Adding ECT to an eSpace with the OutSystems Agile Platform

In this ten-part developer diary, Justin James chronicles using the OutSystems Agile Platform to write a real-world Web application called Rat Catcher.
Written by Justin James, Contributor

With Rat Catcher now in a public beta test, feedback immediately started coming in. One of the first things to come was a suggestion from OutSystems' own Miguel Baltazar: add Embedded Change Technology (ECT).

ECT is a technology that allows the end users of my application to place a pinpoint on the working application, type a text message, and hit a button to submit their feedback. In the back-office, I then receive the screenshot of the application web page with the user’s pinpoint plus the text message. (You can see a quick demo of the ECT in action.)

ECT was something that I always thought was neat about the Agile Platform, and I had it in the back of my head to add it, but I put it off for a long time and forgot to add it before I went live. Well, now it was a pressing matter! While putting ECT into my application was simple, it was not easy finding the information on how to do it. Fortunately, Miguel sent me directions, so I will walk you through the installation and configuration of ECT.

Add Enterprise Manager to the server
This first thing to do is add the Enterprise Manager solution to your server if you have not done so. Download Enterprise Manager, and open the OSP file from the downloaded ZIP file in the Solution Pack Tool (Figure A). In the Solution Pack Tool, enter the proper server hostname, username, and password, and click "1-Click Publish". It took about five minutes on my beta test server because the server was pretty clean and did not have any of the dependencies installed on it.

Figure A

The Solution Pack Tool

Add ECT to the server
Next, you repeat this process, but with the ECT solution; download ECT here, open it, and click "1-Click Publish".

Configure ECT in Enterprise Manager
The next step gets ECT enabled in the server and configured for our applications. Log in to the Enterprise Manager by pointing your browser to: http://servername/Enterprise. The username is "admin" and the password is "admin" (the Service Center password is not tied to Enterprise Manager). While you are here, you will probably want to click "Change Password" on the top-right and get your password changed. On the left, you will see a tree. Expand "Applications" and click "Import Configuration". In the drop down, select ECT_Provider and follow the wizard to have it import ECT. Once ECT is imported, the tree will be updated to include it. Expand "ECT" on the tree to show your options. If your membership to the Agile Network is above "Community Edition", you can go to the "Configuration" section and enable integration with the Agile Network (this is optional). To add ECT to an eSpace, go to "Rules" in the tree and click "Create a New Rule" (Figure B).

The wizard is pretty self-explanatory from here. One thing to keep in mind is that you may not want to add ECT to every eSpace on a production server. Then again, you might want to after all! You will also want to carefully review the options in terms of who can leave feedback. In some situations, it may be fine for anonymous users or any users to leave feedback, but in other cases you might want to restrict ECT's use. It's all up to you.

Figure B

Creating a new rule to add ECT to an eSpace

When you complete the wizard, ECT will be added to your eSpace. ECT appears as a discrete circle in the bottom right corner of the screen. When clicked, it opens a feedback box with instructions (Figure C). The user can click a part of the screen to indicate what part of the screen the feedback refers to, and can include a capture of the screen.

Figure C

A user's view of using ECT to provide feedback

The only real issue I have with ECT is that it does not notify you when a new piece of feedback is received; you need to manually check the feedback list on a regular basis. To do this, go to the Enterprise Manager again, expand ECT, and choose "Feedback List" on the left. This will show you all of the current feedback items with the ability to search through them as well (Figure D). Once you no longer need to see an item, you can hide it (you can tell the system to show hidden items). Clicking an item title will show you the screenshot that the user sent, and their feedback, pointing where the problem was.

Figure D

What feedback looks like when viewed in ECT

ECT will be a large part of the Rat Catcher public beta. You can see from Figure D that the feedback system is far better than receiving the typical email from a user where they have a hard time describing what the problem is. It can be used for bug reports as well as suggestions for improvements.

I have already closed out nearly every item received through ECT, and I look forward to receiving more of them. One thing that I will need to do, though, is to find a way to educate users about ECT; after all, the circle in the corner is not as obvious as it might be (and eyetracking studies show that the bottom right is the least viewed part of the screen), and its purpose is not immediately clear either. Before the beta program expands much more, I will need to find a way to highlight ECT, as well as better explain some of Rat Catcher's other functionality to new users.

So far, I have received some excellent feedback through ECT (Figure E). Some of the feedback has been bug reports of things that do not work as expected. Like any other product in the early stages of the development cycle, some of these are due to poor explanations or other usability issues, and some are simple bugs. Other feedback I have received is in the form of suggestions for feature additions or improvements. While this is the type of feedback that could be given through email or a trouble ticket, ECT's ability to show me exactly where on the screen the user had a problem is extremely useful. In addition, it functions as a simple issue management system.

Figure E

The feedback list in Enterprise Manager

Read the previous installments in the series:

Justin James is an employee of Levit & James, Inc. in a multidisciplinary role that combines programming, network management, and systems administration. He has been blogging at TechRepublic since 2005.

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