Global Trade Alert: Upholding Transparency in Trade Policy Changes

UI/UX makeover and end-to-end development of a data monitoring and analytics web platform

St. Gallen, Switzerland

End-to-end Development, Project Management, UI/UX Design
AWS, JavaScript, PHP

Set up in 2009 at the initiative of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), the Global Trade Alert (GTA) team comprises researchers independent of any national government, who monitor state measures and their impact on international trade. GTA reports have since become a well-recognized and trusted alternative source of data, cited by the World Bank, the United Nations (UNESCAP and UNCTAD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). GTA’s findings have also been referenced in hundreds of scientific studies and major media reports.

About Global Trade Alert

The revamped GTA website was launched in Summer 2019. It collects and presents information on global legislative changes in real-time, using interactive charts, diagrams, and tables. It focuses on state interventions affecting trade in goods and services, foreign investment and labor force migration. However, it offers more insights than other monitoring tools by identifying the trading partners most at risk of being harmed by a given state measure. The advanced search options enable viewing data across products, sectors, timelines, and countries or groups of countries (e.g. G8, G20, EU). Users of the GTA database can browse and export summary statistics in a selected combination of variables:

  • jurisdiction and type of intervention
  • tariff lines, sectors and trading partners affected
  • the date a measure came into force
  • implementation status

Challenge

Before Code & Pepper got involved in the project in 2017, the client had been using a locally-hosted, Excel-based system that desperately needed a UI and UX boost. The aim was to facilitate the data-intensive work of analysts, who dealt with enormous amounts of information on a daily basis. Reporters monitoring each region not only managed regular updates but also manually verified each submitted intervention. The limited functionality of the admin panel made the GTA database more prone to errors and increasingly difficult to maintain. On the other hand, poor website performance was affecting the end-user experience, as calculations took minutes to complete and there was no event tracking mechanism in place to analyse user behaviour.

To help GTA achieve the desired accuracy, efficiency and scalability, our web development team needed to give both the admin panel and the web platform a full makeover:

  • refine and manage product requirements 
  • create a new user interface and UX design 
  • implement the solution in terms of front-end and back-end
  • prepare the cloud infrastructure and execute cloud migration

Solutions for Global Trade Alert

Dealing with this level of product complexity would have been impossible without establishing effective communication between Code & Pepper and the GTA core team. The client’s commitment to explain all intricacies of the advanced analytical engine behind GTA’s forecasts was invaluable not only during scoping but also throughout the project.

The Code & Pepper team became involved in the process of designing the desired tool already at the bidding stage. They had a very practical approach from the very beginning and this is what made us select them.

Johannes Fritz, Ph.D., Project Manager at Global Trade Alert

A-league product development team

To meet the challenge of building a data-driven web platform in the end-to-end model, Code & Pepper provided a competent product development team: a UI designer and a UX designer, 3 full-stack developers, a DevOps expert, and a project manager. Working hand in hand with the client, our engineers kicked off the project by identifying the main pain points affecting the target users, then recommended design and technology solutions to help achieve key product goals.

Requirements analysis and refinement

Losing sight of the project objectives was not an option, so we aligned our design and development efforts with the client’s ambitious vision for the GTA platform. To best fulfill its purpose, Global Trade Alert has to be:

Independent & Accurate

A new approach to data management was necessary to help coordinate the work of the CEPR think tank based in London, the executive GTA team at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland and external collaborators around the world. With the introduction of cloud hosting and an optimised admin panel, this international initiative can remain independent without compromising data input efficiency and accuracy.

Comprehensive & Transparent

GTA not only covers more policy instruments than other monitoring tools but also goes beyond the raw data to identify potentially affected trading partners. To keep transparency in check, both official and alternative sources of information can be viewed on request. A detailed documentation on the applied methodology includes the database structure, the assessment criteria, and the interpretation of variables. GTA’s comprehensive character and credibility relies on a strategic combination of robust analytics, automated data processing and features enabling manual editing of data records.

Accessible & Timely

Designing for accessibility started with identifying different users of the GTA website and their needs. From policy-makers, manufacturers and exporters to journalists and analysts — each target group had to be able to filter search results in accordance with their interests and export the selected data feeds for reference or further analysis. With that in mind, new interactive filters were added to boost searchability of both real-time and historical data. Implementation of event tracking mechanisms was necessary to help the GTA team understand user behaviour and make more informed decisions about further product development.

UI and UX design

Mindful of the functional and non-functional requirements hinted above, UI and UX design was focused on two target groups:

  • admin panel users
  • general public users of the web platform

The admin panel needed features for easier editing and sorting of data. To speed up verification of data leads in the dashboard view, the intervention submission interface was enhanced with extensions for manual editing. We had to make sure it was sensitive to updates without overwriting manual deviations.

When optimising the front page, we implemented new interactive filters and export restrictions, improved performance (calculations completed within seconds) and search engine friendliness (auto-generated SEO links submitted for indexing).

To give the GTA team more insight into user behaviour, we’ve introduced tracking of search terms, defined additional site events and built a view count for internal use. Now, admins could examine, filter and export user statistics to gather vital empirical data on the actual usage of the GTA database.

Big Data and cloud adoption

The GTA team documents a broad range of policy choices. Each state act is characterised using a taxonomy of more than a dozen variables. The classification is further supported with data on international flows of goods, services, migration, and investment.

New data architecture was needed to make the redesigned GTA platform cloud-ready. Code & Pepper checked all databases for dependencies and optimised key data filters. When importing historical data, we were asked to implement automated conversion of selected data files into CSV for easier parsing, as well as audit data in terms of completeness and integrity. To ensure data security, we configured and activated SSL encryption.

Technologies and solutions for Global Trade Alert

Code & Pepper services for Global Trade Alert

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