Two years ago, Brierley & Partners' technology department was a revolving door of software developers that often tackled client projects for the first time.
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Developers would create technology to support the firm's online marketing projects in Java, C++ and Visual Basic without any consistency. There was no software platform foundation developers could count on each time they were assigned a new project. Development time routinely was too lengthy, said Bill Swift, vice president and technical architect at Brierley.
"We were a marketing company, not a technology company," Swift said. "When developers got a new project, they had to start from scratch."
Not any longer. Brierley's adoption of Microsoft Visual Studio .NET allowed the company's development team to build a software platform it can customize and build upon for each new client project.
"The back end is completely reusable," Swift said.
The new platform has cut development time in half and allows Brierley to better deliver customized projects with fewer developers, all of whom work with Visual Studio .NET, Swift said. Brierley develops and runs its software platform on Windows 2000 Server.
Visual Studio .NET was part of the reason Brierley has gone from a creative marketing company with a disorganized technology group to one that understands a strong tech team means faster turnaround of client projects. Brierley trained existing staff on Visual Studio .NET. The Dallas-based company develops online customer loyalty programs and software that tracks customer behavior and buying patterns. Brierley employs about 230 people.
Since July 2001, Brierley has used its platform based on Visual Studio .NET for a half dozen clients, including Nokia, Seiko Epson, Vail Resorts and Sony.
Visual Studio .NET allows Brierley programmers to modify script-based business rules dynamically without shutting down their Web-based customer loyalty programs. Developers compile the modified business rules on the fly. Before, developers had to write code and recompile the application while offline.
Swift also is pleased with Visual Studio .NET's ability to integrate with third party software already on the market. For instance, Brierley's platform has to work with VeriSign's credit card processing software and Taxware sales tax calculation software. Brierley now has to do little integration work. Visual Studio .NET allows Brierley's platform to retrieve information from several remote servers using .NET technology called object remoting.
Another plus is the programming software complies with industry standards, including the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). Brierley's development team experimented with beta versions of Visual Studio .NET for six weeks before deploying it for a client project. Brierley's first project based on its new Visual Studio .NET platform was for a Vail Resorts customer promotion program.
Brierley programmers found a few bugs in Visual Studio .NET but they've been "few and far between," Swift said. "In all cases we've been able to work around them."
Brierley's biggest implementation with its Visual Studio .NET-based platform was for Sony's MySony Web site, www.mysony.com.
Sony's customer-focused Web site boasts more than one million registered members, who receive weekly newsletters that promote Sony's TV programs, games, electronics and music. The newsletters also include Web links for more information. Visual Studio .NET made it possible for Brierley to route newsletter click-through traffic to specific servers using XML Web services, another standards-based method of doing system integration.
"It is relatively easy for us to move functionality from one server to another," Swift said.
Though the My Sony site went live in October 2001, Brierley continually alters and adds custom features. For example, this fall Swift and his developers launched an auction component to the site, where consumers can bid on items with a combination of customer loyalty points and cash
Works well with others
Visual Studio .NET allowed Brierley's developers to integrate its platform with Sony's various operating systems and programming languages.
"Most of Sony's applications are written in Java and run on Linux and Solaris," said Swift, who has experience with CORBA.
.NET is a big step for Microsoft, which in the past wasn't keen on having its software work well with other non-Microsoft software.
"Interoperability is more important than fighting about Java," Swift said.