Improving a business-to-business web site

Business-to-business advertiser ace-quote has revamped its web site to improve customer service for IT buyers who use the site to...

Business-to-business advertiser ace-quote has revamped its web site to improve customer service for IT buyers who use the site to find suppliers


When business-to-business advertiser recently revamped its Web site, the designers wanted to give it a more friendly and accessible feel, writes Pravin Jeyaraj. They felt that the old look was too cold and techie, but knew they had to keep the layout relatively straightforward so that users could easily get hold of the information they were looking for.

The original site was launched in June last year, but more and more functions were added over the next few months. Project manager Nicole Roderick, who led the design team of 12, explains, "Basically, so much had been done to it with regards to added functionality, that we had to take a step back and simplify the process."

The site matches IT buyers with suppliers. It runs on an NT server with Internet Information Server 4. Supplier information is stored in a Microsoft SQL 7.0 database.

The service is used by businesses of all shapes and sizes, from construction to retail, as well as public sector organisations and resellers. Companies simply post the details of their requirements on the site and the information is forwarded to registered suppliers, whose credit ratings have been checked. The buyer then sits back and waits for quotes to roll in.

Before starting work, Roderick and her team asked for feedback from users of the site. Top of the buyers' wishlist was a Java-based autosearch facility to scan the ace-quote database for the latest special offers. Suppliers wanted to get sales leads via e-mail and were keen for the site to include the daily public tenders published in the Official Journal of the European Community.

A further aspect of the redesign was to internationalise the site so that users across the channel in France and Germany can log on. This meant organising the coding into modules for different countries.

Rather than use traditional HTML, the Web server uses ASP to generate each page on demand. Each of the 3,000 modules, incorporating text and images, is stored in a database, and added to the Web page as it is delivered to the user.

The biggest challenge was coming up with a good look and feel. Roderick says, "The site still had to maintain the right atmosphere for the users, so it had to be new and refreshing yet functional and easy to use. Our audience wouldn't want to wade through several layers of menus."


Curriculum Vitae

Name: Nicole Roderick

Age: 38

Qualifications: BA English

IT Skills: AS400, Unix, Solaris, Oracle, NT

Hobbies: Tai Chi, watching rugby

Favourite Book: Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding

Favourite Film: Anna and the King

Roderick on Roderick: professional, tenacious, enjoys a challenge

E is for excellence

Next week: Siaron Hughes, Web designer behind the site

Have you developed or designed an e-commerce project that Computer Weekly readers should know about? If so e-mail us.



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