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Handcrafting a Business Application
Maximizing WUSATA's Impact Through Tailor-Made Technology
The Western United States Agricultural Trade Association, or WUSATA for short, helps small businesses in the Western United States export food and agriculture products. WUSATA has 36 years of export expertise and is one of four State Regional Trade Groups that promote U.S. food and agricultural exports.
WUSATA recognized that modern technology was key to expanding their reach and knew that they had outgrown their many off-the-shelf applications.
Through a collaborative effort, we helped the non-profit design and integrate a tailor-made business application to manage their business operations, engage their Members, and empower western companies to participate in their programs.
The Back Story
The WUSATA team was up front about the limitations and frustrations of their existing technology. The majority of the problems stemmed from their accounting, event, program, and customer data being stored across multiple platforms and spreadsheets. Anytime one of these database tools required an ‘upgrade’ it would break the custom links and reports WUSATA had paid to develop. The unnecessary changes required constant maintenance on top of ongoing licensing fees. Not to mention, the scattered data made reporting difficult and time-consuming.
WUSATA’s leadership was determined to find a better technology solution – a custom one. A solution that would eliminate the fatigue caused by their legacy applications allowing the organization to focus on their mission to deliver programs and services that equip western U.S. agribusinesses to learn, connect, and compete.
Doing Our Homework
In order to align with WUSATA’s goals while eliminating their current technology woes we had to understand the business comprehensively. Working closely with their team we:
Learned about their services, brand identity, and organizational history
Performed an extensive UX, code, and architecture review
Performed a business system review – evaluating the existing websites, tools, spreadsheets, and applications
Shadowed employees as they performed their daily activities
Interviewed stakeholders and compiled their feedback
Through our comprehensive research, we established how to store all of WUSATA data in one system, architected in a way to facilitate collaboration and reporting. We defined a new information architecture and determined how the site would adapt to appeal to three distinct users groups. And we mapped and cataloged all existing data to facilitate data migration – an essential step for reporting and onboarding existing customers to the new application.
Adapting Form to Maximize Function
One of the central challenges was designing an application with functional and meaningful channels for three distinct users groups. Only focusing on WUSATA’s day-to-day operations, Member’s access to resources, or the education and conversion of Western Companies was not an option. We brought the unique needs of each user group into focus by crafting illustrative user personas and user journeys. With the personas, we were able to identify and eliminate steps to conversion for Western companies, reduce manual activities for the WUSATA team, and added sought after reports and committee management to the Member portal.
We accomplished this by adapting the site’s content and framework dependent on user type. The dynamic application presents each user with exactly what they need, limiting unnecessary clicks and information. With clear paths to conversion we limited confusion and the amount of time staff had to spend on customer support.
The adaptive site also allows WUSATA to control what users and admins could and could not see, protecting sensitive information.
Building Trust through Design
Trust is a core tenant of any business partnership. WUSATA recognized that their design needed to showcase their offerings organically to attract customers. Using beautiful food images and bold color treatments we created a design language that focused on western agriculture. Through an incremental approach and a variety of homepage iterations, we established a site that was both inviting and easy-to-use.
By creating a logical information architecture and providing intuitive tools; the site naturally guides U.S. Suppliers to discover the resources and programs that matter the most to them. And empowers suppliers to register for Global Connect events, apply for FundMatch, and find Export Education resources.
Access on Any Device for Anyone
Understanding that WUSATA’s diverse audience rarely was in the ‘office’, we knew the application needed to be accessible on the move. Through the calculated use of a responsive grid, we crafted the application to be fully functional across a wide range of devices – whether you’re on a smartphone or a 27” monitor. We carefully controlled degradation and focused on a less-is-more mentally to ensure a consistent user experience.
Section 508 compliance was important to WUSATA and we were happy to bring our experience with ADA standards to the design and coding of the new application. With careful review of the law, strict coding standards, and the aid of compliance tools we made sure that our final product is accessible and convenient to people of all abilities.
More Data, More Less Problems
The project, like many, ultimately hinged on data – and building a sustainable data solution into the backbone of the application was at the forefront of our minds throughout the multi-year engagement.
We worked with WUSATA to identify and unravel the data in their many systems: three Access databases, one iMIS database, Sage, and a handful of Excel spreadsheets. We took our understanding of WUSATA’s business goals and went about architecting an ideal structure to house all of their historical data. Early in the effort, we identified that migrating all the historical data would neither be cost effective or beneficial to the business. Working in concert with the WUSATA team we were able to identify essential and superfluous data, allowing us to design a flexible and useful database.
After meticulous research, a healthy pivot, and extensive data mapping we successfully migrated WUSATA’s heavily archived databases into an optimized database structure. By centralizing data and eliminating redundancy we transformed the inaccessible historical data into valuable and secure information for daily use. By maintaining relevant customer data, we significantly aided in the successful adoption of the new system by existing Members and U.S. Suppliers.
Back (Office) to the Future
When it came to getting the most out of WUSATA’s data, proper configuration was just the first step. The team was spending too much time gathering and reconciling data to perform day-to-day activities. Finding data and keeping data in-sync across multiple databases with different logins, fields, and rules was labor intensive and error-prone. With efficiency and accuracy in mind, we created business process specific admins out of each team’s day-to-day tasks. Admins which handled:
User management with flexible permissions
Content creation and management
Accounting – invoicing, allocations, and claims
Program participation and reimbursement
With the diversity of admins we knew we had to create a uniform feel. We designed the admins to take advantage of affordances and standardized styles to create sense of familiarity across the Back Office. By shifting the focus from database management to task completion while maintaining a consistent look-and-feel we were able to significantly reduce the amount of time staff spent keeping spreadsheets and each other up-to-date.
From the get-go we knew automated reporting was integral to the success of the new Back Office. Together with WUSATA, we focused on building a reporting tool which would quickly generate meaningful reports for internal and external use. We championed the idea of building a flexible report builder instead of automating a handful of cookie-cutter reports. WUSATA instantly recognized the power of a report builder and we challenged ourselves to make it flexible and easy-to-use. The result was a tool that could build a report in less the five minutes and report on any aspect of WUSATA’s operations.
Not only did the report builder satisfy internal needs it also helped WUSATA fulfill USDA reporting requirements.
We take security very seriously, and our commitment to security standards helped us stand apart during the proposal process. WUSATA understood the risk of handling sensitive company data, necessary for U.S. Suppliers to participating in their programs, and encouraged us to go beyond industry standards. We accomplished this by:
With WUSATA’s support we built security into every step of the development process. By proactively performing security audits and constantly reviewing our coding standards, we’re confident in supporting online payments and storing sensitive company and personal data.
A Video Tutorial is Worth 1000 Emails
Even with our wholehearted focus on user experience, we were very aware that the new business application would require ample training time. But no amount of trainings, emails, or walkthrough documentation can provide the clarity (and reusability) of a built-in help section with easy-to-find help videos. Well before the site launched, we produced more than 60 help videos and made them available to WUSATA staff on-demand through the Back Office. By investing in the creation of a robust help section we empowered WUSATA and cut down on ongoing expenses.
Example help video "How to Navigate the My WUSATA Dashboard."
Kurt JullSr. Designer & Strategist
The exciting challenge with WUSATA was modernizing their workflow and processes that would allow systems and people to communicate effortlessly. Through observation, interviews, and user personas, we were able to empathize and brainstorm new features and methods saving them precious time and permitting the WUSATA Staff to work with confidence. As always, the best reward of a job well done is the knowledge that A•VIBE is fully part of WUSATA's team and we continue to build new online systems that support their industry leadership.