Viking Engineering and Development is a Minnesota company who designs and manufactures machines which aid in automating the process of making pallets. To improve customer relationships, we decided to create a customer portal. This portal would primarily act as an interface for customers to view information. In the future, this portal could be expanded to provide far more complex services to the client, as well as the company.
A customer portal's main purpose is to provide a stronger connection between the client and their provider. The primary focus of this project was to allow clients to log in and view information regarding their account status, machines, transactions, and service calls.
Design and Development
From a technical perspective, the website and UI had to be very simplistic. This is mainly due to the browsers that the target audience are using, typically Microsoft Internet Explorer. Many enterprise web users run Internet Explorer because it is already installed on their computers. In some cases, the I.T. department restricts software installation. The site was designed using only HTML, CSS, and PHP. With these restrictions in mind, we built some pages for the site and defined the content.
The site became difficult to use on mobile devices, so we decided to create a mobile site. This site was constructed using HTML, CSS, PHP, JS, and JQuery. The mobile site uses the same PHP code as the desktop version to access the database.
After designing the mobile site, we realized that it would still require the user to navigate to the site and login each time. It would also require the user to run the site in their browser, which can have varying degrees of success. To improve the user's ability to access the data quickly and more easily, we decided to create a mobile application. This application would also highly increase usage of the program by putting it at the user's fingertips and allowing them to authenticate faster. Currently, only an Android Client has been written due to the large market share of Android devices in enterprise environments. An iOS client is planned in the future. This client is compatible with Android 2.3 and higher.
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Conclusions and Continuations
For now, the largest focus of the project will be driving the adoption curve of the users. Before adding functionality, it is important to get users involved and analyze usage data. During this stage the project will be “Feature Frozen”.
After this has been achieved, the next step will be creating a connection between the customer portal and a machine's PLC. This would allow users to view information such as productivity, material usage, up/downtime, and error logs. It would also allow Viking Engineering to be able to view more detailed information about a client's machine more quickly and accurately. This is not only useful for the client, but additionally provides analytics and insight into how machines are used in the field.