In the previous post, I gave some background on what a website is and why you might want to have one. This post describes another useful addition to your arsenal – the web application.
Web applications (or web apps) are programs on the internet that can be accessed in web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, IE, etc). These programs can provide any kind of functionality that you need to help your business or organization run more smoothly. Some examples of web apps are product catalogs, search engines, project management tools, web mail, and the list goes on and on.
Web apps are very dynamic. They allow users to interact with your data to get the exact information they want. They are also very good at automating day-to-day tasks. Imagine a system that lists your inventory, shows related parts for a chosen item, and allows a user to order a part and have it shipped, all automatically. This site would automatically update for people as they used it – the number of parts in the system changes as the number of parts grows or shrinks. Keeping a static web site up-to-date with inventory, counts, orders, etc, would be so much work that it borders on impossible.
The key to a system like this is the database. A database is a place to keep your data, and is (usually) centrally accessed. This central access to data gives everyone the same view of the system (that there are no more replacement blades available, for example). Based on the data that is retrieved from the database, the web app chooses a course of action. By merging the dynamic abilities of the web app with the data storage/searching abilities of the database, you can create some very efficient and time-saving apps.
Web apps don’t have to be accessed by your customers. If you belong to an organization that has annual sign-ups, a web app can help store the registrant info and eliminate the hassle of a secretary entering data off of paper forms. The web app can show which classes are full and not allow any more registrants for that class. Reports can then show how many sign-ups you have, how many girls vs. boys, and how much money you (should) have taken in. These reports can then be supplied to your governing body, if required. All of this comes with no extra effort on your part because the data that drives these reports is in your central database, and just needs to be accessed.
Web apps are pretty amazing. They can do anything you need them to. Because they are accessed over the Internet, anyone with a browser can use them. And because they are accessed in a browser, they integrate seamlessly with your web site. Most websites have a web app component for support questions or product catalogs.
Do you need a web app? That depends on a lot of things. Generally, if you have a process to automate or data to share, you could benefit from the advantages that a web app can offer. Consider the following questions as a starting point:
- Do I have processes that could be automated or simplified?
- Do I have data that should be centrally located so it is easy to share with others in my organization?
- Do I need to periodically report on data that I accumulate?
- Do I want/need to keep a closer eye on my inventory?
- Do I want my customers to see that inventory?
In summary, web apps are great tools that integrate into your web site and save time and money.