How can we help?

 


Review: Dynamic Forms Module for DNN

Need to create an email form, registration form, survey, or any other kind of form you once created as a PDF or paid a programmer to create for you? The Dynamic Forms Module for DNN fits the bill and then some.

 

We’ve been using the Dynamic Forms Module for a few years now and have put it through its paces, having used it in association, retail, b2b, government and healthcare websites using the DNN content management system.

 

Key features:

The Dynamic Forms Module for DNN allows non-technical folks to create and manage their own forms. Say you want to create a simple ‘request a quote for information’ form for your website. This module lets you create the fields you want the user to fill out (name, address, email and so on), then set how you want the form processed (emailed to a certain person or people) and send a confirmation and thank you to the visitor. More advanced forms such as event registration are a snap, even those where you can set your own business logic (for instance, the full-day event selected will automatically add the golf outing to the registration). You can also do credit card payment, required fields, have it attach documents and which type to accept, surveys -- even complex member surveys where the data submitted is automatically entered into a database that can be viewed or exported to, say, an Excel document. You can also push the data submitted to other databases without having to do any coding. And with the later versions of dynamic forms, the forms are mobile-responsive so they will reformat based on the user’s device.

 

What it’s useful for:

  • contact forms
  • job postings / resume submission
  • event registration
  • client / member surveys
  • order forms
  • light eCommerce

Shortfalls:

 

Because it is such a powerful module, that means there are a lot of tools and functions available. And the more tools available, the more there is to learn. Think of it like using Notepad as your word processor, and now you’ve switched to Microsoft Word. True, lots more features, but also lots more buttons to decypher. As an administrator, the Dynamic Forms module has a much higher learning curve than most other modules and will take time to master. Some of the tools are simple to grasp, but others are not exactly intuitive. In short, it’s going to take some time to master this dragon.

 

Verdict:

 

For us old-timers who still remember VCRs, I like to think of the Dynamic Forms Module like setting the clock on the VCR. Yes, it took some time to figure out how to make the thing stop blinking 12:00:00, but once I figured out, from then on it ran perfectly, dutifully recording whatever I told it to. Same with Dynamic Forms. It’ll hum along nicely once configured, but first there’s a decent learning curve to get past.

 

Link to the Dynamic Forms Module:


http://store.dnnsoftware.com/home/product-details/dynamic-forms-50

 

Cost (one-time) licensing:


$195.00 per DNN instance. Can be used across multiple portals within the same instance.

 

 


 

Mobile Website App or a True App? Which is right for you.

Sometimes clients come to us saying they want to develop a mobile app, when in fact what they might actually need is a mobile website app.

 

What’s the difference between the two? A true app (think of those icons on your smartphone) is an application built specifically for a mobile operating system such as Apple, Android or Windows. A mobile website app is a browser-based application (think Survey Monkey, Constant Contact or Google Analytics) that can run on a mobile device, or on the desktop.

 

The development and maintenance costs between these two methods are stark. It’s much less costly to create a mobile website app because you are creating it once and it runs off the browser, so it doesn’t matter what type of phone users have. If you are creating a true app, then you have to build one for Apple, one for Android and one for Windows if you want them to run on all three phones. Some functions can carry over, but a lot of them do not.

 

So, how do you choose which method? It depends on the functionality requirements of the app. 

 

For example, let’s say you’ve got a member directory and you want to be able to search it and display the results on a mobile device. The solution could be either a mobile website app or a true mobile app. But if you also want to be able to do that same search when you are not online, or find a member who is close by based on their current GPS location, now you’re talking a true mobile app. 

 

There are tools available that can (somewhat) blend these two approaches, allowing us to create a mobile website app that also integrates with some features on the phone. But, there are caveats. If it’s something simple like submitting a form with a couple photos, yes, but anything much more complex than that you can run into problems.

 

What’s the cost difference between a website mobile app and a true app?

 

Developing a simple website mobile app could cost as little as 5-10K. If we’re building a true app that needs to run on multiple platforms (Apple, Androids, etc.), the cost could easily begin at 40K and go up from there. Also, remember that with a true mobile app there are operating system updates to keep up with as Apple, Android and Windows update their phones. Our research says to plan for 10 percent of your project cost for updating a true mobile app annually.

 

Both methods have their advantages. The key to finding the right method at the right cost is to talk to developers like us. We can help get you there!

 

 


 

Help! I Want to Build a Mobile App.

We see it with both startups and established companies: They want to build a mobile application. They have a vision, but need help with the details. Is it even feasible? How much will it cost? What's involved? 

First, let’s assume you've done the necessary up-front work. You've identified:

  • Your audience
  • Whether it is solving a problem
  • Your competition
  • Your return on investment

If you've hit these questions, you've at least addressed the basics of whether or not the app has potential. In essence, whether you're a startup or this is a value added to your organization, you should create a mini business plan for your app -- especially if it is intended to be a revenue-generator.

 

OK, now on to the meaty stuff:

 

1. Have you created a Vision Document?

This is critical. This is the floorplan. This is what creates the final deliverable and ultimately determines cost, timeline, phases and expectations. Without it, you're flying entirely blind. Worse, you're flying blind and don't even know how much fuel you’ve got!

Your vision doc needs to spell out in detail:

  • Specific functionality (I want it to do this, and then this…)
  • A walk-through of the app. Step-by-step, screen by screen. (If I click this, then it does this…)

Also, don't forget the things you need that are outside the app (reports, billing integration, etc.)


2. Have you thought through the business logic needed in the app?

Forms and front-end can be simple. It's the back-end logic where things get complex and time-consuming. An example of business logic might be:

  • Does every user have the same rights and functionality, or are there special features available based on user, or their group, etc?
  • Are there workflow requirements? For example, one user creates something, but another has to approve it before moving it along the process.
  • Does the user have multiple paths s/he can take during a process (whatever that process is)? How are those paths decided? Automatically? User choice? Based on some kind of data it's checking?

Remember, if some combination of business logic only happens once, it still needs to be planned for in programming. Run scenarios to catch it all.

 

3. What are the minimum features needed to roll out the app?

Does the app need everything completed in order to roll out, or can it be done in phases? What are the minimum Phase 1 requirements? Rolling out the app in phases can save cost and implementation time.


4. Do you have a guinea pig? 

One important way to save cost is to first create a wireframe mockup (with clickable buttons, etc.) and then run/beta test by your guinea pigs. What did they like? What would they change? What's not needed? It's amazing how many times the one feature you like (which might take up 60% of development time and cost) ends up being something your users can take or leave. Finding this out early can be a huge cost-saver.


 

FYI: Everything we just talked about? We can absolutely help you with that. Find out more at www.i2integration.com. 



 

Your CMS: Beware of ‘good enough’
When it comes to content management systems, there are essentially three levels, and for ease of use we’ll just use the terms basic, medium and high functionality. 

The basic functionality sites are the cloud-based solutions, such as Weebly and Wix. These are fine for startups and what we would call ‘brochure-ware’ sites. They are static for the most part, and provide basic information that doesn’t change often. There’s also no protected content and no database integration. These are great if you need to knock out a website in a hurry, such as for an upcoming event or a sister site that will only be up temporarily. They can cost very little or nothing, and you can use the templates provided and have a nice looking little site.

Mid-level would be something such as a WordPress site. This has additional functionality, lots of plug-ins for added features such as forms and calendars, event management and thousands of templates with nice looking designs. WordPress is easy to use and the administrator tools are simple. Where it is a problem is when you want to do anything advanced. Customization can be difficult, security is very much an issue and it doesn’t have built-in security architecture. So if you have client-only or member-only content, WordPress isn’t ideal for that. And though there are tons of add-ons you can download, the add-on community tends to be comprised more of individuals than companies, so you don’t get the support or followup you’d get from an actual company. If Joe Smith decides he no longer wants to sell, give away or update his add-on, you’re stuck.

High functionality CMS are Drupal, DNN and Umbraco, used frequently by associations. These are open source systems that call for advanced features. The security architecture is more advanced. These systems are ideal when you want to do heavy customization such as single sign-on or custom integration between the website and another system in your organization. And there are tons of available add-on modules. These CMS add-ons are developed more by companies, so from our experience the level of support is more professional and the updating more frequent. They also tend to be more stable and more secure. 

Many organizations that are balancing need with budget will choose a mid-level system, not aware that those may not offer the features they want and the security they need, or that they will outgrow its functional capabilities. The tendency is to underestimate what is needed, to say ‘It looks easy to use, and this seems good enough for what we want it to do.’ Bottom line: Your CMS is not the place to cut costs or to not plan for the future. 

If and when you need help, give us a holler. At i2Integration, we live and breathe in the world of CMS.

 

Do you need a tech advocate? The 50k question
Sooner or later your organization will be looking to implement some type of new system, whether that’s a Content Management System, a Client Relationship Management System, an email marketing system, Document Management System or the like. There are so many factors when choosing one over the others, and the choices are seemingly endless, especially with cloud-based varieties. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Today, with a credit card and two minutes, you could install a whole new system for your organization. But is it the right system? Is it going to integrate with your other systems? Is it scalable, so it grows as your organization grows? Can you modify it to make it your own? 

Before making the decision, even before you put out that RFP, it makes all kinds of sense to get the advice of a technology advocate. Just as a healthcare advocate guides you through the maze of choices to find the best medical solution, a tech advocate who has no skin in the game, who gets no reward for recommending one software system over the others but will look at your needs objectively and find the right solution for you. A tech advocate comes in with a toolbelt, not a hammer.

Recently, we determined that a national association looking to implement a particular CMS would outgrow the website the day it went live because that CMS didn’t have the functionality the association needed to tie the website to their member management system. This association was very close to committing 50k to a system that would not have worked for what they wanted right out of the gate. Our team at i2Integration recommended a different CMS, one that gave them more flexibility with the features they needed and the foundation for growth -- for the same cost as the one they had first selected.

There’s obviously a cost associated with engaging with a tech advocate, but false starts or adopting a system that ends up being wrong for your organization is going to end up costing you ten-fold.

 


 

Newsletter Sign-Up

This isn't your grandpa's newsletter. You won't find fluff. Or news about who won the golf tournament. No, in our newsletter you'll find meaty information that will help you run your business better. Click here to sign up.