Founded in 2001 via a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, ABCTE offers a certification program designed to enable career professionals to become teachers. Working with a national base of professionals, the organization administers a rigorous certification process designed to comply with national standards for academic excellence. Customer service is a key challenge for the organization, constantly looking for newer and better methods for servicing enrollees, and their web site is a primary vehicle for delivering services.
Challenges and Approach
ABCTE came to Trellon to integrate their existing website with their system of record for teacher certification, as a means of providing more efficient and innovative service to people enrolled in their teacher certification program. Taking 2 separate systems and making them talk together is always a challenge, and developing a comprehsenive solution in this case meant addressing issues related to intake processes, usability and security. As certification programs have specific requirements for examination and participation in programs, the integrated system needed to mirror existing business processes before users could effectively use the system. The interface for interacting with enrollment data needed to be intuitive and easy to understand, in order to head off potential customer service issues which could overwhelm ABCTE staff. Finally, the system needed to communicate securely over a web services interface with the Lotus Notes server backend, in order to ensure personal information about enrollees was not being intercepted in route to the servers.
Trellon’s built a bridge between Drupal and the system of record to provide a comprehensive method for users to manage the details of their enrollment and to deliver services related to participating in the program. With secure e-commerce functionality, this solution allows prospective teachers to register for exams, training programs and other services from a single unified website. This provided ABCTE with a highly personalized, highly functional web portal that provides all the benefits of a full-featured content management system along with full customer service support.
Making Them Talk
Lotus Notes Domino servers do not possess a native means of communicating with Drupal. Trellon developed a unique method for passing information back and forth between the two systems involving secure web services authentication and interaction. As the Drupal and Lotus Notes servers operate within separate subnets, we developed a means of providing this interaction through several levels of firewalls and challenge / response authentication. Sustainability was a key goal in our development; in order to design a system which could be supported over time, we used numerous elements of Drupal's internal framework combined with PHP libraries for web services, LDAP and other forms of authentication to make this happen.
All of the integration that occurs at this level is transparent to users, allowing people to interact with information related to their account through a single sign-on within Drupal. While certain features of the Domino solution were not migrated to the new site, remaining features managed in the Domino application are available to users online without the need for additional authentication.
Providing a simple, intutitive interface for the delivery of services is a key component of this project. Users become members of the site for a variety of reasons, ranging from enrollment in programs to engagement in continual education programs, and tools are provided to support them at all levels.
Enrollment processes are supported through the site, and information is passed back to the Domino servers in real time. Aspiring techers are able to enroll in the certification program and pay dues online through the site, providing self-service and account management services that provide a more efficient process for engaging members. Upcoming membership events, such as renewals and test deadlines, can be tracked in real time, keeping people up to date with their individual requirements.
Users are able to register for certification tests as part of the site and track the status and results for tests taken. The system contains business logic for understanding the results of previous tests and administering wavers for retaking tests in the event one is missed. The site provides a number of diagnostic tools, such as quizzes and forums, as a means of preparing users for certification exams. Results are calculated on the fly and provide insight into areas of opportunity for increased preparation. Study guides and other learning materials are available through the site for registered users, providing a comprehensive method for tracking and preparing for certification.
Keeping it Secure
Registration, exam, preparation and certification tools provided through the system are integrated with the external Lotus Notes backend and tracked in real time through the site. Drupal and Lotus Notes exist in distinct environments, and the site communicates with Lotus Notes through secure web services and SSL encryption (at the same level banks use to secure their online transactions). Information security occurs at other layers than the transport level; the site was built to be fault tolerant as well. In the event a transaction with the Lotus Notes server cannot be completed, information is put into a queue for later synchronization.