Microsoft, one of the world’s leading software companies, wanted to achieve a high return on the investment it was making in launch events for the 2010 versions of some of its most notable products. The company decided to host a virtual launch event to reduce the need for more expensive in-person events. It used Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 as the foundation for a source site, from which Microsoft can concurrently deploy 42 regional Web sites to showcase product demonstration sessions, discussions, and keynote events in streaming video, provide interaction with Microsoft employees, and deliver resource links to hundreds of thousands of viewers worldwide. The solution is highly cost-efficient, as it relies on an extremely streamlined development environment. Microsoft expects to spend significantly less than it spent on previous launch events, while reaching a much larger audience. Situation
Microsoft, a global provider of software, services, and Internet technologies for homes and businesses, invests a great deal of time, effort, and money in promoting its new products. On May 12, 2010, the company will formally launch new versions of many prominent products, including Microsoft Office 2010; Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010; Microsoft Project 2010; and Microsoft Visio 2010.
In 2007, Microsoft invested a great deal of time and money promoting the 2007 Microsoft Office system and the Windows Vista operating system. The company sponsored key city events that featured guest speakers from Microsoft in many cities around the world. “At the end of the day,” says Carol Matthews, Senior Marketing Manager in the Digital Marketing group at Microsoft, “these events were very expensive, and it was challenging to get people to attend them.”
||This solution … relies primarily on the power, flexibility, and reach of virtual, online events. This broad reach, at such a low cost, wouldn’t have been possible without SharePoint Server 2010.
Senior Marketing Manager, Digital Marketing, Microsoft Corporation
In 2009, in preparation for the company’s 2010 product launches, Matthews and her colleagues analyzed recent product-promotion events that were hosted by several groups at Microsoft and scrutinized the return on investment (ROI) they achieved. “We found that the most effective model was one that relied on a large-scale, online virtual event, complemented by smaller, in-person events.”
Taking this knowledge to heart, Microsoft decided to host a virtual launch event that would complement smaller, in-person events to optimize the promotion of the 2010 products. The Digital Marketing group wanted to reach viewers in more than 20 countries, in 15 different languages, concurrently, through a virtual launch event Web site. “Microsoft had never before launched a virtual event that would cater to that many countries at once,” explains Matthews. “With Windows 7, we created a launch Web site that was initially tailored for eight countries. Over time, we added more sites, but by then, the marketing moment had passed. We wanted to make this virtual event launch site available on a global scale, immediately, so we could capitalize on the initial momentum of the product releases.”
This ambitious goal meant that Microsoft not only needed to create its site in time for the May 2010 product launch, but it also needed to customize 30 versions of the site (as some countries required at least two languages) for different cultures—traditionally, a lengthy process and no easy task. Maintaining the versions and coordinating content updates among the sites also sounded difficult and time-consuming. “We plan to host more than 800 keynote events and videotaped product demonstration sessions over three months, and announcements and information about each of these events needs to be posted to the Web sites,” says Matthews.
The company also needed to make it possible for the Microsoft subsidiaries in each country to easily customize their sites to meet their needs, for example, to add their own social news feeds or remove the navigational tab that links to keynote events, if none are occurring in their area. “We needed both speed and flexibility,” says Matthews. Solution
In 2009, Matthews and the Digital Marketing group evaluated several platforms for developing a virtual event launch site, including third-party virtual event management solutions. “None of the solutions offered the flexibility and low cost we were looking for,” says Matthews. Then, in the fall of 2009, when a prerelease version of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 became available, the group evaluated the newer platform and knew it had found the answer. ”With SharePoint Server 2010, we could rapidly develop many sites at once and centrally manage the content, while giving the subsidiaries control over certain components of their sites,” she says.
In December 2009, with the help of Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Amreli Technology Solutions, and also with the help of independent consulting firm Canviz Consulting, the Digital Marketing group began to develop a virtual launch event Web site with SharePoint Server 2010 beta code. Amreli provided a solution to meet the virtual event launch site’s requirements and a development team for the site; Canviz provided architectural guidance and oversight, and is providing ongoing server farm management and support services. Now running on release-to-manufacturing code, the virtual launch event site is being tested by Microsoft subsidiaries worldwide and will be made available to the public on May 11, 2010. Creating the Virtual Launch Event Site
Amreli used the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0, Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, and Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 to build and customize the virtual event launch site. Visual Studio 2010 provided Amreli developers with an integrated application development platform for building applications based on SharePoint Server, enabling its team to work within a single environment and efficiently package and deploy new code. “The virtual launch event site had a lot of requirements around Web content management that required writing custom code. Making the code base reusable and configurable for many different sub-sites would have been a much greater challenge had it not been for the tight integration of Visual Studio 2010 with SharePoint Server 2010,” explains Meghana Sathe, Senior Program Manager at Amreli.
|Figure 1. Israeli site customized with right-to-left layout.|
Developers took advantage of the site variation management system of SharePoint Server 2010 to create a single “source” site. From the source site, they originally defined a series of 30 sites, but as demand grew, they quickly increased the number to 42 site variations, each one customized to a specific geographic region. For instance, developers could create the Israeli Web site using the site variation feature and different site-specific style sheets to define the layout to facilitate right-to-left reading of the Hebrew language. (See Figure 1.) Microsoft localization teams can then translate content and publish it to a country site. Administrators also can use the site variation management system to broadcast site updates that are pertinent to all regions, just by changing the source site. Sanjay Hirpara, Technical Lead at Amreli explains, “Any change that is made to the source site is much easier to propagate to regional sites.” Online Resources, Streaming Video
From the virtual event launch site, Microsoft will host hundreds of video-taped product and solution sessions through Windows Media Player 11. The site provides related resources such as product data sheets, solution partner sites, and registration pages for in-person events, and it gives viewers access to a variety of social networking and discussion participation tools to interact with other viewers and with Microsoft speakers and product managers. Microsoft will also stream videos of in-person events from the site. (See Figure 2.)
Amreli created custom SharePoint Web parts to provide users with a comprehensive forum for social interactions. Suman Pradhan, Senior Developer at Amreli, says, “We developed our own Web parts for social networking and provided flexible configuration so that Microsoft subsidiaries can customize the networking or discussion components as they wanted.”
|Figure 2. U.S. site with video session, area for viewer comments, |
link to partner resources, and live question-and-answer event.
Configurable Web parts enable regional subsidiaries to swap in their own social networking tools to encourage locally oriented discussions, and they enable Microsoft to connect the site with third-party social networking sites such as Twitter and Digg. The custom Web parts also make it possible for the Digital Marketing group to include questionnaires for gathering user feedback and to insert security measures—for instance, there is a window that requires users to type in a box of letters displayed on-screen before they can submit their comments. This prevents malicious tools or bots used for automating comment entries, from accessing the site.
The integrated social networking and feedback tools are key to achieving the desired ROI for the launch. “We included many ways for viewers to participate, to extend the value and reach of the sessions and in-person events,” says Matthews. The site includes a feedback button and windows for viewers to post comments and ask questions about the presentations they have watched. Amreli used SharePoint lists to capture feedback and can present the report using the SharePoint list Group By feature. The Digital Marketing group and subsidiaries then can use the analyses in the reports to make improvements and adjustments to the site. The viewers’ comments will be routed via SharePoint Server 2010 workflows to Microsoft reviewers, who can validate and post comments or reject them if inappropriate. The site also includes live question-and-answer sessions. Web Content Management
Using the Web content management capabilities of SharePoint Server 2010, administrators can upload and publish content about launch events and broadcast this information to all of the sites in several simple steps. Administrators maintain and manage all information and descriptions about virtual and in-person events in a Microsoft Excel worksheet, which they copy and paste into a SharePoint list to update the information on the site. “Adding images to the event descriptions is as simple as copying them from a desktop folder to the SharePoint list,” says Matthews.
At the same time, regional site administrators can control content specific to their region. “Each Microsoft subsidiary has its own content team working on its site,” explains Sathe. “The system gives them the control they need to create, modify, and edit their local content. For instance, they can add local video sessions, related resources, and marketing offers such as free trials for software programs.”
Enhancements to workflow design capabilities in SharePoint Designer 2010 make it easy for Amreli developers to implement workflows to ensure that content goes through the proper approval channels before it is published to the sites. In SharePoint Designer 2010, Amreli developers can create reusable workflows and associate them with multiple SharePoint lists. Pradhan says, “We developed a single publishing workflow that we can reuse across all of the country sites.” Benefits
Microsoft is using SharePoint Server 2010 to concurrently build 42 versions of a virtual launch event site to reach viewers all over the world. It will use 38 of these versions for its launch on May 12. The company expects to realize a high ROI by delivering virtual, online events and discussion tools, complemented by a smaller number of live, in-person events. Administrators will be able to update and manage content efficiently, and costs will be low because SharePoint Server 2010 provides tools that promote rapid development and modification of sites.
Broad Marketing Reach
||SharePoint Server 2010 is a comprehensive content management platform.... To develop a … solution from scratch would have taken approximately twice as long, twice the resources, and cost twice as much.
Senior Program Manager, Amreli Technology Solutions
From previous product launches in which it focused on key city events, Microsoft learned that it could only reach a limited audience with in-person engagements. “You can only invite a certain number of people to the live keynotes,” says Matthews. “And there is no guarantee they will all show. With a virtual launch event, there is no limit to how many people we can reach.” The Digital Marketing group expects the virtual event launch site to reach more than 500,000 people. Continues Matthews, “We will be on par with the number of people reached during the Windows 7 launch event. And, the value is even higher, because the social networking and discussion tools that are integrated into the site allow these people to directly engage in conversations with our product managers. The goal of these high-quality engagements is to increase the likelihood that viewers will consider purchasing 2010 products.”
Efficient Management, High Flexibility
With SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft can manage the virtual launch event site very efficiently. The solution’s Web content management capabilities give users the power to copy and paste event information, in bulk, from a Microsoft Excel worksheet to a SharePoint list, which kicks off an automated workflow process for publishing content. “An administrator can load dozens of sessions into the system in less than five minutes,” says Matthews.
Further, the customized social networking and discussion features make it possible for users to interact with Microsoft employees in real time. Reporting and analysis capabilities will help the company take advantage of user feedback to continually enhance the site to achieve the best possible marketing effect. “The platform gives us the flexibility to optimize the source sites and the regional sites, to increase user satisfaction,” says Matthews. “We can make global changes rapidly, and the subsidiaries also have the power to control and evolve their own content.”Rapid Development
By using the site variation management system of SharePoint Server 2010, developers were able to create 42 regional sites almost instantly and with very little effort. Hirpara says, “If we had to create each site independently, it would have taken us at least a day to create all of the sites. The site variation management feature of SharePoint Server 2010 helped us to create all 42 sites in about 10 minutes, total.”
Developers are also taking advantage of the reusable workflow feature of SharePoint Designer 2010 to apply the same workflow to the new sites without starting from scratch. Upma Sharma, Program Manager at Amreli, says, “The reusable workflow feature of SharePoint Designer 2010 saved us the hassle of creating 81 additional content publishing workflows.” The site requires two different content publishing workflows, one for the keynote events section and another for an additional resources section on the site’s home page. “Had we used a platform that didn’t allow for reusable workflows, we would have had to custom-code two different workflows for 42 sites.”
Finally, the close connection of the Visual Studio 2010 development tools with SharePoint Server 2010 resulted in additional time savings. “The integration of Visual Studio 2010 with SharePoint Server 2010 is very powerful,” says Sathe. “SharePoint Server 2010 is a comprehensive content management platform with a rich set of features to rapidly build solutions that meet business needs. To develop a complete custom content management solution from scratch would have taken approximately twice as long, twice the resources, and cost twice as much. And, we would have had to rely on third-party tools, which can add risk and dependencies that we didn’t want. The close integration of Visual Studio 2010 with SharePoint Server 2010 helped us save approximately 30 percent of our development time and effort. Overall, our development and testing processes for this project were faster because we used SharePoint Server 2010.”High Return on Investment
The flexibility and scalability of the SharePoint Server 2010 enabled Digital Marketing to efficiently and cost-effectively expand the reach of the solution. Microsoft’s original goal was to launch the virtual event site in more than 20 countries concurrently, and in 15 languages (which required building 30 sites). “We increased these numbers to 42 site variations, reaching more than 60 countries and available in 26 languages. And we anticipate more than 500,000 virtual attendees,” says Matthews. “We added 12 sites to the original 30, thanks to the site variation management system, at a very minimal additional cost. With SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft is spending a fraction of what it spent on the 2007 product launches.”
Another cost saver for Microsoft is the fact that SharePoint Server 2010 can be hosted on the same server farm as other Web sites. “The flexible, granular architecture of SharePoint Server 2010 allows us to host the virtual launch event site along with other Microsoft Web sites on the same server farm,” says Tim McDaniel, Managing Partner at Canviz Consulting. “Otherwise, we would have had to have a dedicated server farm that would have cost more than twice as much to support and maintain.”
Matthews says, “We plan to reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers with this solution that relies primarily on the power, flexibility, and reach of virtual, online events. This broad reach, at such a low cost, wouldn’t have been possible without SharePoint Server 2010.”
Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 is the business collaboration platform for the Enterprise and the Internet.
For more information about Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, go to:For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
For more information about Amreli Technology Solutions products and services, call (425) 881-6971 or visit the Web site at:
For more information about Canviz Consulting products and services, call (206) 335-8303 or visit the Web site at: