Website with an integrated, module-based tenant portal, integrating an omni-channel service desk and digital signage as a universal process-oriented solution.
Digital transformation changes requirements and expectations also in the real estate industry, i.e. for tenants and property users. With the project "Website with integrated tenant portal" for the real estate area Mattenhof in Luzern, Mobimo offers a highly integrated, Drupal-based tenant portal as a universal process-oriented solution.
Background: in real estate marketing, online portals for selling and renting properties are already established. In operations and accompanying services, general process-oriented solutions are rather exceptional at this point. Often, it's approached by copying the paper into the digital world - which results for example in PDF forms on a website, offered for download to be submitted by email.
Mobimo's answer instead has been "Digital customer service" with a highly integrated, Drupal-based tenant portal. The overall solution contains a wide range of interacting applications with the tenant portal based on Drupal as the central application linking everything together.
A public website is available for all users. It publishes information about events and news on and about the area. On top, tenants have access to the additional sections of the tenant portal. With their role-based user accounts on the website or within native mobile apps (iOS and Android), tenants have access to specific information like contracts, leaflets and manuals (e.g. for ovens or dishwashers), or information about car sharing and disposal. Additionally, tenants can opt in to receive push notifications about news and events. Notifications on targeted tenant information is automatically generated based on customer attributes received from the internal CRM system.
All this content gets published multi-channel - not only in the browser or the mobile app. For an increased content’s reach, a digital signage concept embedding digital displays into the publication framework got integrated. This even supports touch functionality on publicly accessible displays, being able to offer a dynamic and interactive way finding solution. A special feature: the Drupal module driving way finding with navigation points like property entrances or points of interests not only works on publicly accessible displays but also in the browser and the native mobile apps - implementing all the required functionality just once.
Another integrated solution is the digital customer file, which has access to the internal document management system. That way, customer specific documents can be made available by the back-office team, without having to separately storing or delivering them.
A special highlight within the process-oriented customer service offering is the integration of an omnichannel service desk including call-center integration. This is achieved by adopting the widely used Zendesk solution for the real estate industry, embedding the customer-facing component natively into the Drupal front-end. That way, customers can submit new issues in the browser, through the mobile app or with a phone call. All those issues and their current status are always available to the customer in the portal, regardless which channel they used to communicate with the departments for property or facility management.
Altogether, a solution emerged to support tenants and users on the real estate area with digital services while at the same time helping property management, facility management and marketing departments as a central platform to fulfil their duties. Integrating even more services also from third parties is already on the roadmap.
The solution has been built such that all features and services can be used in a multi-domain environment, so that additional, independently branded instances of the website can be launched. Mobimo already uses the application with all its services on multiple areals. The rollout across all of Switzerland for Mobimo's residential properties with all the mentioned services is planned for 2021.
We, bitegra Solutions, want to use this opportunity to thank Mobimo Management AG for the trustful, cooperative and very successful partnership.
Goals and results
Combining an attractive website with a private section for registered users to offer real portal functionality including digital services
- Drupal's powerful core functionality around users, roles and permissions has been utilized to bring all the personas on the customer site, the back office, in operations and the service providers together on a single platform.
- User management can be linked to standard-based IAM platforms like Keycloak or Azure AD to not only provision all the permitted users automatically but also to handle the deprovisioning of users on all levels when they leave, which is often forgotten.
Publishing content alongside industry and customer specific data models to target contents and services for appropriate audiences
- Development and implementation of a JSON based real estate specific data model allows seamless distribution of all relevant data to all involved applications across any platform or operating system.
- Especially, data and structure about tenants and properties (areal, building, rental object, etc.) are imported and continuously updated, utilized to manage content and information inside the portal.
Orchestrated content management / optimized publications across multiple channels
- Designing, engineering and developing Drupal modules like DANSE and supplementing Push Framework, any content can be managed and published addressing specific target groups on defined channels.
- Editing, moderating and publishing content can be performed by external and internal individuals.
Integration of the digital customer file, based on the already available structured digital document management system
- A custom module allows to display relevant and released documents inside the portal to the appropriate customers, by collecting all required information with an API based solution without causing any extra work to document management.
- The access control is inherited from the already mentioned data model which declares all the customer identities and their relation to rental properties and periods.
Providing native apps for iOS and Android
- Using GoNative it's been possible to provide efficient and cost-effective native apps.
- Those apps are available for iOS and Android.
Addressing customer groups in real-time with push notifications directly from within the portal
- Using OneSignal it is possible to send scheduled and targeted push notifications to tenants and other stakeholders of the areal through the native apps, segmented by attributes (private, commercial, by building, etc.) and by editing the notification content inside Drupal.
- This feature uses the same orchestration we already mentioned above in "Orchestrated content management".
Integration of powerful omnichannel customer service desk
- Developing another ticket system inside Drupal seemed meaningless as a wide range of specialized platforms with track records already exist.
- Instead, we selected Zendesk as the support help desk and integrated that utilizing their API.
- First, we developed a generic Helpdesk Integration framework (available as open-source module on drupal.org), supplemented by the specific Zendesk connector. Other connectors for other help desk platforms can be developed easily, e.g. one for Zammad already exists, and integrated into Drupal sites.
- That way, the portal provides access to fully integrated customer help desks to utilize all traditional and future service channels.
Integration of Digital Signage on the properties
- To publish content from within Drupal onto remote digital devices we developed a generic Digital Signage Framework first, available as an open-source module on drupal.org.
- Content can be edited, rendered and published towards signage specific requirements.
- On top of that framework we developed the signageOS connector. With their SOC (socket on chip) technology, not only publishing schedules/playlists and content from within Drupal, but also provisioning new devices (Smart-Displays) has been integrated.
- This smart solution stack will also be presented by our team member Jürgen at Drupal Con Europe 2020 - here is his session description
Support for a touch based way finding solution on publicly accessible displays
- The solution onsite at Mattenhof, Luzern supports touch based way finding which is dynamically configured inside the Drupal portal.
- The Wayfinding module has also been made available as an open-source module on drupal.org.
- Integrated QR codes allow visitors to grab routing information (using Google maps), getting directions from the public display to their selected destination on their smartphone.
- The Mattenhof project offers this way finding feature not only on their public displays but also inside the mobile apps and on the website.
Generic solution stack which can be used on any number of portals
- All modules and features can be combined and utilized like any other Drupal module on any number of Drupal instances, rolled out with composer and initialized with an installation profile.
- The installation profile contains pre-configured default configuration.
- Portal instances and their configuration get version controlled in GitLab, where updates get automatically tested and deployed.
- Installation profile, modules and themes get version controlled individually and each portal installation can utilize individual combinations and versions of those components as needed.
- The comprehensive code base (both public and custom code) is 98% Drupal 9 ready and the remaining 2% are mainly cosmetic changes. This is why the migration of the solution to Drupal 9 is planned to be implemented soon.
The nature of the project, the diverse requirements, number of different components and applications and APIs came with some technical challenges:
Full-turn application life cycle management (ALM)
- The tool chain was built based on GitLab, GitLab CI, Pipeline, automated tests, Ansible and Docker. This allows for uncompromising highest solution quality, fully automated deployments and operation of up to 6 stages (development, test, live and any number of feature branches) in parallel.
- Further maintenance and development with continuous integration and continuous deployment allows meeting new and additional customer requirements as well as rollout of new portal instances without additional challenges.
Comprehensive data model and API first
- Without the solid, comprehensive and verifiable data model combined with intense usage of existing APIs, the complexity of the project couldn't have been handled.
Drupal site building
- In context of the overall complexity, this task appeared fairly easy due to the maturity of Drupal core, contributed modules and themes.
- Having said that, this project might be within the range of the most complex Drupal sites.
Design and Theming
- Responsible for communication strategy and CI/CD of the Mattenhof areal, the agency Feldervogel had no reason to be shy and required not only a huge number of sliders/carousels in many combinations, but also extra widgets for vacancy exchange on flats, offices and commercial spaces, as well as the way finding feature with complex content modelling which still needs to be maintainable by the customer moving forward.
- Even more so, the biggest challenge has been the innovative menu navigation. The main menu displays just the top-level items and the attached sub items appear below the top-level content, arranged as horizontal tabs containing the respective content pre-rendered on the same route. This has been especially challenging because the content structure had to be kept as individual nodes to
- allow content editors to easily maintain the existing and future content
- allow for links to sub items from other parts of the website
- keep SEO techniques in action
- be prepared for different navigation models without having to edit the content over and over again
The solution has not only been developed by bitegra Solutions over a period of many years (consulting and digital transformation for the best part and 1 year Drupal based development), the operation in production is also provided by the same team. The application is hosted on dedicated hardware owned by the customer within a first-class hosting facility and managed 24/7 by bitegra Solutions.
The tool chain for this professional Drupal hosting has been developed and maintained mainly by a Jürgen Haas over the course of 11 years and utilized with dozens of customers which helped to harden each and every component for Drupal sites of any size. He joined bitegra Solutions as a co-founder and brought all his tools and experience with him, which builds the foundation of our today's hosting infrastructure.
Provisioning infrastructure, deploying applications, maintaining and keeping software and services up-to-date is driven by GitLab (incl. CI/CD and pipeline) and Ansible. Backup strategy and disaster recovery plans have been implemented as well as ongoing monitoring and alerting, including just enough redundancy to ensure maximum uptime without service interruption. Our SLA with the customer ensures 99+% uptime, extremely short incident reaction time and a secure and performant operation of all components of their application (except hardware).
Drupal Community Contributions
There are 17 modules on drupal.org that we developed prior and during this project which we published as and will maintain as open-source in the long run. Additionally, our development team identified and reported more than 100 bugs in Drupal core and contributed modules over the duration of this project, filed issues and submitted patches for most of them. The majority of those contributions have already found their way into published new versions of the respective components.
Also, bitegra Solutions committed to sign up as a Supporting Partner of the Drupal Association as another component to give back to the community, and we're planning to maintain this position in the future, or even expand it.
Last but not least, we started to publish about our products and services in blog posts and meetup presentations, to be followed by a Drupal Con Europe 2020 talk in December: Multichannel publishing - reaching additional output channels with content segmentation and direct output and orchestration of Digital Signage devices all from within Drupal
This current case demonstrates again: Drupal is so much more than a web content management system. Based on its modular architecture, building digital solutions is not only possible but embeds Drupal into an eco-system of digital services and processes. This empowers customers, who may have trusted Drupal mainly in their effort for marketing advantages, to be successful in all aspects of their own digital transformation supported by Drupal technology.
In detail, the following innovations got combined elegantly and efficiently into a single application:
- Leading edge, responsive, accessible and beautiful design for the public website
- Feature packed (and extensible) portal for registered users
- Powerful backend for operators, marketeers, facility managers and external service providers on a single platform
- Integration of already existing backend systems and data combined with ongoing, fully automated updates on production stage:
- ERP integration (tenant and tenant properties)
- DMS integration (contracts, reports, manuals, etc.)
- Help desk integration (full-fledged solution including app, email and phone support)
- Availability check and automatic self-service booking of slots for moving zones
- Embedded services from external service providers
- Consistently managed multichannel communications of content with online news board, push notifications and digital signage
All users participate and benefit from all services on one single, user-friendly and consistent platform based on Drupal.
Due to the API first approach on all levels of the solution, this platform is still in its infancy - future improvements and extensions will be developed and maintained easily and efficiently.