Give web fanatics a static page and they'll demand dynamic data! Well, it's too late. The horse is out of the barn, and everybody thinks they need access to data any time they want it. Frankly, if you have clients to appease, you may have to meet their demands or go the way of the dinosaur. There are a few really good reasons to meet this challenge:
You can automate many business-to-business communication tasks.
You can simplify many work-related processes at once by creating one single interface for all accessing, updating, and so on.
You can give your employees and your clients immediate and remote access to the information they need.
Suppose you run a small manufacturing plant that supplies customized gadgets for a really large manufacturing plant, and their specifications are now processed online. The whole thing is automated, and specifications are sent to you as soon as they're entered and approved. Are you going to insist that someone on the other side print out a spec sheet and fax it to you? If you want to keep this customer, you're going to climb on the technological assembly line by training someone to access the necessary data electronically. More than likely, someone in your organization will have to spend some time at the client's facilities, learning their system. Once the client gives your employee the necessary clearance to connect to their database, your employee can then sit at her own computer and download order information as required. What you do with the specifications once you've got them is entirely up to you, but at least you've met the client's needs.
The above scenario benefits from what's known as an extranet. That's a website for customers (or those needing limited access) rather than the general public that transmits across the Internet. Companies use them to gain access to all (or at least most) of their databases. Some use them for research.
Now, let's suppose you have employees entering orders, maintaining accounts receivable and accounts payable, and updating inventory and fulfillment-and it's all going on at different locations all over the country. Do you really want to create an individual application for every department? It would be much more efficient and simpler if everyone were talking to the same database and using the same interface. And if you have personnel who are frequently on the road and need information such as current prices and inventory numbers, remote access to your internal site can be provided.
Such a system might include several different input screens that grant or deny access to any number of database applications. That way, employees can gain access to the data they need from any computer that can connect to the system.
This type of in-house website is known as an intranet. It serves employees, and although intranet pages may link to the Internet, there's no public access to the site. Intranets take advantage of Internet protocols and hypertext links to provide a standard means of sharing data internally.
As widespread as those two applications have become, by far the most common use of data-driven web technology is to exchange information with the outside world via the Internet. Do you have customers that would benefit from ordering from you directly online, bypassing sales personnel and telephone calls? If so, a data-driven site may be just the tool you need. These are just a few examples of the kinds of data-driven sites that Dreamweaver MX-and the languages and database systems it works with-can help you build. Dreamweaver MX does a great job of helping you build just the right site and the right web application for your purposes. However, we don't want to mislead anyone. For one thing, there is a learning curve. Not only do you need to understand Dreamweaver MX and the language and database system you're using, you also need to design exactly how the site will function. You should also consider some other issues before you open shop:
Software, hardware, and support personnel will add to the costs.
A database isn't a lockbox; it needs constant management and maintenance.
Once you're online, your database is vulnerable to hackers. You'll need a good security plan and software and personnel to implement it.
Dreamweaver MX and this book can help you with the first point, but you'll need to deal with the others on your own. The goal of this book is not to provide "recipes" that take you through the steps of building each type of data-driven site; it is to show you how to use Dreamweaver MX and the related tools to build sites that make data accessible to your users.