Finding the right formula

Despite Formula One team Jordan's recent success on the track, its Web site was being lapped by those of its rivals. Computer...

Despite Formula One team Jordan's recent success on the track, its Web site was being lapped by those of its rivals. Computer Weekly reports on the site's redevelopment and the new opportunities it presents

There is no shortage of sport-based Web sites on the Net competing hard for the attention of sports fans. Carving a niche and standing out from the crowd is a major consideration.

Customers' expectations have changed since the early days of the Web, and Web sites offering barely more than a few news stories and some random images of sports stars curry little favour these days.

Formula One racing team Jordan realised that it was guilty of these failings earlier this year. The team had lots of ideas about what it wanted to achieve but was being frustrated at every turn by the limitations of its official Web site [www.f1jordan. com]. As chief technology officer of e-Jordan Alasdair Cox explains, "It had served its purpose but it had also served its time as well."

The Web site was being hosted remotely and a key driver for the project to build the new site was that the team wanted more control over content. So when the contract was about to come to an end in March, the team decided to grasp the nettle and come up with an alternative solution before it was locked into the contract for another year.

Cox explains that, apart from being "a bit flat", the previous Web site could not support clickable links. Services such as online betting had to be flagged up and publicised via a news story instead of simply providing a link, as the team does now. Jordan wanted to carry more feature articles and Jordan-centric commentary.

It also wanted to provide links to other sport Web sites and the sites of other Formula One teams, manufacturers, drivers and companies selling related merchandise, and to provide news feeds from the BBC. Effectively, the team wanted to build a site that resembled a portal.

Cox explains that the company wanted people to use the Web site as their default home page. The main goal, however, was to build the company's brand and sell more merchandise. "We looked around to see if any company could provide a single solution but we couldn't find any," says Cox. So instead of working with one company, Jordan decided to work with several specialist firms.

Design company Bang was chosen to take care of "the look and feel" of the site; Attenda was selected to host the site and manage the IT infrastructure; and content management firm Tridion, with its Dialogserver software, was picked to manage the online content.

With so many partners, Cox says the company needed to set up a single point of contact. Jordan's search for "a reputable company that offered good service and good management" led it to consulting firm KPMG. A crucial element was KPMG's proposal to use Microsoft's .net platform, which Jordan thought was a flexible option with a safe future. "They'd just set up a .net practice and the story they told us was very appealing," says Cox.

Having made the decision, the team went back to its Web host to help make sure the transition to the new site went smoothly. The team then "put their heads together" to see what they wanted and how they could achieve it. Bang was given the brief to design "a more busy kind of portal", says Cox. And while KPMG was supervising the content, the page templates and designs, the infrastructure was being built by Attenda.

Although the Web site is new, a lot of the content is not and needed to be migrated from the old site's SQL server 7 to the new site's SQL server 2000. All of the product history - old news stories for the archive and the customer transaction records - was migrated along with the customer registration data. This meant customers could log into the new site using their existing passwords.

All in all, between 80 and 90% of the data on the old site was transferred, says Cox.

KPMG did a few dry runs to make sure the conversion of the data into the new form would go smoothly. The new site went live on October 9, in time for the Japanese Grand Prix. Apart from the more dynamic and user-friendly design, with its strong focus on the Jordan brand and the team's distinctive yellow and black colours, customers were offered a number of new services. Along with the multiple links, BBC news feeds, improved information, video footage and revamped merchandising section, fans can now buy grand prix tickets on the site.

And the work is not finished. "We're looking to develop it. This is just the starting point," says Cox. Jordan aims to offer even more services and provide more information for the media.

Cox says the team is also looking to do "quite a bit more" with video streaming and hopes to build its e-commerce activity to sell more merchandise. To achieve this it will arrange the merchandise on the site more effectively, increase the range of products on offer and target users more effectively using management information.

The same team has also started work on an extranet to improve the communication between Jordan's marketing department and its sponsors. Jordan hopes to engineer cost savings and make the process more efficient. Plans for a staff intranet are also being discussed. Cox says the branding will be "more corporate" but will take a cue from the design of the Web site.

"Publicity, marketing and PR are very important for any F1 team," says Cox. "You've got to be able to communicate with your fan base and the media in a number of different ways. The Web site helps us do this. It's an essential communication tool."

"I think considering what we were attempting things went pretty well," says Cox.

Read more on IT legislation and regulation