James Wynne is Director of User Experience for Sandstorm and has been in digital product development since 1996. He has worked as a UX designer for a myriad of clients including large eCommerce brands, mobile device manufacturers and integrated marketing agencies.
The Agile Process
Scrum? Agile? Waterfall? Kaban? You likely have heard of these concepts and maybe adopted some version to your software, application or website development projects.
In its simplest form, Agile methodology is a project management process.
Scrum comes from the sport of rugby, where in a scrum formation everyone plays a specific role working towards a quick adoption of strategies. In complex projects just like on the rugby field, scrum facilitates team collaboration and iterative progress towards a goal. Teams practicing Scrum use Agile methodology.
As a Scrum Master, I make sure the team lives agile values and principles and follows team processes and practices. The responsibilities include establishing an environment where the team can be effective and clearing obstacles along the way.
For a look into how we put all this into practice, here is work we did recently in partnership with the nation’s leading trade association representing boat, marine engine, and accessory manufacturers, the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has an expansive ecosystem of websites across multiple business units and the boat, marine engine, and accessory manufacturer audiences it serves. Primary among these websites are more than 15 websites that serve the Boat Shows happening across the country, like the Chicago Boat Show (www.chicagoboatshow.com), which hosts hundreds of thousands of attendees.
Over the past two years, NMMA made significant investments in Acquia (Drupal’s Platform as a Service, PaaS) and moved its websites to the Acquia Cloud and Digital Experience Platform (DXP), with the goal of centralized site and application management and reducing the time required for labor-intensive infrastructure management.
Following the transition to Acquia, NMMA asked for Sandstorm’s support against clear goals for the project of providing centralized management of the multisite environment, uniform content blocks and streamlining code as well as fully optimizing the site for performance, SEO, user flow and content administration.
The highest priority for NMMA was tackling the Boat Show sites, as there were UI updates and improvements that needed to be implemented. We also needed to re-architect the multi-site management so the collection of roughly 15+ sites used consistent theming, features and components along with the set-up of continuous integration. This meant creating a deployment structure to support clear data management of the different sites, including content blocks and forms and controlling the changes to be tested through one branch.
Given the time-sensitivity and breadth of the work needing to be done, Sandstorm and NMMA collaborated through an Agile development methodology, using the Scrum framework. This supported a combined Sandstorm & NMMA team with clear roles, an ability to prioritize what stakeholders needed the most, and the ability to adhere to a tight timeline with productive, incremental sprints.
Each sprint was prioritized by NMMA to include enhancements, structural updates, and process improvements while keeping close management of the backlog, so we could reprioritize as the needs of the business shifted. Sandstorm led a daily scrum where the full team communicated tasks, updates, challenges, etc., which provided a continuous cycle of teamwork-led solutions each day.
There were several successes from an agile-led partnership for both NMMA and Sandstorm, including:
- Improved administrative user experience and streamlined management of the NMMA Boat Shows websites within the multi-site framework.
- Allowing for one branch update to affect multiple sites and changes to be adapted faster with no rework for the individual sites.
- Improved technical documentation. By managing development features and notes via Jira cards, we were able to instantly improve technical documentation and help structure the deployment processes.
- Stronger NMMA ownership. With an integrated approach and stronger team-wide knowledge and documentation of the systems and processes, NMMA was able to take more ownership of the product and had the tools in place to support current and future team members.
- This was key for the multi-site deployment process and management of the separate databases per show site.
- The development and deployment process can be controlled by the NMMA team and not one single team holds the keys to that process alone.
- The NMMA team became sufficiently knowledgeable in managing their improved Acquia & Drupal 8 website’s structure and can stand on their own.
- This allows NMMA to leverage Sandstorm’s expertise for future code enhancement implementations instead of spending budget resources on day-to-day management.
With this implemented Scrum framework, the combined Sandstorm and NMMA teams were able to build features efficiently, easily prioritize work and progress through the project quickly and successfully.
Want to learn how our integrated Agile and Scrum methodology can help move your development efforts forward? Contact us today to learn more!
We are thrilled to share that Jacobs Agency has joined Sandstorm!
Our two independently-owned, award-winning companies have come together as Sandstorm® with operations based in Chicago and satellite offices in Charlotte, Dallas, Denver and Seattle to create Chicago's leading technology-fueled, creative agency. The client list of the new Sandstorm includes organizations like Chicago Skyway, Crown Holdings, Heartland Financial, the National Association of REALTORS®, NOW Foods, Peoples Gas and Treehouse Foods.
“We partnered with Jacobs Agency a number of times over the years and along the way I got to know Tom,” said Sandy Marsico, founder of Sandstorm. “In that time, we learned we have very similar approaches to leading people, serving clients and running a business: do good work for good people.”
Sandy Marsico will remain as Sandstorm’s CEO and Tom Jacobs will become President of the combined agency. Andrea Wood continues as Managing Director. Creative will be led by Janna Fiester, Strategy by Susan Saltwell and Business Development by Amanda Heberg.
“After more than two decades as an independently owned agency, I couldn’t be happier to merge with another independently owned firm sharing my belief in strategically-inspired creative with a scrappy, nimble customer-centered approach,” said Tom Jacobs, founder of Jacobs Agency. “Our combined team and capability position Sandstorm to build stronger brand value for our clients in a time when the first brand exposure customers have is often a digital experience.”
How do you tell the story of saving a 2,000-year-old language over 9 decades, using fragments of tablets and inscriptions on ancient winged bulls to reveal a 6,000-year-old culture? Or tell the story of 100 years of research exploring 10,000 years of history?
This was our charge when we took on the responsibility for creating the Oriental Institute’s centennial site. To tell the stories that are the beginning of us, our lives as humans, together.
Founded in 1919, The Oriental Institute (OI) at the University of Chicago is a leading research center and world-renowned museum devoted to studying the civilizations of the ancient Middle East. The OI Museum exhibits one of the largest collections resulting from archaeological fieldwork in the Middle East, including more than 350,000 artifacts with roughly 5,000 on display on the University of Chicago campus.
Originally funded by a handful of visionaries including James Henry Breasted and John D. Rockefeller Jr., the OI has been a groundbreaking institution for over a century.
With a centennial approaching and over 10,000 years of stories to tell, the OI had a new challenge: find an interactive storytelling way to share the wealth of information uncovered over the years as well as present new expeditions and discoveries going on today. The OI needed a partner to create a digital experience celebrating its Centennial year and showcasing its 100 years of connecting ancient places, people and issues. The OI selected Sandstorm to lead this effort.
Sandstorm and the OI team underwent a thorough UX and creative UI process while leveraging the new branding that was being designed specifically for the Centennial and the rebranded identity for the OI itself. The primary goal was to deliver an interactive, high-touch, narrative experience while showcasing the incredible depth of research projects and overall work of the OI.
In addition, a key goal was to drive users to engage with the OI: registering for the Centennial Gala, donating, becoming a member, visiting the museum, or even adopting a dig. Making sure these CTAs and conversions link back to the main OI site was key, while also elevating the Centennial as a major milestone for the organization.
Sandstorm implemented a new Drupal 8 instance for the OI centennial site and configured the CMS for design flexibility in the future. Over the course of a few months, Sandstorm transformed key content related to the OI’s history, research projects, fieldwork, and museum collection into a well-curated, digital microsite experience.
“The OI needed a website that would display a wide range of media types with pictures and videos but we really wanted to focus on interactive elements as well and find the most engaging way to display their research to users,” said Jeff Umbricht, lead developer of the Centennial site. “With work all over the world, we decided to create an interactive map that presents a visual navigational tool to explore key discoveries.”
To encourage museum visits and membership, Sandstorm also included an easy to access events page for visitors to experience OI events throughout the year.
Key elements of the experience:
- Emphasis on displaying a wide range of information in a concise, scannable way.
- Extending Drupal modules and features for strong content editor control and flexibility.
- Interactive map to display research efforts in key locations in the Middle East. The solution provides an ideal balance of performance and interactivity.
- Mobile-first approach that ensures the user has the same level of interactivity and scannability from any device.
- Built targeting WCAG 2.0AA accessibility standards
With the website complete, the University of Chicago has begun promoting the Oriental Institute’s Centennial, which kicks off in September with a Centennial Gala followed by a public event and includes activities throughout the 2019–2020 academic year.
Visit oi100.uchicago.edu to learn more and be sure to visit the museum in person on the University’s campus in Hyde Park Chicago.
“Sandstorm’s work creating a digital experience for our Centennial celebration is a key element of our year-long effort focused on sharing not just the legacy and historical impact of the OI in understanding, revealing, and protecting the earliest human civilizations, but also recognizing that through our ongoing research and public outreach we can offer new ways of thinking about what connects us and why.”
- Dr. Kiersten Neumann, Curator of the Oriental Institute Museum, and Research Associate and Communications Associate of the Oriental Institute
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) is the leading association of medical professionals who advocate and oversee the health of workers, the safety of workplaces and the overall quality of environments.
ACOEM’s website and several related microsites utilized an outdated technology, an ineffective user experience that did not reflect the mission of the association nor the user needs of the occupational and environmental medicine community. The content was extremely deep and relied on a poor search experience, which often led to users contacting the help desk, putting unnecessary strain on their staff, or abandoning the site.
Goals of the redesign included: ensuring the site informed users about occupational and environmental medicine (no tree-doctors need apply); Single sign-on for critical member benefits; reaching emerging professionals entering the workforce (career ops, connecting with peers, educational content); and offering special interest communities to connect and increase member engagement.
The new site needed to be clean, intuitive, mobile-first with integrated faceted search, while delivering a robust administration experience for ongoing content management by ACOEM staff.
ACOEM wanted the new site to work from the existing marketing materials, but not be a slave to the printed brand. Sandstorm knew going straight to visual UI layouts would not give the teams the opportunity to work together—to “Yes, And”, which is one of Sandstorm’s guiding principles for our creative work. Because of this, Sandstorm began the UI process with brand/mood boards in order to gain alignment on the visual direction. Once a brand/mood board was selected, Sandstorm quickly transitioned into visual user interface designs with a mobile-first strategy.
We also identified the navigational structure was going to be broad and deep resulting in a dense navigational structure. ACOEM was extremely motivated to use a unique mobile-first drawer pattern for the navigation on all viewports. This innovative navigation resulted in a very clean experience that was user-friendly and unique within the association space.
Sandstorm’s UX and Kentico-certified development team worked collaboratively to build the page layouts using a form-based model instead of an open structure. This approach enabled the site to embody a consistent user experience while making site content and image updates intuitive and easy to manage for the ACOEM team. Knowing search was fundamental to the overall user experience, we leveraged Kentico’s tagging, categorization, Google sitemap, and Smart Search to significantly improve the relevancy and findability of key content; in addition to integrating with Fonteva’s AMS to deliver a personalized member experience.
The website was a critical part of ACOEM’s overall digital transformation journey led by our partner, .orgSource, as they helped modernize the technology landscape including new software for the AMS, finance and workflow analysis.
The dotCOMM Awards honored the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and Sandstorm with a Gold award honoring excellence in web creativity and digital communications in the association space. Check out the new ACOEM site.
The 2019 dotCOMM Awards is administered and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), one of the largest, oldest and most respected evaluators of creative work in the marketing and communication industry.
Since launch in January 2019, ACOEM has seen significant improvement, including:
- User interactions (sessions) increased 32%
- Return visitors increased 18%
- New users (no prior sessions) increased 13%
Sandstorm continues a strong partnership with ACOEM and provides ongoing UX/UI improvements, development and AMS integration support and maintenance for the site, including data analytics in order to drive key insights for optimization. In addition, to further extend the Kentico platform, Sandstorm is underway with building much improved Member and Find a Provider searchable directories that leverage key user data stored in Salesforce (Fonteva), as these are highly visible (and highly utilized) features of the site.
Since our founding, Sandstorm has followed a “yes, and” approach. What does that mean?
For us, it’s a matter of how we think in regards to how we solve problems. With our user-centered design approach, we want our clients to know that we hear them. This yields a concept that reflects the needs and requirements from the business and the user. This results in the “yes” concept.
We then go a little farther. We’re a bunch of thinkers and dreamers. We explore fresh concepts and see where it takes us. This result is something that meets the users' needs but in a form that goes beyond their expectation. This concept is Sandstorm pushing ourselves creatively and in effect pushing our clients, too. This is the “and.”
This is a creative marketing term now, but where did it come from?
The terminology for “yes and” came from the theater. Actually, just a few miles from our Chicago office. Starting with the Compass Players and Second City then later at iO, this concept is used to create improvised stories. For the improviser “yes and” means “yes, I hear you and understand the information you’re presenting, and I’m going to add something to heighten our interaction.”
An illustrative example
Consider this scenario, Person 1 steps on stage and says “This paper is despicable. I’m going to have to give you an F.” Person 2 in her head thinks: Yes, I am a student and you’re the teacher. We’re in a classroom. I’m failing, and I think it’s because I wrote about a subject you don’t approve, and responds “Well, it’s probably because you don’t respect the intricacies of the writing of Stephenie Meyer.”
From there the scene goes forward because of “yes, and”-ing. It can go into a conversation about how the teacher and student have different ideas of high art, or can go on to show that the teacher really loves “Twilight” and the student is just a bad writer.
But this could have only developed because of the “yes, and.” Had she only “Yes”-ed it would have played out like this:
Person 1 says “This paper is despicable. I’m going to have to give you an F.” Person 2 in her head: Yes, I am a student and you’re the teacher. We’re in a classroom. I’m failing, and she responds “I’m a terrible student.”
That adds no information, and it doesn’t make anything more interesting. In effect, it ends any progression by cutting off the potential of what could happen.
“Yes, and” implications for storytelling in marketing
As this concept creates scenarios on stage for improvisers, this can also be directly applied to how a business’ or an overall creative concept’s story is told. This can cover overarching campaigns, visual creative executions, and content marketing. Keeping an open mind while editing and writing, enables the writer to fully take on the role as a storyteller. This involves removing parameters and preconceptions to open opportunities to craft a story. The end result is interesting and involving instead of dry content that is primarily facts, figures, and business-talk.
Yes, of course, you need data within your words, but the reader needs more than just that to keep reading. By making each content interaction a storytelling opportunity, you’re engaging the reader actively and driving them to want more.
Back at Sandstorm
By “yes, and”-ing at Sandstorm we listen to what our clients want, what they expect, and then add to it to make something greater. We could only “yes,” but that would keep our project in neutral. It’s the “and” that helps move concepts forward and gets everyone to think and imagine in a whole new way.
Following a “yes, and” philosophy enhances our collaboration both internally and with our clients. We open the doors to all possibilities and sometimes surprise ourselves, too. By coming to a project of any kind with an open mind, we can see truly what is possible. This heightened thinking allows us to produce results that help clients exceed their goals and move their business forward.
Earlier this year a German court ruled that Amazon’s ‘dash’ buttons violated that country’s consumer protection laws. These super convenient networked devices stick on your fridge or washing machine to order things like laundry detergent and pet food with the simple push of a button. German law requires shoppers to have price information at the time of their transaction. Amazon’s buttons, designed to be convenient, only provided a product logo and a button so users wouldn’t know if a price had increased, decreased or how it differed from competitors.
At Sandstorm, our core eCommerce UX principles include:
- Transparency in pricing
- Giving users the ability to quickly and clearly modify or cancel an order
- Providing ways to quickly decline cross-sells and up-sells
While users have come to expect a standard ‘exit through the gift shop’ process, they are also savvy enough to know that eCommerce sites like Amazon and Expedia may not be showing them the cheapest options first.
Our user research has shown that the current eCommerce shopper is one who will prioritize convenience as much as cost. We refer to this persona as the ‘Energy Manager’. She has little time, is often multi-tasking, desperately craves convenience, and expects competitive pricing. From a saving money standpoint, the Energy Manager will apply all of the coupons and promotional codes she can find and will split orders to use more coupons.
She is also very wary of sites that engage in deceptive practices or make her jump through hoops to complete a transaction. Often these are the sites that do not get return visits.
There Is A Cost For Bad Behavior
While you may be able to frustrate users with complicated interfaces or processes to try and get them to do what you want, ultimately the only thing you’ll achieve is user frustration and brand denigration. Even worse, you’ll probably just earn yourself more customer service calls and brand-eroding, sometimes viral, dreadful complaints across social media channels without achieving the business outcome you desired.
But We Really Want To Sell You That Beer
For example, a Chicago neighborhood movie theater uses its own non-responsive website to sell tickets. The theater uses a drop down for the type of ticket the user would like to purchase.
While lots of folks enjoy a good beer with their movie, it’s apparent that not everyone does because the theater added a note to try and prevent users from making the wrong selection.
So here you have a situation where the theater is defaulting a choice that will make them more money by upselling a beer but have clearly run into the issue of users making the default selection by mistake and then complaining. The resolution to these complaints? Add more copy (i.e. noise) to try and avoid the error.
A transparent, ethical, best practice eCommerce UX solution would be:
This way the user has to intentionally make the selection that applies to them with the most common selection listed first. The business still gets to offer the beer upsell but doesn’t have to deal with as many complaints and no copy is required to work around the error case.
Being Good Pays Off
Users understand that eCommerce sites are businesses and are intended to make money. At Sandstorm, we have discovered that when a businesses’ profit model is clear, it tends to engender more confidence from the user as the best digital experiences are centered around a value exchange (i.e. “I give you my email and you give me a deal”). eCommerce sites that follow UX best practices provide clear pricing information along with relevant up-sells and cross-sells and easy ways for the users to get what they want quickly and easily are the ones who will earn their users’ loyalty. Good UX and good eCommerce will pay off in smoother transactions, less customer support and more repeat business.
Does your eCommerce site provide the pricing transparency and easy shopping experience that users want and good business demands? A great way to find out is with a standardized heuristic evaluation that grades your site on 10 common usability metrics. Contact us to get started.
Since 2005, the Drupal community has gathered at DrupalCon to learn, explore and share. Embracing our “Be Curious” core value, Sandstormers headed for Seattle, WA to the 2019 DrupalCon conference, in order to glean new insights, stay on the pulse of the Drupal roadmap, and uncover better ways to leverage Drupal, all while experiencing the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
Here’s what you need to know from this year’s conference.
1. Don’t wait for Drupal 9. If you’re on Drupal 7, start planning your migration to Drupal 8 now.
Drupal 7 will no longer be community supported as of November 2021. Powerful new features are being released for Drupal 8 every six months, and the path from Drupal 8 to 9 is being engineered to be easy. Moving to Drupal 8 now is the smarter business decision and better investment for most websites.
Why upgrade now instead of later?
Migrating sooner will significantly reduce the delta of the platform, module and architectural changes that need to be addressed. The migration from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8/9 is a significant shift, there’s no getting around that. By upgrading now, you’ll be able to address these changes now, which should put you on a much simpler, less costly upgrade path, once Drupal 9 is released.
In addition, by moving to Drupal 8 now, your ongoing investment in the platform will sustain as you upgrade to Drupal 9. Short-term investments in Drupal 7 (custom development, modules, features, etc.) may need to be re-written once you’re ready to upgrade.
2. Your website speed directly impacts your revenue.
Speed matters- that’s not new. But the disparity between fast sites and slow sites continues to grow. It’s simple: the slower the site, the less revenue you’ll generate. If your site loads in less than 5 seconds, you’re generating about 2x more revenue than if your site was slower.*
…And if that isn’t convincing, consider Amazon, who loses 1% of sales for every 100 milliseconds of increased response time.
3. Seriously consider adding GraphQL to your Drupal environment.
GraphQL (www.graphql.org) is a querying language for APIs and acts as a common language between services and applications. GraphQL was created originally by Facebook as a data-fetching API, so it needed to be powerful, yet easy for product developers to use. Today it powers hundreds of billions of API calls per day.
Why does it make sense?
GraphQL is a powerful choice for businesses who have many disparate services and offerings that need to communicate as it serves as a common language between them. Think of it as the glue that binds the business’ functions together. For example, with GraphQL, the sales app can ask the inventory app if an item is in stock and if either app gets rewritten or modified the communication between the two will not break.
In addition to the simplification of service-service communication, apps using GraphQL can be quick even on slow mobile network connections. While typical REST APIs require loading from multiple URLs, GraphQL APIs get all the data your app needs in a single request.
"I think GraphQL wins my heart because it changes human behavior" - Garrett Heinlen, Netflix
In addition to Netflix and Facebook, companies like Shopify, Walmart, Yelp and the New York Times have embraced GraphQL.
4. Advanced Automated Visual Testing will be a massive step for QA.
Humans can’t detect the most subtle changes in a site but Advanced Automated Visual Testing can. With an automated system for finding discrepancies, we can expect shorter soft release cycles and a larger device operating matrix – making the job easier for QA. This also equates to reduced costs and time savings in identifying those sticky, small bugs.
There are many tools available to enable automated testing in the development cycle, such as WebdriverIO (https://webdriver.io/).
By leveraging the power of automated testing, QA can focus on meaningful work instead of “spot the difference” games.
5. Improving accessibility can produce a clear ROI.
Many companies think about accessibility as it relates to legal compliance. That's a valid concern, but improving your accessibility also presents a huge business opportunity. Improving accessibility can mean increasing the reach of your site by up to 20%.**
Beyond making your content more available to more users, your efforts will likely also drive more traffic through the natural SEO benefits of having well-structured content.
Improving the accessibility of your site is a lifestyle, not a one-time event. Contact us to schedule your Drupal Accessibility Audit.
Concerns with Drupal 7’s end of life for your existing Drupal site? Need a place to start?
Contact us to schedule your Drupal 8 Readiness Assessment to see if moving from Drupal 7 to 8 is right for you!
For more DrupalCon details, check out the State of Drupal presentation: https://dri.es/state-of-drupal-presentation-april-2019
*Joe Shindelar. “Gatsby & Drupal”, DrupalCon Seattle 2019
**Aimee Degnan, Caroline Boyden. “Accessibility Deep Dive”, DrupalCon Seattle 2019
The National Business Institute is a professional association providing continuing legal education (CLE) for attorneys and paralegals for over 35 years and delivering over 18,000 in-person and on-demand resources.
While NBI’s live seminars and OnDemand resources lead the industry, their website and subscriber experience were trailing behind. NBI partnered with Sandstorm—to create a personalized, user-centric (and most importantly, revenue-driving) experience for existing subscribers, transactional customers, and prospects.
Sandstorm began with user research that identified the motivations and expectations of each type of customer. Then, we crafted a myriad of user flows based on user groups, extensive site map, navigation, wireframes and creative to align each step in the purchase process with those expectations.
By conducting usability testing, we uncovered user needs, expectations, and insights, including:
- The use of key statistical information vs. the use of customer testimonials on the homepage was much more impactful to key audiences.
- Including specialty credit details in the search results, since this is a key identifier in the selection of a course and purchase process for users.
- Users wanted stronger use of colors throughout the experience, but still honoring the blue that NBI was well-known for.
Because findability and conversion were primary goals, we needed to determine how to best integrate a robust search throughout the experience. The final site includes multiple layers of search exposed within the experience to ensure users can quickly and easily find desired courses and find them in the format they wish to consume them.
Personalization was also key. Sandstorm worked closely with NBI’s development team to build in targeted courses based on a users’ geolocation and schedule (recommended courses, happening soon, and best sellers).
As NBI was shifting its business model to more emphasis on a subscription model vs. one-off courses, the conversion path to becoming a subscriber needed to be clear and slightly varied experience from an individual visiting the site for the first time.
And, knowing the mobile experience was critical to these users, we crafted and deployed a fully responsive designed experience, including personalization based on returning users vs. new users to the site.
Finally, we extended the user experience and creative via front-end development and collaborated closely with NBI’s in-house development team to ensure the experience seamlessly integrated with NBI’s back-end CMS, technology and complex e-commerce systems.
The Hermes Creative Awards honored the National Business Institute and Sandstorm with a Gold award for the agency’s redesign of the NBI website.
The 2019 award winners were announced by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP), which administers the annual Hermes Creative Awards international competition.
In addition, the website has experienced significant improvement, including:
- Organic SEO positioning has increased by 20%
- Conversion rates are up 12% year over year
- Experienced higher search and filtering traffic that converts at a much higher rate than the prior site experience
- Received extremely positive feedback from its subscription-based customers via the streamlined and much-improved checkout flow
“Thank you for your help. The site looks great and we couldn’t be happier with what you did for us.”
Jim Embke - Managing Director, National Business Institute
The Society of Actuaries (SOA) is the pre-eminent association for the actuarial profession. With over 30,000 actuaries as members, the SOA’s mission is to advance actuarial knowledge and the ability of actuaries to provide expert advice and solutions for financial, business and societal challenges.
In line with their mission, the SOA wanted to take the conceptual idea of an Actuarial Toolkit and bring that to life in Drupal 8 as a web application. The SOA's existing Glossary App needed to be redeveloped into a web app, in addition to incorporating data from multiple websites.
The SOA kickstarted the project internally with some baseline requirements and initial design mock-ups to support the reimagined Actuarial Toolkit. Sandstorm was able to quickly collaborate with the SOA and build upon the work completed, in order to begin transitioning into more detailed user experience and technical requirements.
The SOA partnered with Sandstorm in order to build an interactive web application that delivered a variety of online resources for actuarial candidates, actuaries, and actuarial analysts. We identified with the SOA that Drupal 8 would be the optimal platform that would offer a high level of flexibility and a scalable development framework to support the desired interactions along with a robust mobile experience.
With a Drupal-based solution and our proposed technical architecture, we were able to provide a scalable framework for the SOA to expand and grow to support the other SOA applications. The goal was to make it simple for the SOA to build out new solutions over time, without significant investment each time. The architecture also supports opportunities to transition to a headless Drupal solution (if desired in the future), which could be used to drive native mobile apps.
In addition, the Actuarial Toolkit supports the longer-term vision and consolidation of its online tools to support the Actuarial Profession.
The Actuarial Toolkit includes the following features:
- Interactive Actuarial Glossary including over 500 peer-reviewed definitions, concepts and practice area terminology for those working with Actuarial Science
- Bookmarking to save favorite pages in the toolkit
- Flashcard function to display glossary terms saved for quick access and review
- Main hub for practice areas, giving users access to pre-defined mathematical definitions and data templates used in the profession including curated live illustrations of actuarial and mathematical concepts using R
- Integrated Single Sign-On experience with the SOA’s Association Management Software system and website so users can move seamlessly through the entire web experience
The SOA launched the new Actuarial Toolkit after working for many months curating the content and finalizing the industry definitions and terminology to ensure a highly usable, high-touch, personalized experience. Overall feedback has been incredibly positive from the SOA membership and community, not only offering an interactive suite of tools to advance learning in the profession but also giving the users even more personalized experiences that they can control.
As part of our annual review process we use the start, stop, continue retrospective technique. We've found it's a great way to recognize successes and opportunities for growth for individuals, teams and organizations. Thinking about the digital transformations we've seen with associations lately, below are some retrospectives on what we see trending with membership organizations.
Creating a culture of data. Using data to inform your decisions and weaving that into everything you do is critical to success. We are working with an association today where we're collecting and analyzing data to identify educational gaps and drive new products (and revenue). We're also utilizing data to drive content and functional requirements on new website builds to improve the member experience. By taking a fresh look at member data for a global membership organization, we were able to re-interpret the data and create new marketing campaign messaging to increase membership and product sales. The combination of qualitative and quantitative data helps associations turn subjective decisions into objective ones. Even when we're talking creative and UX – data science for us plays a huge role.
Stop building websites in proprietary technologies on a web dev shop's server as you are trapping yourself and it’s completely unnecessary now. Many leading associations are utilizing off-the-shelf content managements systems like Drupal, Kentico, etc. to integrate with their AMS and LMS systems, provide personalized member experiences, and track analytics and KPIs. Then you have options when it comes to supporting your chosen system. You can choose to have the original digital agency maintain and support your site, you can select a new partner for support, or bring it in house. We also recommend you own the hosting relationship with a 3rd party provider such as Rackspace, Azure, or AWS so you are never "stuck". We have taken over the maintenance and support for so many association websites that didn't get the service, attention to detail, nor strategic thinking to drive their association forward, and it was all possible because of the CMS they selected (and it's always a smoother transition when a 3rd party hosting provider is involved but not necessary).
Continue focusing on member engagement, member value and the overall member experience. This is what we love most about associations. It doesn't matter if you're a trade association or medical, large or niche, everyone shares a common mission to help your members become more than they can on their own. One of the most common challenges and motivations we've seen for launching into a new website overhaul was to improve their members' online experience and increase online member engagement. And we get it – we, too, are all about the user. When you look into the member journey, continue at all touchpoints to remember we're all just people trying to be the best version of ourselves. Keep the humanity alive in your organization that you have already mastered.