Municipal Web Service - GliwiceA fresh start for the City of Gliwice
A municipal web service is the first stop for tourists, investors and citizens of the city. Together with the City Office, we designed a portal, which presents the best of what Gliwice has to offer.
All problems associated with the old Municipal Web Service stem from its aged technological background.
First of all, the site was not built on responsive technologies. This created significant UX & UI problems. For example, even though the site performed well on desktop computers, users of mobile devices – such as smartphones and tablets – were getting a sub-par experience. In some cases, the desktop interface was completely unusable on a touch-based device.
Secondly, the aged technology prohibited any back-end upgrades to the Service. While this may seem like a rather small, back-end issue, the drawbacks of this inability were felt across the entire Service – both back-end and for the front-end users as well.
It’s important to notice that the lack of ability to upgrade back-end platforms meant potential security issues. As time progresses, new security holes and exploits are found, putting older, unpatched systems at risk.
Inability to upgrade also meant a complete standstill in functionality expansion. This is since new integrations and plugins are not always tested for backwards-compatibility. As such, adding new functionality to a site often requires having a current version of the back-end system; otherwise, the extensions don’t work.
Last, but not least, lack of upgrades meant the loss of optimization. When the Service was initially created a few years ago, it most likely matched the speed and response time of the websites and systems at the time. However, technology changes very rapidly, especially on the Internet. In short, what was fast and the norm back then, today is considered very slow and ineffective. This can be seen very clearly in the speed in which modern mobile websites load, versus the speed in which a full desktop site loads on a mobile browser. The speed of loading and experience is greatly diminished. Moreover, lack of optimizations also leads to lower SEO ranking, as modern search engines, such as Google, penalize unresponsive, slow-loading websites by lowering their organic search result ranking.
Third, the graphics and design desperately needed an overhaul. The Municipal Web Service is the first point of contact for tourists and potential investors and needs to convey a wide variety of information conveniently and transparently. First impressions matter, and especially when these impressions can make a lasting difference in the local economy.
The City of Gliwice Municipal Web Service needed a comprehensive overhaul – and that’s exactly what we delivered, from ground-up.
First of all, we chose Drupal as the foundation.
There are several reasons for this:
- Drupal is a proven, scalable platform
- Drupal is open-source
- Out of numerous CMS platforms, Drupal is known for its security
Given the fact that the Service will be often updated and thus a CMS-like platform would be the best choice, we chose Drupal. While we realize there are numerous CMS platforms out there – namely WordPress comes to mind – there are three reasons why Drupal’s benefits outweigh WordPress in this case.
First of all, Drupal is a highly scalable platform. Hereby “scale” we mean the actual ability of the service to handle multiple requests at once, as well as the ability to effortlessly serve a simple website – or an entire platform.
Without going into extensive technical details, Drupal is a much lighter, speed-optimized platform. Rather than basing most features on 3rd-party plugins, Drupal relies more on custom modules, which are usually written by the same developer. The effects of this design are quite easy to predict: less incompatibility, more logical code, optimized design. All-in-all, this all amounts to lightness, responsiveness and speed as a result.
Second, just like WordPress, Drupal is open-source. This can result in sizable potential savings, as the Customer is not obligated to pay any licensing fees. Moreover, in comparison to WordPress which uses 3rd-party, often paid plugins to extend the basic CMS functionality, all functionality will be delivered along with the project. This means that in the long-run, the Customer will not end up paying for additional subscription services.
Third, the Municipal Web Service is a government site which will handle large amounts of information and especially personally-identifiable data. For such portals security is the key, and this is where Drupal CMS shines.
Whereas Content Management System such as WordPress is geared more towards user-friendliness and usability, Drupal is known for its security-mindedness. This is not to say that WordPress is insecure in any way – indeed WordPress is a secure platform. However, given that certain design choices have to be made by project developers, it is often difficult to provide top-notch security while providing extreme user-friendliness as well. For example, 3rd-party plugins sometimes conflict or are not as secure as WordPress authors would like them to be. And this is the main reason why although initially secure, WordPress often ends up being the most hacked CMS out there. We cannot afford such a situation in a government-run site. As such, Drupal is a logical choice in the aspect of portal security.
Solution in details
After we chose Drupal for the entire Service foundation, we went along with designing a new user interface with a responsive layout. This was a direct response to the ageing UI and lack of site responsiveness problem outlined above. Creating a responsive layout has several benefits, aside from the obvious aesthetic reasons.
First of all, responsive sites remove the need to update two or more sites when updating a single piece of information. In the early days of desktop and mobile website design, web developers often chose to create two websites instead of one – one for mobile and one for desktop. As they were not based on the same database instance, updating information on one site also required doubling the work and updating the same information on the other site as well. A tedious task, however, necessary.
Second, modern search engines such as Google and Bing penalize for lack of responsiveness. As Google and Microsoft want to deliver the best experience to their users, they focus on the speed and proper rendering of each website displayed in their organic search results. Lack of a responsive site means lowered SEO score.
Going along, we extended the Service to include two additional sections: Tourism and Culture. While working on this expansion, we realized that most likely two separate teams will be updating these sections. Some teams perhaps might not even be in the same building. As such, we needed to create a simple, streamlined back-end system for editors, reviewers and administrators in mind.
And so we did. Rather than relying on separate platforms and instances, we combined the entire Service administration into one, centralized panel. This has several benefits. First of all, all users will always log in to the same panel and will see the same interface, regardless of which section of the website they will be updating. A simple step, but a time-saving one: relying on the same interface cuts employee learning time.
Moreover, over-the-phone help and other support activities will be streamlined as well, as the interface will always stay constant. The administrator and the user will have nearly an identical experience. Secondly, user permissions for all functions of the website are bound to a single login. Form the administration point of view, this means no more logging on to several platforms and juggling user permissions across instances. A huge time-saver.
Integrations were an obvious next step. Here we integrated the Municipal Web Service with another government-run service called “Biuletyn Informacji Publicznej” (BIP). Biuletyn Informacji Publicznej (Public Information Bulletin) is a country-wide platform developed by the Polish authorities to streamline conveying information and documents from several government bodies. With our integration, the Municipal Web Service now accesses data from BIP and displays it right on the site, without having the User leave the Service.
Moving along to back-end updates, we updated Drupal 7 to support PHP 7.2, MySQL 5.7 and Apache 2.4. Additionally, we made sure that the entire Municipal Web Service is WCAG 2.0 and W3C compliant, thus it will be user-friendly to those with disabilities as well.
Since the back-end work on creating a responsive layout was behind us, we moved along to design a transparent and user-friendly front-end. As such, we designed a new graphics layout and introduced a few mapping integrations to make visualizing data across the city a little more intuitive. For example, we integrated the Municipal Web Service with Google Maps and OpenStreetMap, to pull appropriate variables form a database and map it out across the city. After all, graphics are easier to comprehend than strings of numbers.
Additional front-end improvements included adding event views, polls and 360-degree panorama views of the City.
The key benefit to the Service overhaul is, of course, its improved UX and UI. After all, the new Service is now fully-responsive, which means it can be properly rendered on any Internet-enabled device: whether it’s a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop computer.
The improved SEO ranking is a result which stems out of improved back-end, based on Drupal 7. As pages are now responsive and optimized for speed for each device (whether it’s mobile or desktop), search engines can better index their content. This directly results in higher placement in organic search results.
In the back-end, unified administration and logical UI now makes updating content and managing user permissions a breeze. Regardless of how many editors, proofreaders, managers and contributors there are, all employees can benefit from a standardized, intuitive interface. This greatly cuts down on the learning curve and makes support and troubleshooting a much easier task.
Last, but not least, the Municipal Web Service is built to last. As we chose stable and proven technologies – such as Drupal, PHP and MySQL – we can rest assured that the platforms, on which the Service is based upon, will continue receiving security updates, additional features and community support. Moreover, since our code is always standards-compliant, performing future upgrades or expanding functionality will always be possible by anyone with experience in these platforms.
- New UI
- Responsive layout
- Two new sections: Culture, Tourism
- Centralized administration panel for all sections of the Service
- Google Maps and OpenStreetMap integrations for visualizing data pulled from a Drupal instance
- Public Information Bulletin integration
- Visualized the Events section
- 360 degree panorama views
- Online polls
- WCAG 2.0 & W3C compliance (high contrast, large fonts)
- Updated Drupal 7 to support PHP 7.2, MySQL 5.7 and Apache 2.4
- Custom-made, 24/7 service monitoring implemented
Realisation in numbers
5 specialists working for the project’s success: Project Manager, UI/UX Designer, 2 Drupal Developers and Tester
600 hours spent on website development
5 language versions of the website
3 services implemented on one platform
What can we do for you and
By outlining this success story we are hoping to show our thought process as well as experience in developing Drupal-based websites and portals. Our expertise centres around Drupal and Magento, and we pride ourselves in developing all-encompassing projects: from laying out foundations to delivering fully-functioning systems. Our code is always well-documented and standards-compliant, making any further upgrades, by any skilled professional, a breeze.
Our projects are always
- optimized for speed and response
- well-planned out, thus easy to upgrade in the future
- ergonomic and user-friendly for employees, customers and administration
- secure and based on latest technologies
- well-documented and open to build upon
- delivered on time
By choosing Smartbees for your project, you’ll have a guarantee that our code will be stable, transparent and well-documented. We realize that our solutions are often the foundation, on which projects are built and scaled. This is why we strive to make logical, well-planned decisions that will allow any website or portal to grow in the future.
See what we can do for your business.
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