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Thread: Advice Needed

  1. #1
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    Exclamation Unanswered: Advice Needed

    Dear Members,

    I don't normally ask for advice or help but I am currently going into my final year on a first and want to produce a class project. I am looking for implementation ideas on my following project, such as which relational DBMS would be most suitable in providing the functions and requirements I have identified, taking into account the strengths and limitations. Below is the break down of my project.


    Project Specification

    1 Project Title

    A Complaints and Suggestions system for Wortons Estate Agency

    2 Aim of the Project

    The aim of the project is to design and build a web-based complaints and suggestions system for a local chain of estate agents. This will have an interface for customers, accessible through web browsers and terminals at the agents’ premises, for the input of complaints, compliments and suggestions (notifications) and an interface for management to produce reports and to respond to the notifications

    3 Background Information

    The local agent, Wortons, has shops in Hatfield, Potters Bar, Brookmans Park, Welwyn Garden City and St. Albans. They advertise properties for sale and rent and specialise in the letting of properties to students. They provide the following services:

    Survey and valuation of properties

    Sale of properties, advertised in the shops, in newspapers and on the web

    Management of rental properties on behalf of clients

    Location of properties for clients to buy or rent

    A special service to local students and to clients offering properties for student rental

    Customers may be people looking to buy or rent a property, people with a property to sell or people with properties to let. When things go wrong they are not usually slow in complaining. Currently complaints are dealt with by staff at the individual agencies who write them onto a slip of paper and pass them on to the management team. There is a suggestions box at each agency (which people also use for complaints, but rarely compliments) but the box next to it containing the empty suggestions slips is often empty so customers have nothing to write on.

    Management are keen to improve their customer services and would now like to implement a complaints and suggestions scheme on their web site which customers can access from a terminal in the reception area or from home. They propose to acknowledge all notifications within one working day –either by email or post, with follow-up letters for complaints once they have been investigated and dealt with. Management would like to be able to report on the types of notification received and also the speed with which complaints are dealt with.

    The system should have access to a database containing all the customers’ details and all notifications should be recorded in this database referenced by a client number assigned to the author.

    4 User Requirements

    4.1 The Customer Interface

    Customers should have an easy way of accessing their details by entering their surname and postcode. There should be a facility for them to enter their details if they do not appear, as new customers may not yet be on the system.

    Customers should have a free-text area to type in details of their notification. They should be encouraged to select from a list of types and sub-types the main description which applies to the notification.

    If there is no recorded email address for the customer on file they will be asked if they want to input one.

    Once the notification has been submitted the customer should be thanked for taking the trouble to communicate and told that an acknowledgement will be sent within one working day by email or post (if they don’t have an email address)

    4.2 The Customer Service Interface

    Submitted complaints are automatically entered into the database. Every day, the customer services manager (CSM) will analyse all notifications received. A list of the complaints should show on her system at login.

    The CSM will select the notifications one at a time and may adjust the types allocated by the customer. She will decide if the notification is a complaint, compliment or suggestion and allocate the appropriate category. She will then choose an acknowledgement letter from a pre-defined list of Word documents – the letter will be generated in Word with the customer’s name and address automatically entered. The acknowledgement will either be printed for posting or sent by email if the customer has an email address.

    If the notification needs no further action, the CSM will mark it as resolved. If it needs further action she will allocate it to one of the team of Resolvers (i.e. people working at the different agencies), she will give it a turn-round date (a default has been agreed at 5 working days but this can be over-ridden) All notifications allocated to a Resolver will show on a list when s/he logs in. For each notification s/he should either:

    Deal with it and contact the customer saying what has been done – stored standard letters may be used for communications with members

    Pass it on to another Resolver with a note of what action is required

    If the Resolver considers the notification has been dealt with s/he should mark it as resolved.

    Every action taken relating to a notification should be recorded in an Actions list in the database.

    4.3 The Reporting Interface

    Management would like access to a number of standard reports:

    All notifications by category and type

    Outstanding notifications by category and type

    Outstanding notifications by Resolver

    A summary table showing numbers of complaints by type and sub type over a given period

    5 Project Tasks

    In order to be considered for a pass at Third Class Honours standard on this project, I must give evidence of having adequately attempted to:

    Design and implement a database to store details of customers and notifications they have posted.

    Design and partially implement a prototype web-based front-end for the Worton Estate Agency Complaints and Suggestions system

    Enable notifications to be input via the web and stored in the database against the client number of the author (all new customers will be automatically allocated a client number)

    Design and partially implement an interface for the customer services manager to view notifications, and record actions against them. The operator should be able to select the name of a standard letter from a pull-down list, but links to Word and email are not required for 3rd Class Hons. Standard and the letter templates do not need to be created.

    Implement at least two of the required reports

    In order to be considered for a pass at Second Class Honours standard in addition to the above, I must give evidence of having adequately attempted to:

    Provide automated links to Word and email from the customer services manager interface. A few template letters should be created to show how the customer’s details can be transferred into a Word document, however the content of the letters is not important and you do not need to create the full text of the replies.

    Implement all of the required reports

    Have produced interfaces which not only work but have robust error trapping and show due consideration of usability issues.

    In order to be considered for a pass at First Class Honours standard on this project, I must, in addition to the above, must also give evidence of having adequately attempted to:

    Identify usability criteria for all aspects of the system and show how the design of the system meets these criteria

    Evaluate the system with a number of users and comment critically (based on the evaluation) on the extent to which these criteria have been met.

    6 Project Deliverables

    As appendices to the project report I am expected to provide

    An entity relationship diagram and data dictionary for the final system

    Documented program code

    A full set of annotated screen shots

    Useful References

    Recommended reference on evaluating the usability of software

    http://www.useit.com

    Other references on web design and usability

    www.usableweb.com
    www.usability.gov
    http://www.usability.gov/guidelines/index.html
    http://webtango.ischool.washington.edu/
    www.otal.umd.edu/uupractice

    General Human Computer Interaction Texts:
    Human Computer Interaction Dix, AJ. et al. Prentice-Hall 1998
    Designing the User Interface, Shniederman, B. Addision Wesley 1998
    Human Computer Interaction, Preece, J. et al Addision Wesley 1994
    Usabiltity Inspection methods Nielsen, John Wiley & Sons 1994
    Handbook on Usabiltiy Testing, Rubin J. John Wiley & Sons Ltd 1994
    Interaction Design beyond human-computer interaction, Preece, J. et al John Wiley & Sons 2002

  2. #2
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    This request for help is too open-ended, which probably explains why no one has responded yet. What is it you actually want to know?

    Re which DBMS is most suitable, well Oracle is certainly a good candidate, along with the other big names: SQL Server, DB2. Not Access, of course, because that is only suitable for small, single-user applications.
    Last edited by andrewst; 10-11-04 at 08:41. Reason: Correct typo

  3. #3
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    Thumbs up

    Here are some models you can use either as guidance or as templates for your project.
    The person who says it can't be done should not interrupt the person doing it. -- Chinese proverb

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by andrewst
    This request for help is too open-ended, which probably explains why no one has responded yet. What is it you actually want to know?
    I'm just looking for any advice on anything to do with my project. How would a more experienced DB person go about tackling this project, what would they take into consideration, what software would they use for the front end? Which DBMS would they implement to manage it. How to implement the report/email aspects of the system. I'm just purley after peoples thoughts on it.

  5. #5
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    Well, often the choice is limited by what the business already has. If you have complete freedom then you need to consider various factors such as:
    - cost of the DBMS
    - features of the DBMS

    Some DBMS's have tools for building web-based applications; for example Oracle has HTML DB among other tools. You might consider that when choosing the DBMS. Alternatively, you may opt for an unrelated tool for building web applications, such as PHP, ASP, etc.

    As for approach, it is a good idea to start with analysis - identify the business functions and entities, build a conceptual data model etc. Some people would use UML here, others more traditional approaches (ERDs, process flow diagrams, etc.)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
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    Well....

    Since you're posting in the Oracle forum...I'll go ahead and say you should use Oracle as a backend. Oracle though may be overkill if you are just doing this for a project, and don't plan on implementing this in an actual company. Oracle is tops out there for business applications, but if you are going to keep this as simply a prototype, maybe MYSQL is a viable alternative as well.

    That being said, as a front end there are a wealth of options. PHP seems to be a popular choice at the moment. If you have the budget, and want to learn some new technologies, maybe this would be a good candidate for Oracle Forms/Oracle Applications 11i. You could then let Oracle take care of more of the security issues, rather than having to code that in PHP.

    As for reporting, again since this is an Oracle forum, I would go with Oracle Reports. Reports programs are a dime a dozen, and all basically provide the same capabilities that you would expect. You could also use Crystal Reports, or in a bind, just use SQL*PLUS to make "reports". Regardless of which software you use for that, good table design/structure and efficient queries will be the most important to consider.

    As for automatic emails, I would consider that, but there are a ton of other things that need to be taken care of first. Start with your data flow's and ERD's and go from there. Get it on paper, and then translate that to the database.

    </generic advice>
    Oracle OCPI (Certified Practicing Idiot)

  7. #7
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    Thumbs up

    Hi ss659, andrewst and LKBrwn_DBA.

    Thank you for you advice. I am going to do the project from home and want to keep the cost of it to a minimum and I have done some research and I am startng to lean towards MySQL and PHP (I believe they are very compatible) as both are free and readily avaliable for download. I will take on board what you both said and start off with creating UML/ERD's to try identify the various business functions and entities. If any other ideas or pieces of advice come to mind I'd appreciate all of them. I'm not familiar with Crystal Reports so I'll look into that aswell.

    Thanks again

    Simon
    Last edited by Wealth-Builderz; 10-11-04 at 11:36.

  8. #8
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    You can actually download Oracle freely too from Oracle Technology Network- as long as it isn't for commercial purposes.

    It needs quite a bit of disk space, though.

  9. #9
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    Exclamation

    I'll consider that as well, but a couple of people have expressed that it maybe overkill for such a project. Whats your view on this. Is Oracle easier or harder to learn then say MySQL?

    Thanks again.

  10. #10
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    Harder, I imagine - but then I have never used MySQL so I don't really know.

  11. #11
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    Oracle is harder to learn to initially get anything running.
    MySql is quicker and easier to get anything running badly.

    Many moons ago, back when I was a young lad (sober and good looking and everything :-) the IT manager of a prospective customer asked why I was spec'ing and pricing bespoke software on Oracle (back then it was 10k sterling per CPU just for Oracle) when MySql was essentially free. He'd had a lot(?) of experience with MySql.

    A couple of years later (when I was still good looking and sober and everything but he was worn and wrinkled) the same IT manager (who now had even more experience of MySql) let out a huge sigh of relief that they'd gone with Oracle. I think while he still didn't understand Oracle, he understood they had made the right decision. I think it was his worries and my confidence which allows me to still look young and fit (if not a bit geeky) today.

    Hope that atleast gives you a chuckle, even if not at all useful :-) You might want to ignore all but the first couple of lines.

    Cheers
    Bill
    Please don't email me directly with questions. I've probably just got home from the pub and cannot guarantee the sanity of my answers. In fact, I can't believe I actually made it home.

  12. #12
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    Cool

    I'll bare this in mind, thanks......I think

  13. #13
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    Thumbs up

    Hi,

    Everyone has been very helpful so far so I thought I'd ask another question regarding my project. I was wondering if anybody could give me advice regarding the structure of a project plan for my particular project. I could just go straight into it but I want some sort of blueprint or plan to follow as this is more professional, plus I'd have to do it in a proper job after uni so why not get some practice! I've got a rough idea of the tasks involved but was wondering what would be the most logical path to take? Which tasks to tackle and in what time order.

    Any advice would be very welcome.

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