Reed Elsevier has been hitting the headlines recently, following the announcement that it will be investing some £750 million in the roll-out of a comprehensive Internet programme over the next three years. These online ambitions have caused a stir on the stock market, and much general speculation about how media companies can put their business propositions into lucrative practice over the Internet.
The Financial Times, in a report last week, pointed out that as Reed Elsevier moves into the online world it will have to show that it has the technological capability to deliver information services and transactional functions, and may need to look at outside sources for help. In fact, Reed has been using outside expertise for some time, and is already a long way down the road with the continual development of its existing web offerings. Far from just dipping its toe into the online waters, Reed is already immersed in the world wide web, with many of its magazines hosting their own web site.
Caterer & Hotelkeeper, one of the flagship magazines at Reed Business Information (part of Reed Elsevier), and the weekly bible for the UK’s hospitality industry, launched its web site – www.caterer.com – four months ago. It includes daily news, features, events and awards, jobs, a directory, product information and links to other useful sites. It was designed to provide a first point of reference for on-line information about the UK hospitality business.
The Interactive Media Unit at Reed Business Information carried out the design work, putting together the visual and graphical content. However, it was to an independent company that Reed turned in order to prepare the infrastructure for the site. EuroSoft Systems Ltd, a London-based consultancy and software house, were asked to build a highly interactive engine, which would allow data to be entered and maintained on a constant basis. All the elements to the site, including its eight informative modules and its ‘look-and-feel’ would sit on this infrastructure.
Using a variety of different programming tools, including Visual Basic 6, SQL Server 7, Visual Interdev 6 and Internet Information Server 4, EuroSoft Systems (ESL) carried out an initial project, to build the first trial phase of the web site. This went live on Reed’s Intranet in June of last year. The far more intensive task of creating the site for the world wide web, however, was carried out between September and November, and was completed in record time to meet the launch date.
Jeff Leslie, Head of the Interactive Media Unit, at Reed, said: “Although we didn’t really set a strict deadline, it was important for us to be able to present our business requirements, and let ESL tell us whether or not it was actually possible to deliver the technology to meet these requirements. The whole project was discussed and an agreement was made between us. We really wanted to launch the site in November and because we tied it in with a major announcement in the magazine itself, it did become vital that everything should fall into place.”
Reed announced their new ‘broadsheet’ web site in the November 4 edition of Caterer and Hotelkeeper and devoted not only its front cover – with a ‘click here now’ proclamation - but also a double page spread to it. Details on the contents and tips on how to use the site were all provided. The launch was considered a great success.
The eight modules written by ESL for the site include a daily news service which is unique in the hospitality industry. This provides big stories as they happen and was designed to attract a large number of users.
David Shrimpton, the Web site editor for the launch, said: “If a story such as the Granada takeover of Forte happened tomorrow, we would have the news as it happened, even before the daily newspapers had gone to print. That is the flexibility we gain from Caterer.com.”
There is a dedicated jobs area offering between1000 and 2000 jobs at any one time, and users can search by job title, geographic location and type of organisation. The events/awards page provides a rolling diary of events and a summary of the most prestigious awards in the hospitality industry. There is also a selection of the key features in the current week’s edition of Caterer magazine, an on-line directory which provides users with a search facility for products and services and links to important trade bodies such as Springboard UK, the British Hospitality Association and HCIMA.
ESL also wrote an interactive archive module for the site. This powerful search engine features all the articles from Caterer that appeared during 1999, and over time will include articles going back even further. As a research and sourcing tool, this is invaluable.
Once the site was up and running, Reed commissioned ESL to carry out a second phase. This involved incorporating changes in time for the Hotelympia exhibition in February, and also adding a database of properties including hotels, pubs and restaurants. Further phases are planned and will include the ability to purchase directly from the site, through a dedicated e-commerce facility.
The site is constantly evolving, and although it is maintained by ESL, the Caterer team prepares and adds the articles and static data. The site is constantly updated, which is important for users, who can access this information from anywhere in the world. Usability research carried out in February praised the ease of use of the site.
With such an auspicious start to its online activities, and further plans now well underway, Reed undoubtedly feels it is quite justified in announcing a huge investment on the World Wide Web. The company has already recognised that whilst it can offer highly creative content it needs to work with outside sources to provide sufficient technical expertise to ensure the product is delivered on time and is fully functional.
Jeff Leslie concluded: “RBI put forward the ideas for the site, but ESL were able to offer us the technical solutions to make sure it worked. They were flexible enough to accept last minute changes, which is important. As sites are being built, the requirements do change, and we trusted ESL to accept and work around these changes, without it causing a problem.”