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Dynamic Web Sites: Part 1

Dynamic Web Sites
by Russ Cobbe

We are slowly seeing the maturation of the Internet and specifically the World Wide Web. Some of the winning technologies are now being broadly implemented as these new standards are established. Static web sites are firmly entrenched in corporate marketing strategies however, many companies are now looking to get more out of their web investment. This can be done by moving from a static web site to a dynamic one. For those who have not yet implemented a web site, it may be worthwhile to skip the entire static web site stage and move directly to a dynamic site.

Dynamic web sites change in real time through external interaction. External forces include back-end data changes, the client browser type, the client IP address, time of day and, of course, user interaction. A dynamic site can change to suit the clientís needs. So a user of Netscape Navigator will see the Netscape browser enhancements and users of Microsoft IE will see itís browser enhancements. Based on the IP address, it is possible to change the language of the site to that which is prevalent language in the country from where the user originates. As well, it can be based on the time of day. For example, in the morning, the site could display certain information such as the lunch menu for a restaurant and in the afternoon, the supper menu. All of these features contribute to making the visit customized, individual and pleasant. This hopefully leads to achieving the goal of return visits.

The most powerful aspect of dynamic web sites involves the use of database technology. The storage and organization of large amounts of data in an RDBMS suits the Internet well. Iím sure many people have experienced the frustration of not knowing which data is the most recent, trying to locate all copies of the data that need changing or just the shear size of the data in a large web site. Storing this information in a database or using information in an existing database alleviates these concerns and makes web site management a lot easier. If information exists in a corporate database, accessing this internally in an Intranet scenario or providing remote access to employees on the road or working at home allows leverage of the existing data. A good example of this is a product catalog in which a company has thousands of products. The price of these products changes constantly. Having to update two separate systems would be far too expensive to make it practical. Publishing this information in real time with a dynamic web site allows customers to purchase and view the current product offering. When information changes in the back-end database, the site changes at the same time. No duplication of effort is required. Using a dynamic web site to publish this information on the Internet allows suppliers or remote employees to access certain private information. It empowers them to make more informative decisions and this results in better customer service and lower costs.

There are a number of reasons why dynamic sites are more valuable than standard static sites.

1. Release Value from Existing Investments
Data already resides in the company accounting/inventory system. Using that data in new ways provides better returns on past information technology investments. In other words, dynamic web sites leverage current resources.

2. Creating Value
Allowing customers, employees and suppliers to have access to information and allowing them to interact with that information, provides value. This can actually offload work to the customer while making the customer feel they are getting better service. The synergistic value of combining existing information and the web cannot be overstated.

3. Less costly
Depending on the site, it can be less costly to create a dynamic rather than static site. Dynamic sites tend to have less actual pages but appear to have thousands of pages. When there are a lot of repetitive pages such as a catalog where the product name, description, price and picture change but the overall look and feel is the same, then a dynamic site will definitely be cheaper than a static site. Maintenance costs are also lower since changes made in the existing information system automatically get reflected on the web site. Once set up, no HTML experience is needed to maintain the data in the site.

4. Centralizing Data
Millions of dollars get wasted each year by companies duplicating data entry efforts into disparate information systems. The dream of a centralized data depository seemed to get more difficult with the introduction of the web. Now more data is being created and existing data put in different formats. By being able to keep one copy of the data and using it in multiple ways including the web, it is possible to reduce duplication and improve data accuracy.

5. Open Access
With the data now centralized, the creation of access screens to the data for internal use make it possible to add, modify and delete data in corporate information systems from anywhere in the world with a web browser and Internet access. Gone is the need for expensive leased lines. Dynamic web sites may be responsible for accelerating the telecommuting revolution.

6. Customizing Content
With dynamic sites, it is possible to have a site come alive. That means the site can change based on the user, where they are coming from, the browser being used, the time of day, and the user interaction. It can also be changed at random so advertisements can be displayed in a rotating manner. Customization is a very powerful technique that keeps a users attention and makes them feel like an individual.

The thread through all of this discussion has been that dynamic web sites create value. Value is created out of using old data in new ways or in creating synergistic relationships. The topic of dynamic web sites is going to be at the forefront of implementation in 1997. If you wish to be added to a mailing list that discusses Dynamic web sites, please submit the form below.

Russ Cobbe is the President of Inline Internet Systems, Inc. which focuses on the development of dynamic web sites for corporate clients. He can be reached at russc@inline.net.

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