International Specialty Products (ISP) needed to improve the capabilities and management of its mission-critical Web site. The company attended two Microsoft® Technology Center (MTC) engagements and came away with a working prototype and a road map to chart the completion of the project. Thanks to its MTC experiences, ISP gained the insight, knowledge, and confidence needed to develop a better overall solution to meet its immediate and future needs.
International Specialty Products (ISP) is recognized internationally for the development, manufacture, and supply of innovative specialty chemical ingredients that are used to enhance the performance of products made and used around the world. With 160 years of experience, ISP serves more than 6,000 customers in 90 countries, representing industries as diverse as personal care; food and beverage; pharmaceuticals; household, industrial, and institutional cleaning; and agriculture.
As a global company, ISP needed to make it easy for customers around the world to learn about and order its ingredients. However, the company’s Web site—a primary customer resource—was only produced in English. “We wanted to make it possible to more easily reproduce and disseminate our product information in multiple languages,” explains Ron Burchett, Senior Manager of Application Services for ISP.
The company also sought to streamline its Web site management to reduce the amount of time and effort involved in integrating the structured and unstructured information required by customers. ISP had a combination of technologies in place to deliver that information. The structured data, including product codes and pricing, was provided through a link to a solution based on Microsoft® Commerce Server 2002, and the unstructured data, such as product brochures, was provided through hard-coded HTML and a system that was hosted by Verizon.
Says Burchett, “We decided to establish a new, more robust Web environment not just for better management and multilingual capabilities, but also to better control our information and easily add programmatic elements in the future, such as the ability to track lead information.”
In 2006, ISP set out to explore the possibility of basing its new Web solution on two yet-to-be-released products: Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007 and Commerce Server 2007. The company needed more information about the products’ features and functionality to determine if they could meet its needs. ISP decided to participate in an Architecture Design Session (ADS) using Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) resources in New York City. “We had previously attended an MTC engagement when we first began using Commerce Server 2002, so as we got ready to overhaul that solution, it made sense to once again take advantage of such a wonderful resource,” recalls Burchett. “At the ADS, we thoroughly evaluated the upcoming products as potential building blocks for our solution.”
The two-day ADS occurred in July 2006 and was quickly followed that same month by a weeklong Proof-of-Concept (POC) workshop at the MTC in Waltham, Massachusetts. Prior to that in-depth engagement, ISP stakeholders and MTC architects put together a comprehensive agenda about what the groups expected to accomplish during the week. “The MTC architects are realistic about setting expectations, but they really go to great effort to get as much done as possible,” says Burchett.
During the POC, the MTC architects helped ISP technical staff to migrate the current Web solution to Commerce Server 2007. They then integrated it with Office SharePoint Server 2007 to serve as the new information-delivery mechanism. In addition, ISP began enhancing security access and authentication and developing Web parts to augment the new solution.
By the end of the week, ISP had a working prototype, example code, a converted Commerce Server 2007 database, and a road map illustrating the best way to carry out the remainder of the project. To ensure that its proposed solution was aligned with the company’s strategic objectives, ISP invited several of its business decision makers to the MTC at the close of the engagement for a compelling two-hour demonstration.
Having made the most of its MTC experiences, ISP is poised to launch its new Web site in February 2008, with support for up to six languages initially. The company believes that its new solution will meet business needs both now and in the future, and it also feels that such a step forward might not have been possible without the MTC engagements. “There’s a good chance that we would have settled for a less comprehensive, less valuable approach—or that we would never have taken on the project—without our lessons learned at the MTC,” says Burchett.
- More powerful solution. ISP has achieved a solution that will include greater functionality than it would have if the company had developed it on its own. “The MTC architects helped us ensure that we were getting the most out of our IT investment and not underutilizing the products,” says Burchett. “We’re able to not only give our customers a better user experience, but also give our employees the means to be more efficient and successful.”
- Increased level of confidence. Through the MTC experience, ISP technical staff confirmed that it could achieve the company’s goals by using the new technologies, and gained the know-how to do so, such as the means for handling authentication. “Heading into our MTC sessions, we weren’t sure if the solution we had in mind was viable,” admits Burchett. “Because this project would require a significant investment of time and resources, it was critical that we have confidence in our ability to successfully complete it. The MTC gave us that confidence. We left knowing that we could do it.”
- Access to technical resources. By gaining the technical knowledge that it needed, ISP reduced its risks when it came to using such new products for its solution. “The MTC architects have intimate product knowledge, and they’ve seen so many different companies tackle issues that they were able to bring an enhanced level of creativity and know-how to our solution,” says Burchett.