About NSAR

National Service Animal Registry is a database for all registered emotional support animals (ESA) and service dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities recognizes the need for therapy animals as a part of their treatment plan. ADA ensures that no discrimination is made in housing, in flights, and in public places like restaurants for accommodating ESAs and service dogs. This is where NSAR comes in. NSAR provides a platform for handlers to register their ESAs and service dogs and receive certification kits. Among other items, these kits come with a certificate and an ID card which contain QR codes. These codes can be used by landlords, airline representatives, and others to verify the legitimacy of the certificates from the NSAR database.

Additionally, NSAR also provides letter services for ESAs and service dog owners. Similar to a prescription for a medication, these letters are official recommendations from a licensed mental health practitioner (LMHP) for someone suffering from an emotional or psychiatric disability to be assisted by an emotional support animal or service dog. In such cases, the animals are considered more as assistive aids. These letters stand as legitimate documents to allow ESAs and service dogs in “No Pets” housing without a fee and service dogs in flights.

How we did it

NSAR's outdated PERL website was limiting its functionalities and increasing the risk of security vulnerabilities, leading to poor user experience and lost traffic.

Codaemon helped NSAR switch to the modern and flexible PHP-based WooCommerce platform, with a custom theme developed based on user research and competitor analysis. Almost 14 years of data were successfully migrated to the new setup through writing custom scripts and extensive testing.

The new website is faster and more efficient, with automated processes for therapist assignment and backend management, streamlining the user and admin experience.

Making the Switch to WooCommerce

The NSAR website was built on PERL and was outdated. This meant the site was at a risk of security vulnerabilities, had limited functionalities and accessibility, and wasn’t performing as efficiently. This led to poor user experience and lost traffic. The client came to us for a more permanent solution than just making tweaks to fix the issues.

A PHP-WooCommerce combination was chosen for several reasons. Being a more modern and flexible language, PHP is known for its ease of use and speed. So with PHP, we could be looking at a faster and more efficient website experience for end-users. Also, WooCommerce is one of the most powerful PHP-based e-commerce builders with top-notch plugins to optimize an online store and support high-complexity functionalities.

Theme Development & Implementation

Before moving the older version to the new environment, we needed to create a custom theme to support NSAR’s requirements. We conducted user research and analyzed competitors to ensure that the new theme is optimized for the target audience and aligned with the brand's values and goals. Once the requirements and goals were defined, our design team created wireframes and mockups keeping user experience in mind.

The custom theme was then implemented on the NSAR website. We tested the theme to ensure all elements are functioning properly and the user experience is optimized for the target audience. The goal of this step was to provide a fresh and engaging experience for customers and increase engagement, satisfaction, and ultimately, sales.

Setting Up a New Website

Our deep understanding of the different syntax and structure of both PERL and PHP made it easy to make the switch. Once the theme was implemented, we created custom scripts to extract and format the data. We also worked on identifying inconsistencies or errors in data and resolved them prior to the migration. The actual migration process involved transferring almost 14 years of data to the new WooCommerce site. Extensive testing was conducted to verify that the data has been transferred accurately, the records are intact, and that the website functions properly in the new environment.

After the successful migration, there have been significant improvements in the website's performance. The WooCommerce website is now faster and more efficient, providing a better user experience and improved functionality.

Automating Processes

Initially, some processes in the NSAR backend were maintained manually. One of them was the therapist-assigning process. Here’s how the process happens: when a user places an order for an ESA or PSD letter, the request gets registered in the backend. The goal is to assign a therapist within the zip code of the user. This is because a letter is only valid if the jurisdiction of the therapist matches the user’s zip code. This entire process used to be manually conducted before.

We worked on automating the process by developing a custom script that pulls the user's zip code information and then uses a mapping API to identify the nearest therapists in the area. Once identified, the script can then assign the user to the nearest available therapist, with notifications and scheduling updates automatically sent to both the user and therapist.

Not only that. Leveraging WooCommerce features, our client was also able to view and manage orders and users from a single interface. This made the backend management process more streamlined.

Related Work - CPS

Chilhowee Psychological Services (CPS) is a subsidiary of NSAR and primarily acts as a platform for offering ESA and service dog letters. Similar to NSAR, CPS matches a customer with the nearest therapist once an order is placed and directs them towards an online health assessment for diagnosis of their condition. Based on the assessment review, a customer either qualifies for a letter or is rejected. 

Codaemon executed similar tasks for CPS and NSAR. We switched languages from PERL to PHP. A custom theme was developed which was then implemented and tested for an optimized user experience. The migration process involved transferring more than a decade of data to the new WooCommerce site. We also automated the therapist assignment process and utilized WooCommerce’s features to enable viewing and managing users and orders from a single interface. The overall result was a faster and more efficient website with improved functionality and user experience.

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