While SharePoint is typically used as an internal or external document management program, it also can be used as a customer-facing website. Rotary International, the largest privately-funded nonprofit organization, has achieved great success with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007.
Rotary's website, www.rotary.org, was initially developed with static HTML pages. The site suffered from slow performance and was rarely updated with fresh content, due to the hassle of doing so. Additionally, Rotary had plans for a more robust members-only section of the site that the old site was impeding on.
"Our old website was on a single server using static HTML pages, running on just a small Linux box. It wasn't very interactive--wasn't very dynamic. If you've seen the old static HTML pages, it provided basic information but it was starting to look a big aged," said Jeremy Contin, manager of the information department for Rotary International. "The organization decided it was time to investigate into new possibilities. We wanted the site to provide better services and build it up to the point where we could start providing specialized information to our members."
One of the other reasons Rotary selected SharePoint was because Microsoft had close integration with F5, the provider of the BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager 3400, the load balancing tool that Rotary is using now.
"One of the things that helped with the decision in choosing SharePoint was the close integration with F5 and Microsoft. Both sides were willing to work together to ensure we got the best performance possible," Contin said.
Rotary is hosted in nine different languages, and SharePoint greatly increases the efficiency of getting all the translations posted on the site. "We can write an article, hand it over to our translators, and pull some translations directly to the website when they're done with it," Contin said.
Granted, transforming SharePoint into a multi-purpose, clean-cut website was a challenge. The main struggles for Rotary were learning the system and getting the design to a point where it wasn't obvious that SharePoint was used. Altogether, the process from deciding to use SharePoint to implementing the site took 6–9 months.
"It wasn't the easiest time in the world to customize SharePoint. When you look at the site, it looks nothing at all like the default SharePoint. And that was part of our goal--we didn't want you to go on the site and know it was SharePoint right away," Contin said. "So we spent a lot of time manipulating the system. The other problem early on was performance. It took a lot of time to get it tuned so that it moved this quickly. There's always bugs in code the first time around, no matter how hard you try. It took us awhile to resolve all those things."
Since implementing the site, Rotary has freed up server processing usage by as much as 20 percent. But of course, many of the benefits of the new site cannot be quantified in numbers: happier customers, less stress for employees, easier management of content and administering of the site, and the peace of mind that the site is prepared to move forward as Rotary does, rather than holding back the organization's goals.
"In general our customer base has been happy with the new site. They like the fact that it's running quicker and that it's updated with new content quicker," Contin said. "The site is pretty up on the new technology even though it doesn't look like it. It's not very flashy, but it works."
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