The 2001 merger of Indigo Books and Music Inc. and Chapters Inc. not only brought together two major Canadian booksellers, but also amalgamated two online retailing environments — which initially caused some problems.

Doug Caldwell, chief technology officer for Indigo in Toronto, said that when the two retailers united their Web sites to form chapters.indigo.ca, the combined online infrastructures lacked the flexibility to meet new Internet shopping realities.

“From a scalability standpoint, the site was good in its ability to grow,” Caldwell said. “What it did not have was the flexibility to introduce new products.”

This past Christmas, for example, Indigo decided to sell the Apple iPod music player on the site in anticipation of huge demand for the product during the gift-buying season. It should have been simply a matter of creating a new product category for the site and adding the iPod product to that category.

“But in reality, it was a several-week development effort to provide that capability to the Web site,” Caldwell added.

Indigo decided it needed to redesign chapters.indigo.ca to make it easier to add new product categories and shopping features. The firm also determined that the improved infrastructure would be built on Microsoft Corp.’s .Net platform and Microsoft’s newest SQL Server and BizTalk technologies. Caldwell said the choice was straightforward: Indigo’s technology team was comfortable using Microsoft’s technology.

The next step was to find a company that could help redevelop the site. Indigo contacted Avanade Canada Inc. not only because of the Mississauga, Ont.-based integrator’s experience working with Microsoft solutions, but also because its design methodology, Avanade Connected Methods (ACM), makes it easier to do the kind of redesign work Indigo required.

Anthony Vecchiarelli, program manager with Avanade in Toronto, said ACM involves two phases. The first is a ‘scoping phase’ where Avanade will sit down with a client and identify the key infrastructure and business objectives and the solutions to tackle those objectives.

Indigo is currently in the next phase, which involves rebuilding the online infrastructure to make it easier to add new product categories and features. One such feature is multiple shopping baskets, which enable clients to shop for several people at once during a single online shopping session, rather than completing separate online shopping sessions.

Using Microsoft’s .Net will make it easier to place, track and manage online sales orders, Vecchiarelli said. The retailer has an SAP infrastructure for order management and Avanade’s task will be to integrate the Microsoft environment with the SAP environment, he added.

Vecchiarelli said .Net’s improved bug tracking and identifying features are critical for such large projects as Indigo’s. During the redevelopment of the site’s infrastructure, Vecchiarelli’s team of developers and Caldwell’s Indigo team had daily bug track and fix meetings. They quickly identified bugs and problems that cropped up during the redesign, as well as fixes to be rolled out.

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