In the context of the Indian sub-continent, labour being generally cheap, manually doing things is often the norm. Thus even as libraries adopt software like Koha to automate their operations, the management of Koha itself remains largely a manually driven process. While it is no doubt cheaper in the short term to do so, on the longer term, this involves invisible costs. For example, human errors creeping into the Koha configurations; a lack of situational awareness about the running system and thus no pre-emptive maintenance interventions that ultimate lead to higher down-times and disruption of services.
So, as our client-partners look at Koha to automate their libraries, we seek to largely automate the management and maintenance of Koha itself. The open-source nature of Koha lends well towards this. This blogpost aims to do two things : (a) share with our readers an idea of things that are possible with the most minimal of coding and (b) show case how this has benefited both us and our client-partners.
The automation use-case
Some time back we realised that it would be useful if we could let our client-partner users know in real-time exactly how many days their hosted service subscription was still valid for. The information was useful to them to plan their renewals in time. To do this we had initially opted for a small JQuery snippet placed inside IntranetUserJS system preference that took a hard-coded date which was the end date of their active subscription.
At first, this was seen as a good thing by our client partners. Yet as the subscription ended and was renewed, we were hit by a problem. When they renewed it, we had to manually re-edit the JQuery code and enter the new end date. There were two problems here – (a) sometimes we simply forgot to update it after the payment was made and the system would show that the subscription had expired even though it had been renewed; (b) as anyone dabbling with JQuery knows, its easy to introduce typographical / syntax errors while editing JQuery, if you are careless while doing it.
The first confused our users and left them with a feeling of dissatisfation. The second was more our headache. So, we wondered can Koha itself help us *automate* this hosted account renewal process? Turns out the answer was “yes” as we looked at *two* basic Koha features – (a) local use system preferences aka system preferences that are generally defined by users of the system rather than by the Koha developers and (b) SQL reports web service API which allows calling on SQL reports via an definitive URL with their results being returned back in JSON format.
From hard-coding to flexibility
We started by defining a local use system preference named SubscriptionEndDate (yes, we are very imaginative 😉 ) which will be used to store the end date in the ISO 8601 format i.e. YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS.
Next, we defined a simple SQL report that extracted the end date value from the systempreferences table in Koha.
The last step was to modify our existing JQuery snippet so that it no longer looked for a hard coded end date value within the snippet itself. Instead it would first call the SQL report web service to get the end date from the SubscriptionEndDate local use syspref as JSON data. Once the data was there, the rest of snippet remained same in terms of how it calculated and displayed the number of days remaining.
Introducing automation into the picture
With the above in place, it was now just a matter of updating the SubscriptionEndDate value when the client-partner renewed by paying up. As the payment got captured in our CRM system, it called an API that automatically triggered an update operation on SubscriptionEndDate in Koha setting it with the new end date. With less than 20 lines of code we had managed to automate the subscription date renewal process. We had managed to remove the twin issues of inconsistent manual updates and the possiblity of introducing typographical errors and breaking our IntranetUserJS configuration.