to a professional discussion forum where they would be able to discuss topics, share documents and be accountable for their contributions. Would it be possible to restrict this section to logged-in users? Would it be possible to restrict access to certain sub-forums by email address suffix? (e.g. xxxx@industry.com only)

General development questions
    1. How feasible is what we are asking for? (particularly with regard to database driven publications and user customisation)

    2. Is the database publishing functionality that we desire a feature of a CMS? Could this be built/provided as part of the website development process, or would it be a stand-alone product that would need to be added to a website and managed separately?

    3. Do web developers typically produce apps too?

    4. As a ball-park estimate, how much time would a developer need to produce the kind of website and CMS that we want? Would it be off-the-shelf or a custom build?

    5. As a ball-park estimate, how much could we expect the production of such a website and CMS to cost (excluding ongoing maintenance)?

    6. How much freedom do you typically get to modify, change and update a website once built? I’ve read that you often ‘pay-per-page’ for website development, but given that the developed infrastructure is sound, we would want to upload our own content, add/remove pages and sections ourselves and change the layout as the programme develops in future. Can a developer give this much control to the client, or does it come at a cost each time you want to make a change?

    7. What are typical on-going maintenance tasks that we should expect the developer to fulfil, and how much should this typically cost per task/day?

    8. How best do we seek and reach out to developers to see what they can offer and view demonstrations? What should we be looking for or avoiding when it comes to a developer? What questions should we be asking?

    9. What things are often overlooked or mis-explained when discussing requirements with developers?

    10. Are there any quality online resources that you could point me to that would help with this process?

Though more questions will no doubt come to mind, any advice you can provide would really help me get this off the ground! Many thanks for your time :)

Last edited by ignition on Fri May 27, 2016 1:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Dual
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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by Dual » Fri May 27, 2016 1:06 pm

That's a big job for someone with little experience lol

You going to achieve all that?

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ignition
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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by ignition » Fri May 27, 2016 1:16 pm

Absolutely. I don't actually need to develop anything myself, I just need to project manage the research, procurement and implementation of the website. The questions above are just to give me an understanding of how feasible our desires are and how best to approach developers etc.

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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by Karl » Fri May 27, 2016 1:16 pm

You should probably just hire a web developer, as that's a lot for a newbie to handle at once. If you insist on doing it yourself, you want to use as many prepackaged solutions as possible: this means WordPress for your CMS and PhpBB for your forum, as they both have lots of plugins and extensions available which might do some of what you want out-of-the-box.

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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by Karl » Fri May 27, 2016 1:17 pm

Oh, you're project manager rather than lead dev? Sorry, I didn't get that from your initial post.

Yes, it's feasible if you put some good heads together. You'll want at least a full-stack web developer and a separate mobile app developer.

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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by Karl » Fri May 27, 2016 1:20 pm

Gecko and Errkal will be able to give a decent perspective on this, I think.

Green Gecko wrote:notification

Errkal wrote:notification

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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by Errkal » Fri May 27, 2016 1:25 pm

Sounds like something along of the lines of Joomla is what you need. It would allow you to have web pages that would can build from elements and has the CMS side built in, you can then us access controls on there for people adding content and aproving content before it is "public"

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ignition
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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by ignition » Fri May 27, 2016 1:26 pm

Thanks Karl :wub:

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ignition
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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by ignition » Fri May 27, 2016 3:07 pm

We're based in central London; do you know of any reputable full stack developers or agencies that would be worth meeting with to discuss our project? I'm struggling a bit with Google as the majority of results are job adverts!

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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by Green Gecko » Sat May 28, 2016 1:03 pm

ignition wrote:We're based in central London; do you know of any reputable full stack developers or agencies that would be worth meeting with to discuss our project? I'm struggling a bit with Google as the majority of results are job adverts!

I can put you in touch with highly regarded independent developers in Brighton don't use an agency as it will cost you 5x as much in money and endless meetings. Let me forward your brief next Tuesday and I'll see if anyone is available. You could hire me for the Website and overall design if you want. Just saying!

Some very brief answers to your questions as to be honest I don't want to end up consulting in a forum post.

1. It's feasible combining an open source CMS with modifications. Open Source does NOT mean "free". It depends whether you mean financial or technical feasibility. In the former case, prepare to spend and manage the goals of this project very carefully, in the latter case, anything is possible.

2. Yes and no. Publishing is a part of every CMS, central database extraction of specific texts and how you want to store/manage them is not. So you make that part.

3. It depends. Some developers focus on programming languages specific to Android and/or iOS. Others consider both platforms (mobile and desktop) "apps" in general. You probably want someone who can do both or partner with someone who can, so there's communication and some level of feature parity and consistency etc.

4. That depends pretty much entirely on you. Depending on how productive the project is anywhere between 12 and 24 weeks. Consider the cost triangle. It will be a mixture of open source components with the developer focusing on the bespoke parts. There is no off the shelf for this. It's too specific.

5. Depending on the pedigree of the developer and whether you can reduce the scope or phase the project between 2 and 7 grand including the mobile app. It won't be cheap. You need to consult to find this out.

6. Pay per page is nonsense. It's just a way to make pricing simpler. How much WYSIWYG varies massively. Implementation of things much like BBCode (normally called shortcodes) can help. The more control you want, generally the more investment you need to make. Layout is the least realistic. If you want that, you probably need to learn HTML or have a range of templates built in for you. You should be able to update the site, sure, but don't expect to rewrite the thing. After all, you could end up ruining it. You will need training and a content management role that all comes into costing.

7. Security updates and bug fixes depends on the complexity of the system. Most developers set up a bespoke maintenance contact for you. As hourly/day rates vary from around £100/d (Junior) to £500/d (veteran) - do the math. An hour or so per week would make sense. You might also need email support. You want a good relationship with your developer.

8. Too many questions, sorry. Referrals are probably best.

9. Speculative features and hypothesis Vs actually feasible features. With regards to layout, you should be using wire frames and possibly prototyping. Going through the design process in stages like information hierarchy, wire frames, mockups, designs, (prototypes), build, test, iterate avoids miscommunication. Don't just send a brief and hope for the best. Follow up on your prerequisites. If your developer needs something, give it to them.

10. Erm. I'll try to think of some. This stuff comes from a lot of experience.

Feel free to email me at ben@bjum.uk if you need more.

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ignition
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PostRe: Developing a website with database publishing functionality
by ignition » Mon May 30, 2016 11:11 pm

Thanks GG, that's really helpful. I'll drop you an email when I'm back in the office tomorrow :D

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