Many organisations that move their sales activities away from printed catalogues to ecommerce facilities struggle with the transition. That's because the operational logic and processes involved are very different.
SharePoint-based web content management (WCM) systems in such organisations are therefore often under or over engineered. Inefficient and ineffective, they actually impede sales and tarnish brand reputations.
Because of the difficulty of aligning traditional and ecommerce processes, one of South Africa's largest home shopping retailers ended up with a system that called for a separate web page to be created for each of hundreds of products. It therefore made the introduction of new products under deadline pressure a source of considerable extra work that, in turn, caused product information errors. Effectively, the system was offsetting all the benefits of automation that ecommerce should confer.
Britehouse Digital resolved the problem in a two step process. First, recommendations were made for the redesign of the customer's operational processes. This was followed by redesigning of the WCM portal.
Key to the success of the project, however, was winning the client's trust.
"Having been let down by their previous implementation partner, who had created the problems we had to fix, the customer was sceptical about our recommendations," says Britehouse Digital project manager, Hannes Burger.
"But, our commitment to propelling their business forward persuaded them to give us their full co-operation. The strong relationship that resulted ensured that the organisation ultimately got the best possible solution."
With a market cap of R3 billion, the JSE-listed retailer of homeware merchandise and personal electronic products has built up its business over decades as a market leader in mail order sales. It is in the process of expanding into the rest of Africa.
Wanting to access the very substantial online market, the company initiated Internet and mobile sales driven through a SharePoint portal. The portal was built by Britehouse Digital (then 3fifteen) but a different implementation partner was tasked with creating the company's WCM system. The system was designed to integrate with the company's bespoke enterprise resource management (ERP) system.
However, the WCM partner's direct conversion of unique and very specific print catalogue processes to the WCM forced what should have been agile digital processes into a rigid format, complicating the online publication of the catalogue.
The difficulties were compounded by the company's ERP system, from which product information is derived, because it had been adapted over the years with only the print catalogue in mind. The SharePoint 2010 WCM system therefore had to use a batch process to pull data from the ERP system and create physical pages for each product that needed an online presence.
When initially designed, the WCM was required to deal only with small volumes of products. It was unable to scale with the company's growth and resultant increase in product volumes. There were just too many working parts requiring too many loosely coupled information streams.
Having called for proposals from a range of implementations partners, the company chose Britehouse Digital because of its dedication to understanding the existing business processes with a view to improving business performance.
Britehouse Digital's four-person team started by optimising the company's processes by aligning them with digital principles.
It then brought the WCM solution into the digital era by, among other innovations, creating a custom administration console hosted within SharePoint. The console screens enable easy, rapid retrieval and re-categorisation of products within the ERP system and their subsequent publication on the web ecommerce portal. The screens also make it easier for the company to administer and add data, such as images and SEO information, to individual products.
Britehouse used Twitter bootstrap and JQuery to develop the administration pages. The pages interact with custom built web-services (JSON) to perform their CRUD functionality.
The team also removed the static page structure within SharePoint. Depending on the entered address (url), the user is re-routed to one of four pages categorised by business unit, category, product, or sale. These pages are then dynamically populated by the information obtained from the url, eliminating the need for query string parameters. The system relies on name-based addresses for better readability.
Knockout.js and custom built web-services were used to create the front-end pages needed by users to browse the product catalogue.
The business benefits
Instead of being limited online by its print media focused product structure, the retailer now has an ecommerce appropriate structure that gives it all the scale, speed, and agility benefits of digital technology.
It has real-time management of all ecommerce destined products.
Because the system is now taxonomy based, it speeds the company's time to sale. Users can quickly and easily funnel products from the company's ERP system into the website. Errors are minimised via a streamlined overview of all web products that allows users to preview each new product web page.
Consolidation of the front end pages into only four pages has made it easier to change and maintain the consistency of branding and all elements of the online service.