England-direct.com, the official web site for the English Football Association (FA), may not be able to console distressed fans if England's side does not get through to the World Cup final in July 2002, but it will at least be able to cope with an increase in traffic levels.
In early 2001, specialist sports web design company Sportsetail embarked on a full-scale upgrade to england-direct.com in the run-up to the World Cup. When the revamped site was launched in October 2001, the FA's site was handling an average of 1,000 transactions a day. Once the tournament commences, as fans clamour to view match statistics and purchase England merchandise, the site will deal with as many as 30,000 transactions a day.
Originally the FA's site was a static, text-based site that captured orders online but processed them manually offline. To overcome the additional workload and costs this incurred, Sportsetail decided to integrate front-end, customer-facing applications with back-end processing systems, as well as its call centres. To carry out the work the company turned to UK-based systems integrator Snow Valley, which developed and ran the original england-direct.com site. Snow Valley's remit was to develop a new site that would reduce Sportsetail's operational costs and increase revenue through online sales.
To start with, Snow Valley updated the site's web server software from Microsoft's Site Server 3 to Commerce Server 2000, which could better deal with the number of transactions the site is likely to attract. Snow Valley also integrated the site to Sportsetail's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system using a messaging system based on XML (extensible mark-up language). The customer facing pages were also rebuilt using XML instead of HTML. This makes changes to the site and support for multiple devices easier to implement, says Carlo Rimini, Snow Valley's managing director. The site currently offers support for only two types of browser, but Rimini says that support for multiple devices, including mobile phones and interactive TV, can be easily added because the core integration work is already complete.
Although Rimini and Smith agree that the most important change to the site from their point of view was the integration of Sportsetail's back-end systems, they say the most important consideration from a user perspective is the site's appearance.
Therefore, the updated site includes more graphics and images, and has become easier to navigate. And by increasing the number of links to other pages, Sportsetail has helped the FA better cross sell its products. "It's a much cleaner and easier shopping experience," says David Smith, Sportsetail's marketing director.
More changes will be made over the next few months, such as the addition of links to partner sites such as television channel Sky's web site. The core upgrade, linking the company's front-end and back-end systems, took just over six months, and the site was relaunched in October 2001. Since then, Smith says the site's transaction rates have quadrupled.
Furthermore, the england-direct.com site has also received positive feedback. "We've had a few [customers] say they really like it, even rivals," says Smith. The web site is deployed over three servers for load balancing, and was upgraded one server at a time to minimise disruption to the business. During the upgrade, the site was only down for about 15 minutes, according to Rimini.
For Sportsetail, the revamped site brings additional benefits. The company runs several web sites, including englandcricketstore.com for the England and Wales Cricket Board. The company's clients are pleased with the changes, and "off the back of that we'll be looking to win other opportunities", says Smith. In fact, Sportsetail is already to talking to potential new clients, using england-direct.com as its main point of reference.