AutoTrader.com sought a more dynamic intranet portal and wanted to know more about Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007 to see if the product could meet its technical and business requirements. The company attended several Microsoft Technology Center engagements and left with an informed technology decision, an implementation strategy, and the necessary information to develop a portal with the comprehensive functionality that users needed.
Those who are in the market for a new, used, or certified car in the United States often turn to AutoTrader.com in their search. The site aggregates millions of vehicles posted for sale by thousands of auto dealers and private sellers, attracting about 15 million unique visitors each month. AutoTrader.com unites buyers and sellers online, dramatically improving the way that people research, locate, and advertise vehicles.
The company, also called AutoTrader.com, has approximately 1,400 employees who work together to add new products to its site and sell them to customers. These products generally are innovative ways for sellers to make their cars stand out on the site—videos, banner ads, and other eye-catching ways of appealing to viewers.
The company used Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007 for collaboration, but it also used an intranet portal for sharing information about new products, Web site features, and other company communications. Based on Plumtree Software, the portal lacked many features that AutoTrader.com felt would be valuable. “It was extremely time-consuming to publish new content, and the internal company portal’s search functionality was challenging for employees, who often received irrelevant results,” says Jason Cornell, Manager of the Windows Systems Group for AutoTrader.com.
AutoTrader.com wanted a new, more robust intranet portal and liked the idea of basing it on Office SharePoint Server 2007 so that it could offer employees the same look and feel that they already used in their team and project sites. However, the company had questions and concerns about design, security, and support, and it anticipated retaining Plumtree for some portal functionality. Recalls Cornell, “We knew Office SharePoint Server 2007 from a collaboration standpoint, but we didn’t know if it was a viable portal option.”
||We’ve repeatedly … received straightforward answers from MTC architects as to whether what we want to do with the technology can be done, how best to do it, and whether we can do it cost-effectively.
||Jason Cornell Manager, Windows Systems Group, AutoTrader.com
After being impressed by a tour of the newly opened Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) in Atlanta, Georgia, AutoTrader.com attended a series of MTC engagements to discuss various aspects of a potential Office SharePoint Server 2007–based portal. “We were ecstatic about the opportunity to learn more about Microsoft products and what we could eventually accomplish by using them,” says Cornell.
In February 2008, AutoTrader.com took part in two one-day Strategy Briefings at the MTC, where participants from the company’s IT department engaged in in-depth discussions about everything from hardware load balancing to Enterprise Search capabilities. The team returned to the MTC in March 2008 for a multi-day Architecture Design Session. It resulted in not only the development of an intranet portal taxonomy and security strategy, but also a plan for migrating content from the old Plumtree system and a key understanding of how best to brand the new site.
“The MTC architects taught us different ways of handling security that reduce support calls and make life easier for users,” says Cornell. “Also, they showed us that supporting an intranet based on Office SharePoint Server 2007 would be more straightforward, take less time to keep up-to-date, require little to no custom code thanks to Web parts, and be easier overall than what we had in place.”
AutoTrader.com followed up its MTC experiences with another Strategy Briefing in April 2008, this time to share the potential portal strategy with its company’s business leaders. Members of this group spent time in the MTC Envisioning Center, where they gained an understanding of the benefits of choosing Office SharePoint Server 2007 for the company portal and what the AutoTrader.com employee experience would be like with it.
As of June 2009, AutoTrader.com has retired its Plumtree system and now has an intranet portal based on Office SharePoint Server 2007 in successful production. The team plans to gradually add functionality—much of it stemming from discussions at the MTC—including forms, workflow processes, and further integra¬tion with other AutoTrader.com systems.
AutoTrader.com found its MTC experiences so valuable that it has returned to the MTC whenever it has faced a major migration, upgrade, or potential new product. “There’s significant merit in an MTC engagement, in part because it gets internal business and IT stakeholders on the same page, bringing us all up to speed on what the technologies can deliver for the company,” says Cornell.
Consolidated Project Scope
The company typically leaves MTC engagements with much of a project’s scope and requirements defined and a general plan for what it intends to accomplish. “Following an MTC visit, we definitely start the project further along in the development process because of the expert guidance that the MTC architects give us about the best ways to use Microsoft technologies in our particular environment,” says Cornell.
Improved Strategies and Solutions
AutoTrader.com believes that investing time at the MTC results in greater solution functionality and smarter decisions about which technologies to pursue. “Our MTC experiences were a tremendous help in designing better solutions,” says Cornell. “Even before that stage, though, we’ve repeatedly come to the MTC with our different business requirements and received straightforward answers from MTC architects as to whether what we want to do with the technology can be done, how best to do it, and whether we can do it cost-effectively.”
For AutoTrader.com, the MTC experience helps technical staff and business stakeholders come to agreement about potential solutions. “We work in partnership with the business side of AutoTrader.com,” says Cornell. “We can’t just force business users to adopt certain solutions, so it’s a huge win for us when we can actually show our business leaders what a product can do and how it will make their employees’ lives easier.”