EcoAmericas is a respected educational periodical which is published by Fourth Street Press. It provides empirical news coverage of the environmental conditions and climate trends in Latin America. The content is primarily accessed internationally by universities, environmental agencies and non-governmental organizations to promote awareness and action programs for the region's environmental issues. The non-profit publication prides itself on being unbiased and financially independent so that they can focus on providing objective articles and information to their readers. A network of regional correspondents reports on a variety of issues, including global warming, deforestation and illegal mining. Their work and this information are essential to generating public and political support for resolving these issues.
Gathering and sharing the reports with the public each month is a significant undertaking. The content is manually curated into an electronic newsletter that is distributed each month to subscribers. EcoAmericas needed a sophisticated web tool to help them manage their editorial content and deadlines effectively. Additionally, the system had to be able to interact with their existing FileMaker backend database, which stores the paid subscription information that controls access to the content. So, an e-commerce component was also necessary for the system.
The Support Group was tasked with creating the custom website and database integration. Just to clarify, we were not responsible for developing and maintaining the FileMaker database. We worked collaboratively with EcoAmericas's FileMaker developer to efficiently connect to the two systems. Our FileMaker knowledge and experience facilitated the process. After a lot of discovery and a thorough review of the requirements, we divided the project into three phases to maximize productivity for both EcoAmericas and us.
During the first phase, we focused on the content. We needed to accomplish several user experience objectives. Responsiveness was a top priority for the client, so we designed the pages to respond to different behaviors and functions depending on the device and screen size. Take, for example, the Archive page, on a desktop the user sees a calendar view of the archived issues. As the screen size decreases, drop-down menus replace the calendars so that the user can specify the month and year to view a particular archive.
Since the content is specific to Latin America, we localized the text. The user can choose to read the entire site in English or Spanish. It's easy to toggle between the two languages directly within the navigation and the header.
We wanted to streamline and automate the content management process as much as we could. Previously, the EcoAmericas subscription manager would have to export all of the data – the content and the subscribers – just to create and distribute the monthly publication. So, we expanded the capabilities of the website to include some content management system features. Specifically, we built an HTML generator that allows the subscription manager to copy and paste HTML code into the email template hosted by their email service provider. The manager only has to arrange the content once and it can be repurposed easily for different media formats. We applied the same strategic technique for the process of downloading their annual Guide to Latin American Environmental Agencies and Legislative Commissions file.
The client reports that they save about 2-5 hours each month in terms of managing and distributing the content using the new system. But, they're most excited about the new contact management capabilities that the system offers such as purging duplicate records and capturing intent.
The content portion of the project was successfully launched in March of 2018. After that, we moved on to the e-commerce component. They previously handled the subscription purchase process manually and offline. Now users can add items (full subscription, individual issue, or a gift subscription) to a cart, edit those items, review the order and complete the purchase securely online. A pretty typical e-commerce user experience.
Subscription data is passed to the backend FileMaker database in real-time and access to the content is instantly granted to the user. The custom website and FileMaker database integrate to manage the active subscriptions effectively. The two systems work together to authenticate standard user name and password data. They also verify access based on IP address since universities and other large organizations typically purchase subscriptions for multiple users. The integration between the custom website and the FileMaker database was intentionally designed to be independent of one another. We created a server-side process to collect the data and transfer it to the FileMaker database in real-time. FileMaker reports success or error and lets the user know immediately if there are any access issues. Behind the scenes, each system performs its discreet tasks, which makes it fairly easy to identify and correct system problems.
Next, we had to consider usage. The EcoAmericas team is committed to optimizing usability and accessibility, whether one student is reading the content or 2,000 students are logged in concurrently. The website was strategically designed to manage resource consumption efficiently.
We dedicated a significant amount of time to testing different use case scenarios to ensure a positive user experience right from the start. The e-commerce function was a new workflow for the client and it was a bit complex given the different matrix of options a user can specify. We're proud to say that there were no issues when the e-commerce features were released in May 2019.
Fourth Street Press, Inc. publishers of EcoAméricas had been working with an outside FileMaker database specialist for some time before James Dcunha from TSG entered the picture to assist us with the website portion of the project. Having James join our team was the best decision we could have made, not just for the web portion of the project, but also in the final building stages of our database. James has this incredible ability to simplify very complex issues, making the seemingly impossible possible. We relied heavily on his leadership skills and expertise to help us prioritize the tasks at hand, which led to the success of our team/project. I highly recommend James Dcunha and the entire TSG team to all seeking assistance with their FileMaker database and website needs.
— Maria Belesis, Subscription Manager
During the third phase of the project, we focused on expanding e-commerce capabilities. Previously, the EcoAmericas subscription manager was personally responsible for customer maintenance tasks. To alleviate the workload, we added several self-service enhancements to the system:
- Subscription renewals, including notifications and special offers
- Administrator designation, even multiple administrators
- User benefits administration
- Point of contact for billing
- IP access control management
These features were released in February 2020. EcoAmericas expects the e-commerce enhancements to be a game-changer for their operations. By empowering their customers with subscription management capabilities, their team is able to focus on the essential editorial content they publish.
The custom website has certainly come a long way from what the site looked like in 2015. But, there's always more we can do to improve usability and productivity. The team may want to add a new search function within the archive section of the website and possibly add analytics libraries to the database. And, if the client ever considers extending their coverage to other regions, the site is already configured to scale and adapt accordingly.
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