Transforming Bricks to Clicks

Barbour ABI, a subsidiary of United Business Media (UBM), is the UK market leader in the provision of construction industry market intelligence. It provides information on the profile and status of major construction projects to many of the top construction companies, sub-contractors, building suppliers, architects and surveyors throughout the UK. Traditionally ABI supplied this information through a combination of monthly paper-based reports and a PC based software tool.

Barbour ABI wanted to migrate its services online believing that such a move would enable it to provide its customers with a range of value-adding search facilities and other data manipulation tools. This new online service would also provide a platform for exploring new opportunities to market their business intelligence data to other market sectors. The key objective was expressed by their Commercial Director:

We wanted to provide our customers and suppliers with the ability to get the information they needed when they needed it, rather than asking and waiting for it to be compiled

Other constraints informed the approach:

  • A limited IT budget which had little capacity for speculative ventures
  • Insufficient management bandwidth and shortage of appropriate technical skills within the in-house IT resource
  • A requirement to be able to flex the team size based on investment cycles
  • An urgency of speed to market due to the imminent launch of online services by a competitor
  • A desire to form a partnership through which they could leverage expertise in the e-commerce domain
  • No previous experience of offshore outsourcing

What we did

The initial challenge was to rapidly develop and launch a prototype application that would provide a technical, business and commercial proof of concept. Arrk choose to deploy a small onshore team of mixed UK and Indian consultants to work collaboratively with Barbour ABI business people to iteratively develop the prototype. The Arrk team spent some time located at the customer site and some located at Arrk’s UK office. Arrk’s UK business analysts and technical architects worked side by side with a team of Arrk’s Indian technicians and, due to Barbour ABI’s unfamiliarity with offshore, the UK team provided the majority of the management and requirements intermediation between the customer’s business and the Indian team.

The application was developed and launched in four months providing Barbour-ABI with both a validation of the proposition as well as confidence in the offshore delivery model. This provided a green light for development of a full-scale production implementation named DrillStar:

  • An entirely bespoke on-line business intelligence tool with a data-warehouse back-end
  • Scalable, robust technical architecture: Oracle 9i/9iAS, Java/J2EE, Solaris
  • Nightly data-migration and transformation of large data volumes from legacy systems
  • Highly configurable data-driven application architecture ‘ new portals and services can be added with little or no software enhancements
  • Application usability, ergonomics, good-looks and speed make it a joy to use

For this phase the Arrk team size was increased, the majority being located offshore. With the offshore team having developed significant business domain knowledge (and with continuing management support from Arrk UK) Barbour-ABI’s business users were able to develop a direct communication channel with the offshore team to deal with things like requirements and solution design. Over time Arrk UK’s management involvement was further reduced as Barbour-ABI moved to a VODC (Virtual Offshore Development Centre) model where the offshore team is managed directly by the customer as an extension of its own in-house IT function. Arrk’s VODC model provides offshore senior delivery and quality management as standard within Arrk’s Offshore Delivery Centre, leaving the customer to focus on requirements management and strategic product direction.

The results

The Drillstar system delivered the vision of an online data-warehouse that enables a heterogeneous user base to access the data it needs when it needs. Features include:

  • A suite of web-based business intelligence tools
  • The ability to maintain a personal profile of 7000+ search combinations
  • Email and SMS notification
  • Daily synchronisation with legacy systems
  • Branded portals and administration functions for larger business-to-business customers

The system is now the delivery channel for 80% of new sales and is a major source of competitive advantage with sales increasing 25% year on year.