Auto parts provider

When Toronto-based tier-one automotive supplier AGS Automotive Systems went through restructuring at the end of 2002 and was taken over by new owners, it faced many changes. One of them was transforming the internal and external image of the company through a Web site redesign.

The site AGS had at the time didn’t meet the goal of communicating what the firm was all about and where it was headed, according to Maria Di Zio, the company’s director of communications and special projects. “The previous management had not kept (the old Web site) looking up to date…and it had said ‘Under Construction’ for a year and a half,” so it was time for a revamp.

AGS wanted to tell visitors to its site that it is a strong and viable company in the auto industry that’s “here to stay,” she said. The firm felt a Web site redesign would convey one of AGS’s three principles: the belief that using technology to improve things from a product and marketing perspective is critical to being a successful company.

Since its customers are primarily General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, AGS didn’t require an e-commerce enabled site right off the bat. Rather, it needed something more informative that would set the company apart from competitors in an industry that is “clearly intensely competitive,” Di Zio explained.

Before selecting a service provider, Di Zio’s team sat down and hammered out exactly what the company wanted to accomplish with the site. The team then decided what kind of a provider would best suit AGS’s needs.

“Differentiation was important to us,” she explained. “We wanted something that would be unique, so we wanted a company that would be strong on the creative process.” Timeliness was also vital, as was finding a company with a “disciplined and programmatic approach to Web design.”

AGS shortlisted 10 companies and ranked them based on cost as well as experience with database integration, because it was planning a phased approach to the Web site, with hopes of someday linking in some back-end systems and databases. The team also looked at various Web sites the companies had previously created and evaluated them for their look and feel.

Company size was a factor — AGS didn’t want to work with a firm that was too large because it might not be responsive enough. But it didn’t want to work with a one-man outfit either.

“This was going to be a long-term operation so we wanted a company that would have enough breadth to handle what we were looking for.”

After interviewing a final short list of four companies, AGS chose King City, Ont.-based new media solution developer Click Media Inc. What stood out most was its “very programmatic approach to Web design,” Di Zio said. AGS gave Click Media a detailed outline of how the content hierarchy should come together, but let the Web design firm take it from there.

Click Media “really covered off (the development) phase of the project from their end,” Di Zio said, adding that this first of two phases took about eight to 10 weeks to complete. The site went live on Jan. 1, 2004.

The most challenging part for AGS was “pulling all of the content itself together and just making sure that we had all of the data to fill in all the hierarchy once we went live with the Web site” — things like having pictures of appropriate quality.

Sticking to the deadline was also a challenge. “There were a few glitches involving editing pictures and content to get it posted up on the Web,” Di Zio said.

Simultaneously with its Internet presence, AGS launched an employee intranet, accessible via a link from the Web site. The intranet concept was entirely new to the company and although there was a lot of content overlap for both sites, some content was different, which also posed a challenge. This September, AGS implemented a content management system, the CMS200 from Amherst, N.H.-based Ektron Inc. for the intranet. The product is not being used for the external-facing site because most of its updates are done through the content management processes of its Web hosting company, American Eagle, Di Zio said.

The second phase of the redesign will focus on improving communication with specific suppliers and customers, for the purposes of enhancing business operations, Di Zio said.

“We will investigate opportunities for utilizing the Internet to enhance real-time communications as they arise.” This approach will also be applied to the intranet, she added.

The critical success factor in any project like this is project management discipline, Di Zio said. “We focused on a disciplined project management approach — establishing a team, determining what the project objectives are — even before we decided who the Web supplier would be.”

AGS set the schedule and budget beforehand and identified the key internal milestones it wanted to meet. Having the right people on the team and the right stakeholders involved was also crucial.

Click Media’s president Robert Brunet said that any company looking at a Web site redesign should determine from the get-go who the audience will be and make sure the information and comprehension needs of every identified audience will be met.

Di Zio added that “(keeping) things as simple and uncomplicated as possible” should be a top priority. At first AGS wanted to do a few things “a little flashier” but then realized not everyone has the most up-to-date computer.

“You can put a lot of money into designing an impressive sequence on the desktop but the effect might be lost on someone with an average computer that has average graphics capabilities. It might make the Web site look worse because things might not show up.” Companies should keep in mind what potential visitors to their site might have on their desktops and design accordingly, she said.

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