Media Net Link

MNL Builds sophisticated Reference Management System
for EMC2

EMC2 is the world’s leading developer and provider of information infrastructure technology and solutions that enable organizations of all sizes to transform the way they compete and create value from their information. Over the past several years EMC has grown significantly through acquisition. One purchase, Documentum, a highly successful content management system, was using a sophisticated marketing/sales system that surfaced as a powerful tool for generating important selling advantages by using current customers to act as references for potential new customers. EMC decided to leverage this tool across the entire EMC footprint. Media Net Link was hired to help with the development of this new Studio E.

Documentum developed Studio D, a fun savvy site that encouraged Documentum customers to join the community site for various benefits such as rewards, contact with senior executives, connections with peers and all sorts of features and benefits. In return, the customers would help Documentum as references for sales reps and their prospects. The system gathered specific information on each reference so when a reference was requested the Reference Manager could contact the appropriate customer for the specific business potential. The system was powerful but ultimately limited in many ways. EMC asked Media Net Link to help design a new far more powerful system that could handle a company the size of EMC world wide.

Media Net Link took on this challenge and over a few months we gathered the information necessary to make the correct development decisions. At the 30,000 foot level, EMC wanted to have a system that would:

  1. Have a robust data base that allowed EMC to maintain detailed information on their customers who want to be a part of the Studio E programs
  2. Have a sophisticated program in place that can monitor the “Rewards” program so those that are helping EMC with their selling activities get appropriate awards
  3. Develop a detailed database for all reward items available to the various levels of reward programs
  4. Build a powerful and meaningful administrative capabilities for the Reference Managers including the ability to customize each record entry and maintain a user universe that stretches across the world
  5. Make this system in modular format so that down the line EMC can expand this into a full marketing/sales tool available for all EMC departments providing all marketing and sales assets to all teams world wide

MNL worked with the EMC team to collect specifications both from the previous web site as well as new requirements. Then we applied an approach that has worked very well on past large-scale projects. Instead of just collecting requirements in written format, we built click-through mockups in html format. The clients were able to view the new site in a web browser and click from screen to screen. On these mockups 90% of the links and buttons were either functional or imitated the live functionality. This approach allowed our clients to see “the real thing” and use it as they would in real life. Many workflow and UI improvements arose in this phase of the project. Since html updates are easy and fast to implement, this approach speeds up the project; fewer modifications are needed later in the project when the web site is connected with a database and changes can become more time consuming.

The Studio E web site provides EMC with many intricate workflow processes connecting multiple levels of membership as well as multiple levels of administrators. Extensive reporting gives EMC managers a broad view as well as detailed views into their reference membership. A built-in email system tracks communications between Reference Managers and members. It also allows members to communicate with each other using a fully functional email system.

Testing the Studio E system posed MNL with special challenges. Membership in Studio E requires a unique email address and public addresses like Yahoo or MSN are not allowed. This required we set up special processes that were in place only for testing. Upon go-live these processes had to be removed and we had only a short time to re-test the system.

In terms of technology, Media Net Link decided to push the envelope to better serve our clients. Below is a more detailed description of the approach we used and the technology we applied.

Use of Web 2.0 technology such as Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), and XSLT (eXtensible Stylesheet Language Transformation) created a very integrated and dynamic experience for each user. As the user continued through the system, they were able to get instant feedback from Studio E without the need for page refreshing. This technology gave Studio E more of an application feel, instead of just a web site experience. Using this technology allowed for quick report writing and the ability for the user to do multiple column sorting so that they can have more control over their information. Another example is by creating a suggestion system that allows users to start typing a name and Ajax will search the database while the user is typing to give them a list of pre-existing names to select from. Ajax’s versatility also allowed for quick feedback so a user knows if a value is invalid or not base on information in the database. This of course allows backend users to change system criteria without having to go through a programmer. The XSLT language made it so web site design can be changed without having to also change the backend programming language. This separation of programming and design allows the programmer and designer to work independently from each other. This technology didn’t come without challenges though. Ajax is such a new technology that some legacy browsers do not support it. Also, how each browser interprets the data causes a programmer to have to program for each brand of browser. But as with all new technology, these hurtles were overcame and now the creation of new pages and the ability to have the site scale to meet EMC’s need is quick and easy.

Some traditional PHP programming was used to create a mail system that allows users to send and receive emails without having to show their email address. A hash system allows users to use either a web based system or programs like Outlook to send mail that goes to the server, and then the “To” and “From” address are translated from a hash code to the senders/receivers email addresses. This makes users’ personal email address more secure from people who would use such information for SPAM purposes.

The database was designed with the Postgres database. The design allowed for maximum scalability so that EMC can keep a history of user data. In fact a history section was designed which allows for a quick history of user interactions with many different tables. This was accomplished by storing not only the key in the database but the table and key field as well.

Media Net Link built the whole Studio E custom from the ground up in five months. Because we are the host and primary support for the system we built the Studio E for easy access, quick maintenance and down stream enhancements. Built as a module, EMC has plans to expand the platform across other marketing and selling disciplines. EMC gets a tool that can not only provide invaluable information on their customers and put meaningful references at the critical point of closing a sale but also creates a community space where customers can come and interact with EMC and others especially on complicated technical issues.