ICE is not only a database; it also broadcasts e-mail alerts to clients, targeted at their areas of interest. Today there are almost 550 clients, and on an average day the database is accessed about 900 times. Survey results are always spectacular.
The third annual ICE survey revealed that:
• Ninety-nine percent of respondents were very likely or likely to recommend ICE to a colleague.
• Ninety-seven percent agreed that ICE provides information that helps them do their jobs better.
• Ninety-one percent agreed that ICE adds business value to MasterCard.
Client quotes from the survey focus on how ICE helps them do their jobs better:
"The news on ICE keeps me informed and helps me do my job better."
"Quick, easy, convenient, and powerful."
"It provides me access to the very information that I need. It saves me time by not having to go through extraneous news items."
Since 1999, several MasterCard International employees have requested ICE-like services for MasterCard member institutions. After carefully explaining copyright and contracts, the costs involved became very clear. However, one employee would not take "no" for an answer and realized that targeting and disseminating information was a necessary and sellable commodity.
In April 2000, the concept of the intranet services on an extranet, called E.C. Central, was a PowerPoint presentation. At its conception, it was visualized as an information hub for key members: an e-commerce news and information extranet. An external consulting company was hired to interview the target market and consult with the MasterCard librarian regarding vendors that could provide the extranet.
Market expectations gathered from the interviews focused on some core elements. The extranet needed to provide the following:
• A password-protected site to e-commerce news and information resources
• Both internal and external MasterCard data and resources
• The ability to do refined searches in selected categories as well as access current news feed
• Links to other pertinent industry and trade organizations
There were "need to have" items and "wouldn't it be nice to have" items. The following items were on the "need to have" list:
• E-mail alerts
• Single-click searches
• News feed
Some of the "wouldn't it be nice to have" items included the following:
• Personalization of the headlines and queries
• MasterCard branding on each page
Building the Team
The nature of the project made it necessary to build an internal project team and a vendor team with a wide range of expertise. For example, the legal department approved the contracts, branding standards reviewed the logo and colors, and the sales force ensured that the product met customer needs. The internal project team included e-business representatives, the information professional, marketing representatives, sales force members, technical experts, and legal representatives, each not only providing assistance in their areas of specialization but also providing a unique perspective and added dimension to the input of the other participants.
The MasterCard team chose Northern Light Technology as the extranet vendor. The vendor team consisted of librarians to hand-pick the information to be included on the site, a team leader to help keep the project on track and within budget, design professionals to make the site look attractive, usability experts to make the site easy to use, and technical people to make all the great ideas feasible on the chosen platform.
Key Issues that Changed What Could or Could Not Be Done
The biggest technical issue was site access. Since MasterCard already had an extranet for members called MOL (MasterCard Online), it seemed obvious that access to the new e-Business News service should be through MOL. While initially this made sense, on closer examination, it was not possible since MOL is accessed by members using a SecurID card that not all members nor most MasterCard staff (including the sales force) had. This left the challenge of restricting access to the site to only those members who were subscribers. The solution to this was to require site usernames and passwords. Unfortunately this presented another challenge—managing the registration process and administering usernames and passwords. Since subscriptions were limited to member banks and MasterCard employees, this required checking each registration request to verify the applicant's eligibility. Once approved, the applicant's username and password could then be entered into the Northern Light database, either individually or as part of a bulk load.
One of the biggest branding challenges was trying to strike a balance between having sufficient MasterCard branding to make the site easily identifiable as a MasterCard service, without having so much MasterCard branding that the site appeared to only offer MasterCard-sanctioned information. This was accomplished by designing a banner containing the name of the service and the MasterCard logo to be used on each page of the site. The banner also provided a space to put the "powered by Northern Light" line while helping to unify the site by having one consistent element at the top of each page. To further project an image of impartiality, all advertising was banned from the site.
The contract was finalized on August 29, 2000—2 months before the initial soft launch on October 2. The contract provided several challenges, given issues like the terms of the hosting agreement, the level of service expected, the content that would and would not be included on the site, how the ongoing maintenance of and enhancements to the site would be handled and priced, customer service, usage reporting, and confidentiality.
The First Production Model
The first production model provided the users with the following abilities:
• Research all e-business topics using Northern Light's search engine technology.
• Choose their own searches or take advantage of pre-constructed searches designed by experts at MasterCard and Northern Light Technology. In each case, the results were organized into topical folders for easy use.
• Be alerted, via e-mail, when new articles on the search topic were published. The e-mails had hotlinks directly to the article. • Access special pre-selected articles with links to relevant Web sites, through the MasterCard e-Business news.
• Access business headlines that are refreshed every 5 minutes.
• Be free of advertisements, pop-up ads, and banner ads.
Launching the Extranet
The first production model went live on October 1, 2000. The next day the service was launched internally to all current ICE users (approximately 300 users). The ICE users were sent a letter containing their username, password, and the site's URL, along with an explanation of how the extranet service was intended to be complementary to ICE rather than a replacement or competitor. At the same time, the service was launched to 10-25 users from each of MasterCard's top four members through the key account member reps who had helped in the development of the site. In November, the service was formally launched at the Global Sales Meeting, demonstrated to St. Louis employees at their local Technology Fair, and announced to members worldwide through a Global Marketing Bulletin. In early December, the service was promoted to Purchase employees through a demonstration and registration drive that added 400 internal users. By the end of 2000, the service had approximately 700 subscribers.
More Marketing … Changing the Subscription Model
Despite the initial success of the service, there was still a need to market the site more aggressively, particularly since a business decision had been made to charge member subscribers for the service. Initial efforts focused on the top member banks and U.S. MasterCard employees. A wide range of media was used to reach a dispersed audience. Some of the tactics included mailing an invitation to all U.S. member relations staff to try the service, an article in the employee newsletter, articles in member magazines, demonstrations to key account representatives and promotion of the service on MOL and mas tercardintl.com. The result was a threefold increase in staff subscriptions and a sevenfold increase in member subscriptions.
Redesigning and Relaunching
In July 2001, user interviews were conducted to solicit feedback on how best to redesign the site for the official global expansion of the service. The goal was to increase both its appeal and usability in anticipation of a relaunch in September, 1 year after the original site launch. The most useful features the users found were the live queries, e-mail search alerts, and the ability to access and search the Special Collection archives. Other suggestions included adding extra instructions and easier navigation (for example, making the live query category names hyperlinks), as well as rearranging the home page elements so users could more easily find their way. Surprisingly, the only feature deemed not useful was the business headlines feature.
Taking the intranet idea to the extranet, first in one region and then globally, was an exciting effort that required the skills and competencies of a diverse team. The following key learnings emerged from the two launches:
• Some of the best ideas turn out to be some of the least valuable features to users.
• The finished product often looks very different from what was initially envisioned.
• Choosing the right technology partner is key, since they provide the foundation upon which the extranet is built.
• Easily accessible, reliable, up-to-date information about the marketplace delivered to the desktop is a valuable commodity worldwide.
• It takes a team to raise a Web site.