Loyalty to launch SharePoint-based website

Deployment time was cut through a platform approach

Loyalty New Zealand, the operator of the FlyBuys programme, says it was able to roll-out a new website in a matter of weeks using the Microsoft SharePoint Platform.

CIO Laurence Chiu told a Microsoft Tech Ed audience in Auckland that he and supplier Provoke Solutions were able to create the site quickly by using a “pre-existing platform” and much out-of-the-box functionality with few customised features.

Chiu told the conference that when he joined Loyalty New Zealand from the IRD 20 months ago, one of his first tasks was a new website as the existing site looked poor and did not encourage interactivity.

Three years ago, Loyalty New Zealand had issued an RFP for a new website, but this was unclear in its requirements.

Chiu had previously developed the IRD’s website, and felt similar technology was needed at Loyalty New Zealand. He had also used Microsoft SharePoint on other projects and wanted Microsoft to show him examples of it in action around the world.

Microsoft did so and Loyalty New Zealand decided to work in SharePoint 2007. Loyalty New Zealand was an existing Microsoft house, with an IT team of 16 out of a total 55 staff, but no developers. Chiu wanted to avoid a mixed vendor environment.

Work began following an August request for proposal, as part of a wider technology refresh using SharePoint, with Chiu aiming to complete the work by December.

But Loyalty’s marketing department told him of a brand relaunch that November, exerting further pressure to deliver the new site.

The new site was launched with the same functionality as the old one, plus a few minor add-ons and has received continual, iterative upgrades since.

The website uses 64-bit operating systems which facilitate greater memory in the server, he says.

New HP rack-mounted servers were also installed with some working in a virtualised environment. Other tools used include Windows Server and SQL Server.

Loyalty New Zealand also changed ISPs, settling for TelstraClear and its offshoot DMZ Global to provide security, using reverse proxy servers. DMZ Global created a very secure environment, with further testing carried out by Deloitte Consulting. Having the old website hosted in the Auckland TelstraClear datacentre also helped bring an easy connection.

The website is hosted by Loyalty’s outsource partner Gen-i in Wellington and Auckland and if one site goes down, the other can ensure continuity.

Since the site was launched, Chiu claims it has attracted many more hits and it handles loads extremely well.

“I think we made the right technology decisions,” he said.

Chiu told Computerworld afterwards that IT managers should consider software platforms if they can to avoid building everything from scratch. This speeds up development and also avoids vendor lock-in.

Now, he still has a “laundry list” of things to do with the new site, including some fairly significant enhancements he was not prepared to reveal.

Callum McNeill of Provoke Solutions, a Microsoft partner and SharePoint specialist, told Tech Ed that the website, built in .Net, met its goals of cost-effective rapid deployment, increased traffic and avoiding vendor lock-in.

“We had a focus of re-using existing and out-of-the-box functionality. As a platform MOSS provides great functionality out of the box. There’s a great community around SharePoint and tools are available,” he said.

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