As Microsoft last week launched a key component of its web services strategy, Visual Studio .Net, a $32 million Auckland sports facility with a .Net-based customer management system opened its doors.
The Millennium Institute of Sport and Health is a showpiece for what can be done with web services technology.
Set up as a charitable trust, the institute, on Auckland’s North Shore, has a running track, Olympic pool, indoor sprint track, long jump, pole vault, climbing wall, weight and cardiovascular training equipment plus accommodation for 50 people. It provides coaching in a range of sports including basketball, athletics, water polo, weightlifting, wind surfing and swimming, as well as offering a public gym, café and medical and other health services.
Chief executive Steve Brown says the institute was unusual in that it wanted to start with a website and build on that for the rest of its enterprise system, as opposed to getting the enterprise system in place and adding a website.
The website is important not only for marketing but as a way to share information and coaching methods. Video cameras on the pool and track will capture coaching sessions for the site.
Brown says the institute also wanted a web-based customer relationship management (CRM) solution to manage membership and booking requirements, and to track members’ online and gym-based behaviour.
It evaluated high-end, off-the-shelf products before approaching Microsoft, which introduced it to Auckland CRM developer 3-tier.com. 3-tier.com had reworked its CRM product, crem.biz, into a .Net-based system using a beta of Visual Studio .Net.
3-tier.com started working with the institute early last year and delivered a website by mid-year to take membership applications and capture customer profile information.
Members can use secure web pages to maintain their profile information, as well as order merchandise and book facilities. In its first week open, the institute claimed more than 700 paid members for its gym, a large proportion of whom enrolled online.
The website is integrated with the CRM system, through which profiling information is placed in a data warehouse and analysed. Targeted marketing content based on the analysis is then delivered back to the website using Microsoft Commerce Server’s predictor feature. The system also interfaces to Microsoft Office XP.
3-tier.com is working on linking the point of sale module directly to ASB Bank for processing direct debit and credit card payments from any desktop as well as scoping the provision of wireless device support for coaching staff on the move.
The website uses a new XML-based reference architecture from Microsoft which separates the content layer from the presentation layer so it can target any device without having to recreate content.
Brown says benefits he sees from .Net are how fast the site and CRM data sorting functions run, how easily the system is to use and how it will enable the institute to offer its system to future partners anywhere in the world “without having to rewrite the book”.
Brown isn’t concerned that the site was built using such new technology.
3-tier.com CEO Tim Muhundan says developers had to go through a steep learning curve with Microsoft’s new C# development language but overall there have been many productivity gains.
“For us, the biggest improvements are in the database layer — ADO.Net, a native interface to XML data and an improved object model that is consistent across web [ASP.Net] and desktop applications.”
“The user interface design has come a long way too. With fairly minimal effort a competent programmer can create an application with a user interface that looks like Office XP.”
A number of other large vendors also offer their own brand of technology using web services standards such as XML and WDSL, including Sun, IBM and Oracle.