How do you build a modern website using a blend of internal and external resources with as little disruption as possible?
A hybrid front-end/back-end team model was applied to a recent web application upgrade for Capital Transportation Solutions (CTS), the ground transportation trucking business unit of 3PL provider Odyssey.
The CTS IT team had a common problem: A resource-stretched internal team that had difficulty keeping up with the latest technologies simply because day-to-day operations kept their work-plates full. This hampered their ability to apply cutting-edge tools to new projects.
Being in the service industry, their web application is a critical part of their business. To offer customers additional features that were not part of the legacy application design, they took the opportunity to re-shape the user experience and workflows while embracing more current application infrastructures.
“They knew they needed to improve their flagship application,” said Karyn Spies, MATRIX Account Executive. “But they didn’t have the right resources or tools in place to do so.”
Back-end Staffing; Front-end Professional Services
Initially, CTS planned to hire a contractor to help maintain their old application, while their internal team developed the new one. After Spies became familiar with the company and what their real needs were, she suggested they talk to the MATRIX UI/UX & AppDev teams to hear a better solution.
“The story we told resonated with their long-term goals,” said Darryl Allardice, Director, Digital Transformation at MATRIX. “What we proposed helped them build into the future.”
The “story” included a modern front-end website that would be sleek, fast and customer friendly. Along the way, MATRIX would help train CTS staff to maintain it using the latest Agile methodologies. Future changes would be easier to implement with MATRIX ready to assist CTS internal developers as needed. A hybrid approach was adopted. CTS decided to continue to support the ColdFusion back end with its own internal developers, while the MATRIX Professional Services team worked on an updated front end in Angular, the latest web development platform.
Kevin Hellriegel, CTS Director of IT, explained why. “There are a lot of complicated processes in our application. To keep it simple for front-end developers, we decided not to burden them with the business logic that goes into the back end,” he said. Nevertheless, the teams worked closely together and in tandem so that any UI/UX enhancements were double-checked for back-end functionality.
New Functionality and Modern UI/UX
The modern UI/UX has given them a sleek look, feel, and functionality which is not very common in the conservative shipping industry (not known for fancy websites).
It has also simplified the navigation for users who need to transition between quoting, shipping, and invoicing applications. “Our new site has provided a ton of shortcuts,” said Danielle Baker, CTS General Manager. “The time it takes to do any of the functions is much faster. The site responds as though it knows what you are trying to do.”
The new front end incorporates Elasticsearch, a state-of-the-art search engine based on Apache Lucene. “Elasticsearch changed everything,” said Hellriegel. “Before, we did all our searching in the database. Elasticsearch is faster, separate from our database, and doesn’t affect site performance. Basically, users can now do a Google search across our website.”
Customers can now conveniently store an address book of pickup and delivery locations, products, admin and user permissions, quoting, and shipment records. Customizable dashboards allow them to view this information in real time and schedule shipments much faster.
Building a Platform for Sustainability
Knowledge transfer was an unexpected byproduct of the engagement. For the first time, the CTS team became very well acquainted with Agile methodologies.
“Previously, they didn’t really have a disciplined software development process,” said Allardice. “We helped them learn how to come up with features, prioritize them, work through an incremental process, and really build them out.”
“You could really see the CTS team getting into that rhythm of software development via Agile,” he added. “They developed confidence on how to build code up into production and do it in repeat fashion with sustainability.”
Along with that confidence comes the satisfaction in knowing that CTS can use MATRIX again on an as-needed basis. With the right resources in place, and a plan for the future, CTS seems to be set up for the long haul.