Business

The Microsoft Web Platform & Increasing Revenue

It’s no secret that I am fan of Microsoft technologies but there is no point in being a fanboy of a technology if it’s not delivering for your clients and ultimately for you as a business. It’s always great, when as a business owner, you can deliver a solution that makes a fundamental impact for your client and allows them to grow their business and be more successful. This is one of those occasions that I’d like to share.

Last year we started working with a company in Luton which provides car parking facilities for the popular Luton Airport. The car parking is provided offsite and is just outside the perimeter of the airport. It’s a competitive business and relies on taking much of it’s bookings online. It is therefore imperative that the business has an efficient and usable site.

Our client had a website but it was an old site which had been developed in ASP and used SQL Server 2000 as the backend database. It was hosted by a relatively unknown company which didn’t deliver the best service in the world. The website could only be accessed by Internet Explorer because key parts of it were implemented using VB Script. The payment system was integrated through to SagePay and there was a VB Basic application which the staff ran to access bookings from the SQL Server. It was a system that was not scalable and not reliable as the site would often stop connecting to database (at least once a week). This could only be fixed by a support email to the hosting company, who would reply with saying it was fixed but never said what the problem was or how to resolve it permanently. The system was no longer supported by the original developers.

Our client recognised all these issues and that it was holding their business back and had employed a relatively large IT/Software outsourcing business to develop a new site for them. This business failed to deliver and produced virtually nothing after 12 months and a serious of money having been spent.

Having eventually approached us, that is Ardent iSys, we embarked on a complete redevelopment of the site. We chose to develop the site using ASP.NET MVC 1.0, JQuery and SQL Server 2008. The aim was to put the entire business online, so that the backend booking management could be accessed via the browser as well. We moved the hosting to iomart using two dedicated servers running Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 on the second server. This gave significant scalability and the possibility of hosting multiple sites on this platform/configuration. Since deployment at the beginning of the year there has been zero downtime due to platform issues and the hosting is backed by SLAs. The costs have risen for the hosting but this is well worth the money for having your business up and running all the time. The new site can be found at http://www.airportcarparkz.com and is a complete end to end development by Ardent iSys including the site design. This site was developed in about a 6 month period and since going live has functioned without any critical issues or causing the business to be offline for any time at all. The site can now be accessed via any browser and as we are using ASP.NET MVC we will eventually make the site W3C compliant. We are working on a new site design which is why we haven’t made the site fully W3C compliant at the moment. Gone are the days when Microsoft Web technology was the poor mocked cousin when it came to web standards.

The most important thing is that the new site is competing with some of our client’s bigger car parking competitors and after seeing the site they have started to get in touch with our client. The traffic to the site jumped rapidly after initial launch as people were able to use different browsers. Bookings have been steadily climbing and the search engine ranking of the site has gown as well. During the last few months traffic to the site has risen again by 40% and the revenue is greater than at anytime during the businesses existence.

There are plans to add a content management system, provide business reports from SQL Server about bookings and build an affiliate programme. The site is no longer a block to growing the business and our client can now concentrate on building and further growing revenue and profitability. They now know they have a technology solution that can deliver for them a Microsoft partner who can make that happen for them.

We are now developing a new site for a holiday business for this client which will be developed using ASP.NET MVC 2.0 and hosted on the same platform.

Change, Change, Change

As they say, the only constant thing in life is change! As of today, iQubed no longer exists as a separate entity in the Microsoft Partner Programme and has been merged with Ardent iSys. This means that Ardent iSys takes on all the assets and qualifications of iQubed and the Small Business Specialist designation. I’ve also asked some of my customers for the required references for the Networking Infrastructure Competency, actually we only need one more (as it had expired). Once the references are in place we’ll pay the fee and take Ardent iSys to Certified Partner status.

We’re busy putting in plans to support our developers in India to become Microsoft Certified Professional Developers (MCPD) and then complete the Custom Development Solutions Competency. I will then be visiting the team later on this year which I’m really looking forward to.

So, iQubed is still a limited company in its own right but the growth is happening around our outsourced software development business Ardent iSys Ltd. The feedback from clients has been very positive because of the emphasis we place on building relationships and being customer focused. The fact Ashish and I are here in the UK where are clients are based puts us in a great position over other Outsourcing Companies from India. But our plans are not to remain just that because if that was all that we did the business would not survive long term.

There will be further changes as I register a new domain name for the blog and start to talk more about Ardent iSys.

West Alabama E-Cycling Event

If you’ve been reading Chris Rue’s blog, the Funcave, then you’ll know he’s chairing a group which will be holding a first of its kind E-Cycling event. Having read through some of his posts I saw that he’d quadrupled his business being involved in this initiative which rather intrigues me and I’d love to know more how that has come about.

This has also got me thinking about the WEEE Directive and my own responsibilities under it as one of my customers was asking about recycling some old equipment they had (not originally supplied by me). I have to say, I’m not really sure what I should be doing or what advice I should be giving but I think I’m going to have to find out.

Anyway, here is Chris’s event details in his own words and should be interesting to see how it goes :-

Most of you already know that I’m chairing the planning committee for the first electronics recycling event ever held here in my local area of West Alabama.

The public collection of E-Cycling Day isn’t due to happen until January 24.

As of yesterday, thanks to large equipment pledges from a couple of local businesses which have already been picked up…E-Cycling Day has already collected 27,000+ pounds of electronic equipment!

We’re estimating we will collect 200,000+ pounds of equipment by the end of this event.

E-Cycling Day has started to garner a TON of attention, but we (the planning committee) would like it to receive more attention even farther out than our state.

Specifically, we’d like E-Cycling Day to get some “airplay” hither and yon, as we would like to be able to share our model with folks or organizations interested in forming an e-cycling event in their area.

… link to the official event website at www.tuscaloosachamber.com/ecycle

… links to a couple of the Funcave write-ups about E-Cycling Day:

http://www.chrisrue.com/funcave/2007/12/where-have-i-been-and-what-have-i-been-doing.html

http://www.chrisrue.com/funcave/2007/12/mo-media.html

http://www.chrisrue.com/funcave/2008/01/27000-pounds-and-what-do-you-get.html

London Technology Acceleration Services

This is the result of some of the new stuff that I’ve been working on with my business colleague Ashish. The London Technology Acceleration Services is backed by Ardentisys (our software business) and Hubworking. Its aim is to provide support to start-up and early stage technology/software businesses with high growth potential. The deal is simple is that a business gets the physical infrastructure and subsidised development support for a period of time along with our support in areas such as technology roadmap, business support, etc. The office base is situated in Central London in a prime location. This is an exciting phase in my business life and we’re actively looking for partnerships which will be of mutual benefit. One of our customers is TV Genius, who develop online TV Guides for the likes of Sky and ITV. You’ll notice that on their website it says their development team is based in Mumbai – that’s us! There’s more to come, so stay tuned or get in touch if you want a chat.

Westcoast Small Business Forum

I’ve waited a while before blogging on the recently held Westcoast Small Business Forum. Susanne and the rest of the Westcoast team did a great job in engaging with the Small Business Partners in an open and honest way. There were some really interesting discussions, particularly in the pre-event roundtable where Westcoast’s Chairman, Joe Hemani, and MD, Duncan Forsyth, participated. There were two ideas which I think could really benefit SBSC Partners, Westcoast and Microsoft (…and anyone else who gets involved).

The first idea was around building a community/buying group with Westcoast so that the SBS Community could use its collective strength to get more competitive pricing. Now, I’m not going to speak on behalf of Westcoast and say they definitely committed to doing this but there seemed to be a real willingness to look at this idea seriously. I know sometimes that in the excitement and energy of the moment everything seems possible but when you get back into the day to day business, momentum can be lost. What I would say is that if Westcoast are willing to support us in this way then we as SBSC Partners should be willing to step up to the plate as well.

The other discussion area was engaging in end customer focused events and something I’m very keen on. There doesn’t seem to be the enthusiasm on the Microsoft side for this with the usual arguments that it’s far too expensive, doesn’t get the reach of online campaigns and partners don’t engage. There is a talk of ROI on events but Microsoft recently spent a considerable amount of money on some high profile Startup Business Events with high profile speakers such as Rachel Elnaugh and others. Were SBSC Partners linked in with this? What was the ROI on these events as many participants were pre-start businesses who felt that engaging with a Microsoft Business Partner was not appropriate for them. Also, Emma Richardson of Microsoft said that end user satisfaction with Microsoft had dropped significantly recently. There is nothing like engaging face to face with potential customers in regional events showing that Microsoft and its network of qualified partners are able to serve the needs of Small Businesses. This is something that I’m going to keep pushing on and to say to Microsoft to work with those proactive Partners who are willing to support such activities. I don’t really want to know what we can’t do but what we can do.

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Creative Coffee Club in Machinma by Sam Young

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This is just great which I had to post up. It’s some interviews that were done at one of the Creative Coffee Club meetings and Sam Young has incorporated those into a Machinma video using Moviestorm (I sound like I actually know what that is but I don’t!). I love it and I love the Creativity in it, which is pretty apt for the “Creative Coffee Club”. Great views and comments from Toby Moores and others on the video as to what the events are all about.

Nice one Sam :-)

Merrill Lynch chief Leaves

The Merrill Lynch CEO, Stan O’Neal, has left his job because of the exposure of the company to bad debts of $7.9 bn and reporting a third quarter loss of $2.3 bn as reported by BBC News Online. Now what do you expect is going to happen to Mr O’Neal? Well, he’s retiring with immediate effect and probably a multi-million pound payoff. Job done, thank you and good bye! It really is a win-win situation being a CEO for a major corporate. If you’re successful, then big bonuses and if you mess up big time, big payoff anyway! Is there no sense that it’s actually success that should be rewarded? I saw recently (…and I can’t remember where), how little Steve Ballmer was actually paid but had good stock options which is fair because if Microsoft do well and make profits then his shares are actually going to be worth something.

The next time you make a mistake (I know we never do !!!), try asking your customer for some more money just to walk away from the mess into the sunset and see how they react??

[update] Read Robert Peston’s (BBC Business Editor) blog on this and then the comments. So, Small Businesses have no business plans or strategies? Well, compared to Merrill Lynch I would say our business strategies are like a masterpiece!

iQubed and Ardent Information Systems Partnership

So, the news is that I’ve also become a Partner in Adent Informations Systems which is a software solutions company. My partner and colleague Ashish Raina has been doing an amazing job in developing Ardent into a successful software outsourcing company over the past 3-4 years. The company has 30-40 experienced software developers which are mostly working with SME Technology Companies based in the UK. Ardent enables companies to bring their technology products to maket quicker and more cost effectively. But it’s not about being the cheapest because I’m sure you’ve been contacted by endless companies in India looking for a route in to the European market. Ashish and myself understand Technology companies and we’re based right on your doorstep, so no awkward phone calls over a crackling line to someone who doesn’t understand your frustrations. It is about Customer Service as Susanne eloquently presents on! We’re backing this up by developing an integrated strategy with Microsoft and Ardent is in the Microsoft Partner Programme and looking to progress very quickly. We’re able to deliver solutions such as hosted MOSS 2007 (based in the UK) using SPLA backed by people who have many years of advanced infrastructure development and the quite often overlooked part, TESTING! In terms of software skills the developers have skills in ASP.NET 2.0, .NET 2.0, C#, VB.NET, SQL Server, XML, Java and Oracle. We’re in the process of signing a deal with a Business Support Centre based in Central London to support startup/early stage ISVs with complete software teams. They’ll be a new website soon but I wanted to get a heads up to people because were very much Community/Partner/Collaborative working focused. We’re looking for long term relationships where we can add value to each other’s businesses. If you’re going to the Westcoast Business Forum on 29th November then Ashish and I will be there if you want to have a chat.

I’m really excited about this!

Leicester Creative Coffee Club up and running

Rather than repeat myself, here is my post on today’s Creative Coffee Club blog.

If you’re interested in starting one in your area then let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the appropriate people. Apparently one is launching in Silicon Valley! Cool or what! 

Creative Coffee Club hits town

…well, it’s actually hitting a few places and the Facebook group has grown to 170 people.

The Leicester event is on Wed 26th September at 10.00am – 12.00pm at Ritazza, which is at the De Montfort University Campus. You can check out the CreativeCoffee Club website.

See you there.

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