Recommedations & Prototypes
Chad Elkins, Anna Kaziunas, Ronald D. Willis
Project Overview

The Bloomington Chamber of Commerce website was designed for two purposes:

  1. To provide effective and efficient online communication and to deliver up-to-date information for members
  2. To make the staff members more productive by alleviating the technical aspects of the website

In order to integrate the organizational purposes and e-commerce initiative of the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, a series of recommendations were formulated. These recommendations include a complete redesign of the current website, with integration of programming and database components to facilitate a dynamic website that is ideal for e-commerce.

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Recommendations
Integration of Information Technology

The current implementation of the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce website is static and does not enable its members with the ability to readily input or update information on the website. Therefore, the IT recommendations for the proposed e-commerce-enabled website include the use of the following technologies:

PHP - PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor, or PHP, is a powerful open-source scripting language than can be used to generate dynamic web page content.

MySQL - MySQL, also open source software, is a relational database management system that is optimized for speed and performance for small to medium-sized businesses.

SSL - Secure Socket Layer, or SSL, allows for secure transmission of sensitive information via web browser.

The new website would allow the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce to deliver up-to-date, effective, and efficient information to its members and prospective members. Creation/updating of membership and event registration could occur over the web in a secure manner. These capabilities would ultimately alleviate the technical aspects of updating the website, thus allowing the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce to concentrate on the overall goals of the organization.

Advantages of Proposed Technologies

There are several advantages for using the proposed technologies. An SSL connection is necessary to encrypt sensitive information such as credit card numbers and passwords for transmission over the Internet. SSL allows the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce website to receive credit card numbers to process membership and event registration payments. Payment information will then be secure, assuring the privacy of the member or event registrant's payment information.

The PHP scripting language would enable dynamic web page content, which would allow Bloomington Chamber of Commerce members to add or update company profiles and sign up for events online without having to contact a Chamber employee. PHP could also be used to generate custom membership reports, track event registration, and send automated email requests and responses to its members. Although PHP can be used to connect to several different databases, it is often used in conjunction with MySQL, which could store membership and event registration information for all members.

Implementation Plan

All of the above technologies are already available for use by the Chamber. Kiva Networking® may need to be contacted in regards to the status of the SSL connection currently being supplied for the Chamber. HoosierNet, the Chamber's web host, may need to receive a request to activate PHP and MySQL on its web account at no extra cost. Once these organizations have been contacted and these technologies have been setup on the Chamber's web account, e-commerce activity can then be integrated into the website.

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Proposed Prototypes
Comparison of Current and Proposed Pages

Sara McGoun, Director of Programs, and Heather Robinson, Vice-President of Operations, expressed an interest in possibly having the website redesigned some time in the future. Furthermore, McGoun stated that the current implementation of the Chamber's website is static and is difficult to update and insert content. Therefore, a proposed redesign was developed in an effort to rectify these issues.

Community Page
Proposed Community Page
Figure 1: Current Community page
Figure 2: Proposed Community page

The sample page for this evaluation is the "Community" page. The current implementation (see Figure 1) contains several Flash animations, which inflates the composite size of the page and therefore takes longer to download over a 56K modem connection. According to the W3C Validator, it contains over 200 errors, which can cause the page to render differently in some browsers and impede maintenance due to lack of consistency with the HTML structure.

The proposed redesign (see Figure 2) was implemented on the subject page and compared with the same guidelines (see Table 1). The redesign is 74.5K in size - about 22% less than the original page and six seconds faster. The Flash banner and navigation were replaced with a graphical interface with image rollovers. The redesign is W3C-compliant, fully adhering to XHTML 1.1 and CSS2 standards. Finally, the proposed design is easier to modify. Consistent parts of the page can be separated into separate files (e.g., the navigation and footer) and can be referenced by main pages via server-side includes (SSI). The advantage of doing this is to make changes to one file, and propagate those changes to the other pages referencing that file.

Composite Size
Flash Content?
Response Time (56K)
W3C compliant?
Ease of Maintenance
Current Page:
96K
yes, 8 files
26s
no
no
Proposed Page:
74.5K
no
20s
XHTML 1.1 & CSS2
yes
Table 1: Comparison of Current and Proposed Page
E-Commerce Prototypes

Neat forms with clear presentation of e-commerce functions will gain the trust of the user. Without their trust, the user will not feel comfortable submitting their personal information over the Internet - especially credit card information. If the trust of the user cannot be gained by the combination of secure technologies and professional presentation, then the e-commerce initiative will fail. Thus, the forms in the e-commerce section of the website were given a consistent look that is clean, readable and trustworthy.

Member Login: Users will need to login to access account information, perform secure transactions and make updates.

Member Login Reminder: This form is the exact same as the Member Login form, only a note is dynamically generated to inform the user that he must login before attempting to perform a e-commerce or account function.

Member Update: Registered members of the Chamber who wish to update their directory information or contact information can access the member update form and change their information without any staff participation. To save time and typing for the user, this form will already be filled in when the user accesses it and the information can then be edited.

Sponsor an Event: This form allows members to sign up to sponsor a Chamber event and to pay for that transaction online. Sections of member information that are already in the system from previous transactions will also already be filled in when the user accesses the form to save time and typing.

These functions will make the Chamber website more dynamic and decrease the work of updating member information for staff members.

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Conclusion

The e-commerce initiative of the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce is essentially to automate the processing of current information to members so that the Chamber staff members can focus on other non-Web-related issues. The proposed implementation plan and redesigns are suggestions for the Chamber to consider when seeking a company to develop and integrate dynamic functionality into its website. Local companies recommended by the authors are listed below:

In summary, many of the proposed technologies are already accessible to the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. The authors recommend the staff to work closely with the outsourced web design consultant(s) in developing a usable web application that would be conducive for making the e-commerce initiative a reality.

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Last updated on 4/12/2009 12:34 PM

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