Understanding Information Versus Performance
As Klotz worked with Spidell, he said he realized that the small company simply didnt understand that a new, more functional Web site created new demands. "We believe in being brutally honest with our clients, so we also educated them about this," said Klotz. "We gave them a road map: Heres what youre supposed to see and do when you do this type of project, and, if not, thats a problem."Spidell had not used a staging area in the past and needed an explanation before agreeing to this purchase, said Klotz. "Theyre a growing company, so it was all new to them," said Klotz. "They were like, What do you mean we need to buy another server? My answer was, When you really find out you need it, its too late. Sometimes clients need tough love. But it never works if you provide a business solution in a vacuum." As the project got under way, eBI Solutions implemented the new site layout redesign so it would have a more appealing look and so information was more readily accessible. The sites performance was more critical. "When you drill down for tax information, those articles can go five levels deep and return thousands of pages of information," said Klotz. "If you went down a tree, it took literally a minute for people to see a new screen of information. We fixed that." eBI Solutions answer to the performance issue was a compromise, admitted Klotz. "We had to decide between how much information to show the user versus performance," Klotz said. "If youre at the top level and theres three categories to drill down to, should you see a plus sign that will make the page take longer to load? We decided to add the plus sign on the level below the top level to improve performance." In addition to resolving the page-loading issue, eBI Solutions had to finish importing Spidells data from its old Web site, said Klotz. And it created a way for Waters and his team to import new tax information into the database in plain text and PDF. eBI Solutions also implemented flash mail and gave Spidell the ability to manage its e-mail list. It even helped Spidell with its underlying software configuration. For example, it moved Spidells database to a separate server and helped it design a user hierarchy with authorization levels. Finally, Klotz and his team trained Waters and his staff so they could manage routine changes on their own. "Our philosophy is, the project is successful if we can go away and the client can run it by themselves," said Klotz. Thanks to a more efficient user interface courtesy of eBI Solutions, Spidell customers who previously received tax information on mail-ordered CD-ROMs could find all the customized information they needed onlinefor a fee. "They managed to not alienate their customer base," said Klotz. "Its very efficient for selling over the Internet." Spidell is happy with the result, Waters said, but it was a long and expensive process that Waters would not want to repeat. "My advice to any company in the same boat is to research the software or technology being proposed," Waters said. "Any company that wants to do a big IT project should have at least five companies bid [on] the project and go over the bids before making a decision." Ira Apfel is a free-lance writer based in Bethesda, Md. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Case file
Customer Spidell Publishing
Location Anaheim, Calif.
Organizational snapshot Spidell has been providing California tax information to tax professionals since 1975. The company provides ideas, references, solutions and guidance, plus news and commentary, covering all aspects of taxes and their administration.
Business need Spidell needed to overhaul its antiquated Web site. Its goal was to turn a static site that visitors found hard to navigate into an e-commerce portal that would provide customized information while enhancing sales.
Technology partner eBI Solutions, also of Anaheim
Recommended solution Spidell selected Microsofts Content Management Server 2002, which offers Web publishing, real-time site updates, integration with Microsofts Commerce Server and SharePoint Portal Server, dynamic content caching, and more. After a failed attempt by another vendor, eBI Solutions rewrote some source code and finished the project, giving Spidell a state-of-the-art Web site that offered shopping and enhanced search capabilities.
Lesson learned Bid your IT projects out to several vendors. Spidell initially went with a technology vendor that it had successfully collaborated with in the pasteven though the vendor had never attempted such a Web site upgrade. The vendor missed a critical deadline because it was ill-equipped to finish the project. Only then did Spidell ask for referrals.
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For example, Klotz pointed out that Spidell would need to purchase another server to act as a staging area (temporary location) for the new Web site and any future changes to the site.