Free WP plugins for Facility Property Management Site Part 2

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The idea was to alter an existing Real Estate Site to a Asset Property Management Site in WordPress using free Templates/plugins. Go to apriori.ml to view the demonstration site.

This has now evolved a bit as I can see extra things that I think  I want to do and add to the site.

From the earlier blog I tried a couple of different themes who’s Free version was restrictive to encourage the use of paid versions.  There needed to be a lot of tailoring to get them to adapt to what I wanted to do.

WP-Avalon theme for home page showing main elements. Header with image and menu, content with individual properties showing, footer with calendar, RSS feed and Hero banner with active buttons

I then explored the WP-Property Plugin that was very nice. It did a lot of elegant things and got the framework of what I slowly thought I would like to put in the site. I also used the wp-avalon free theme from the same providers as the property plugin Usability Dynamics, Inc.

  1. Plans/Images. I could create images of the building/house/unit plans and show this in a photo gallery either in the sidebar on in the main content page.
  2. Location on MAP. It also had a google map with pop-up of the property and where its location is.
  3. Tabulated Information. Information that I wanted to put in there was Tabulated data that I could extract out of BIM models ( see other blogs on this site for that work) and I used the 3D PDF and extraction to Excel to structure the data so that I could import it into each property page and use TablePress  plug into tabulate the data within the property pages.
  4. Panoramas. I could also use WP Photo Sphere plugin to put in panoramas of rooms ( much better than lots of single photos of rooms and quicker to do- see other blogs regarding panorama photos. Also, the cool thing about the panoramas was they stayed closed and only when you clicked on them did they open the image for viewing. This is a real bonus as some of these files can be big and slow to load. ( I did start to think about Lazy Load plugin, and will most probably follow this up later with the revised site)
  5. Links. I could also put links into the site , linking to other places where there were 2D PDF drawings and 3D PDF drawings. So I could link to other places for more detailed data.
  6. Security. I tried a couple of Front End Security Plugins to control access to the site , one buggered all my menu links up so I have disabled them all at present.
  7. Adapting themes with PageBuilder plugins. I tried out a couple of Page Builder Tools, ELementor & Page Builder by SiteOrigin. I fould Elementor slow to load up. The blank template that came with it was nice and helpful. I also liked Page Builder by SiteOrigin with its widgets too , I watched a really cool vid on how to do a Hero (something or other) with buttons, and I built this up a couple of times but when I went back to the pages later half of it was out of kilter so I was not impressed with the waste of time. It was fun, but not productive.
WP-Avalon theme Individual Property Page with image header, image gallery below, some content with links to other data sources, panorama image, different sub sections (rooms/doors/windows/external etc with tables with data, map showing location of property with pop up , comment section. footer with calendar, rss feed, hero banner and buttons, sidebar with map at top and image gallery with enlarged fly outs when clicked and property meta widget.

So, this was great, to a point. The issues I found were:

  1. Layout/Theme.The banner header and first Picture in Gallery were the same, so a lot of screen real estate with same information. Also, I couldn’t find where to be able to adjust Main image in the gallery page as this was too big. I wanted to push gallery to side so they could be clicked/enlarged and keep them out of the way.
  2. Themes. There were a lot of tweeks that I would like to do to both the property pages and the actual main pages and working within the original theme was a bit restrictive, so I looked towards finding a blank template to build what I wanted rather than shoe-horn into an existing theme.
  3. Tables. These were a trial and error but there are a couple of free table plugins where you can import the data. BUT, that data is pretty static. I felt it would take a lot of time to set-up each table with the information that I wanted and place it into each page. The idea of the site is to have lots (as in 100’s (at least)) of properties, so manually putting each table in would be arduous, and any updates would need to be carefully managed.
  4. Security interface, some of the plugins were a bit too complicated- I just wanted a front page with login/registration and to display some information. Then you are into site. You can assign levels of access via the login.
  5. Contact page. Page Builder by SiteOrigin contact form did not send emails, that was a bit time consuming trying to figure out why it didn’t (no, I didn’t get to the bottom of the problem)).
  6. I also tried sticky sidebars that stop the sidebar elements disappearing when you scroll down the page.  This sort of works if you have one element on the sidebar but sticks on the top widget if you have multiple widgets, which can be a nuisance if you are trying to look at a lower widget. I may need to work with this feature a bit more as it has got some benefits. Q2W3 Fixed Widget is the plugin I used.

But these restrictions/challenges prompted me into thinking what I did actually want.

  1. An overview map with all the locations on one map.
  2. Tables from Database.
  3. A clean simple site.
  4. A comments field for tagging issues (either by team/contractors or others?
  5. A form for filling out issues and resolutions (maybe the same as one above?- I need to explore dynamic communication- A little more thought required here)

Overview Map. Geo Mashup plugin is a pretty good Free plugin. On researching this one there were a lot of paid ones but this was the only free one I came across. It does a pretty good job. It also allows you to select property pages (rather than pages or posts) to read locations from. It took a little while to figure out how to use the shortcode. I did need to change the map plugin on the property page to the geo mashup map type.

Tables from Databases. This is a bit of a bastard. Not much out there in regards to having a custom table in the WordPress database  and transferring it to a page. I am surprised as this is basically what wordpress does, suck stuff out of database tables and puts in on pages at headers,footers, content and sidebars.  The idea behind this one is that 1/ You can use live data from a table, and can update all tables in pages by just updating the table, so no need to go into each page and update each table. 2/ You can put code into the property template so it just pulls the data straight form the database table. If you have the formatting right then you can get all the tables setup automatically on each new property.

I looked for some plugins for tables and the free options were all from non- database sources such as CSV, XLM & JSON etc,but as soon as you were to connect to a database you hit the paid plugins.  The one tool that I have found helpful for setting up the table SQL query has been Database Browser. It sits inside WordPress admin area so you can get a weirdish SQL select and  does a “where & order by” to show you what data comes out. You can edit the sql query to remove columns etc and play around with how you want your data to look. A nice plugin. After getting the SQL query i then test it in my MySQL Workbench environment to see that the query works.

I am still bashing my head against the wall trying to get the PHP (call from DB and get/post to web page), SQL  (query the database to filter the data you want for the table) & HTML (to format the table on the web page) all to sing on the same sheet and have yet to get anything on a page so far. But a bit of perseverance is required at this time.

To date, I have the PHP connection to database, I have a simplified SQL Query  that has one string output, but have not been able to display this in browser with PHP echo yet.

Naked WordPress theme is the one I am reviewing at present as its quite minimal. There is an article on it here.

The link to the current development of the site can be found here.

Well, I did get multiple sites on one map, I am using Snazzy Maps addin to Geo Mashup to mute the background to highlight the icons (in Geo mashup you cannot change icons as far as I can see).

Sol that it item 1 ticked off the list.

The next thing I wanted to do was to read a custom table in the WordPress database and show the data from an SQL query in table format in the property pages. This way, any updates to the database are immediately updated on the property pages. Well, it ain’t pretty but the data is valid.

 

This was done by:

1/ Creating new table in Database (called housing in this case), uploading data into that table from a CSV file. I actually used MySQL Workbench for this as there are over 266,000 rows of data (I actually ran this overnight on my VPS- I have had grief with loading this data into an SQL table this data in the past).

2/ Using the Database browser plugin to develop the SQL query on the database and see the results.

3/ After a lot of trial and error, I finally found a plugin that would display the SQL query on a page in a table format using a shortcode, this is a free plugin called EZ SQL Reports Shortcode Widget and DB Backup.

For rooms I ended up making a separate  table for 1/ Floors, 2/ Ceilings and 3/. Walls in the Room Section.  I could do a separate table for Doors, possibly one for hardware and another for windows, also for any other category that is required.

( note , I tried using Insert PHP plugin, Insert PHP Code Snippet, PHP code widget & SQL Table plugin but none of these met my needs ( in fact a lot didn’t do anything useful and had minimal help files/info on the web))

This I am very very pleased with as you only have to change the unit number for the SQL Query and you can embed all the tables in any new property pages, so quick and easy compared to tables from CSV, but not as pretty, but the principle works. There are paid plugins that can do this more elegantly, and if I found a client who wanted this it would be worth purchasing the plugin.

I also came across gPano plugin. This is quite an interesting plugin in that it creates a panorama from a google street view that you can put in your property page. This is useful for an overview of the site and also to give an idea of access to the site, which could be handy for contractors. I haven’t put it in my working site yet but will do so soon.

Themes & Fonts and styling in WordPress sites are not smooth sailing. I am having issues with getting the fonts, text size and styling as I want them. I tried Easy Google Fonts Plugin but that did some really weird things to the pages on the site, the Property names shrunk to a minuscule size and the paragraph text, some changed and other parts didn’t, so I will have to grind on with that.

The Search Property shortcode in the WP-Property plugin is being a bit challenging at the moment too. I will persevere with that .

I also played around with RSS feed widget in my footer and was quite pleased with being able to link to my blog site with that. I think that is a WordPress out of the box feature, but nice to link the 2 websites.

So , overall I have hit the main points of the basic things I think are of value on an Asset Property Management website. There are some extra’s that I need to start looking at.

1/ Passing information back. For this, at present, I have a Menu Header to openMAINT where people can go and log in to put in a MAINTENANCE REQUEST or check out the WORK ORDERS or else there is an email button to write an email to the operations team advising of completed actions/tasks or to advise on other work that needs to be done.

So the feedback loop needs to be explored. Also the integration with the other asset management tools.

There also still needs to be a security/login interface for the site. I may trial it out on another site, just to see it works, I like this site being open and accessible so others can explore it.

Also , in my blog on Panorama plugins I used GPano plugin which captured a Google Maps Street-view panorama that you could place on your site with a shortcode. I tried it on this site and it didn’t work. I think there is a conflict with some other plugins on this site. A shame as its a nice plugin. At this point I am not interested in deactivating other plugins to figure which one its conflicting with. Maybe another time I will investigate.

PDF printing and Embedding. A mixed experience

Another plugin that I was interested in was PDFs.Both for printing posts and for embedding pdf’s into posts.

There were a few  plugins for creating PDF’s of pages/posts so that people could save them for later but none of them worked very well. I think you would need to get a paid version to get a reasonable quality one. I was very disappointed with them all. Either they only printed the bit of post on the screen, none of them printed the map, and lots of them didn’t print the images either. Overall, you seem to have to pay for this.

The embedding PDF plugin was a different beast entirely. I tried one plugin and it was brilliant. I embedded 50 page PDF in this property and it worked great. Hover over the bottom of the image an a toolbar comes up. PDF Embedder is the plugin and I see that in the premium version ($20 US for single license) it will allow you to print as well as do full screen and scroll.  I am impressed with this and for an appropriate site I would consider the premium version, it would be great for plans /Drawings if the resolution is maintained (although one that does all the rest of the page as well may be a better option) .

End thoughts

Overall I am very pleased with the demonstration site. There are a number of good, free plugins that will enhance a Facility property management site.

This allows you to build a site that you control and build it in a way that you have access to your relevant information about your properties.

Some of the plugins have paid versions that may be worth purchasing to add enhancements, like the printing of pdf documents straight from the site rather than downloading.

For external contractors access to useful information of your assets will help reduce the cost of the maintenance of those assets.

There are a few security plugins that can be used to control who has access to the site and what the can see/edit.

Time is needed to build the site to your specific requirements but you can grow it and adapt it to your personal needs, rather than having an off the shelf programme that dictates how you should manage your assets.

 

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