Great Wolf Resort partners with Xcelacore to build test automation platform.
Great Wolf Resorts Inc. (GWR) is the parent company of Great Wolf Lodge, North America’s largest family of indoor water park resorts. Great Wolf Lodge offers popular, award-winning vacation experiences that celebrate relaxed, uninterrupted time with family and create unforgettable memories. With GWR’s growth into new markets, their investment into technology was expanding. As part of this effort, GWR was looking to increase their application development team’s work velocity. They approached Xcelacore to help them develop test automation platform to increase their team’s efficiency and confidently release new features and enhancements.
Xcelacore assembled a two-person QA team that is working to develop a test automation platform for using Behat, BrowserStack and Selenium. This will significantly reduce the overall time for regression testing and will improve application quality and team velocity. The framework is being developed to support integration with multiple email service provider as well multilingual website testing.
“I’ve worked with a lot of offshore partners and so far working with your team has been one of my best experiences. The communication with the team has been great, and although I haven’t dug into the code at the surface, it appears to be working. The team has a very positive attitude which is also great. I greatly appreciate your involvement in the project as well, and I am sure that’s a key component of this. Thanks again and have a great day.”
– Chad L Ross | Director of Web Development, Great Wolf Lodge
David C Cook brand Disciplr partners with Xcelacore to build a new digital platform on Microsoft Azure.
Disciplr, a David C Cook company specializes in providing digital interactive Christian ministry content for children. The company was formed by its parent David C Cook to capitalize on increasing demand for Christian curriculum content delivered and managed in a robust digital environment. Disciplr was in the process of building a new digital platform that will be the foundation to its core content offerings. Disciplr engaged Xcelacore to consult on architecture assessment and document the current platform. Additionally, Disciplr also needed to increase development footprint and build an automated testing platform.
This was a 4-week effort where Xcelacore’s team spent week 1 with the Disciplr team to understand the current and future application functionality and did a code walkthrough. The next 3 weeks were spent on code analysis, identifying gaps and recommendations. Based on Xcelacore’s recommendations, Disciplr asked to help them with the execution.
Xcelacore assembled a two-person QA team that developed a test automation platform for Disciplr using Selenium. This has significantly reduced the overall time for regression testing and has improved application quality and team velocity.
At first, Disciplr asked to supplement their team with two. Net Azure developers. Based on the quality and skills of those developers, Disciplr asked Xcelacore to completely take over the entire development of their application.
Now the team works closely with Disciplr product owner to plan, develop, and release application enhancements. This application is hosted on Microsoft Azure cloud and is based on MVC framework and .Net Core platform utilizing Azure SQL, Azure Search, Azure Blob Storage, and other services.
Ubid was undertaking a new platform redesign and re-launch of their website to rebuild their ecommerce business. They needed help in managing the technology transition to the new platform and also marketing help to launch and grow the customer base.
First, we evaluated the current state of technology and marketing to come up with an integrated strategy to help transition to this new platform and ensure a successful launch. The strategy included: technology consulting on back-end data migration, comprehensive marketing strategy on customer retention and growth and end-user communication. We also managed their social media and email marketing. An additional strategy was put in place to engage the current customers through social media, revamped email strategy as well as re-engaging their dormant customer base through special offers.
The client saw a 30-40% increase in revenues within 1 month of working with Xcelacore!. Using us as their technology and marketing arm resulted in a 50% savings!
Startup Yumm Street Engages Xcelacore to build new marketplace that connects home chefs and small food businesses to buyers in online marketplace built on Magento platform.
Yumm Street is a start-up founded by Gowri Shetty and Shareh Ghani. The two concepted and envisioned a marketplace for the cottage chefs industry, where home chefs and smaller food businesses can promote and sell their products online.
As part of this vision, Ms. Shetty and Mr. Ghani needed a technology solution that would effectively create the marketplace. The founders engaged Xcelacore to help architect the solution.
After an intensive deep dive into the business requirements and user expectations with key stakeholders, Xcelacore proposed a solution based on Magento platform which included a third party plugin that would allow vendors to self manage and market products on the site as well vendor store information and payments within a secure admin panel.
Figure A shows the vision of the Yumm Street marketplace leveraging Magento.
Figure B is another view of the various users within the magento Marketplace.
At its core, Xcelacore’s primary goal is to strategically solve business and marketing challenges with technology solutions. To achieve that, Xcelacore executives invest intensive time into clearly defining problems, expectations, and outcomes with key stakeholders.
After a thorough exploration into user data, stakeholder input, and business requirements, the following feature requirements were created:
Xcelacore worked with the Yumm street team to design, implement and test a fully functional marketplace
Welcome to XTrends latest blog.
Title: Migrating on Premise SQL Server to the Azure Cloud
Today, we talk about moving an on premise SQL server database from your server to the cloud. Your boss might think that it’s easy to just pick up the old server data and upload it to the cloud. In reality, the project requires strategy, planning and technical experience.
To start, let’s do a quick overview on many of the benefits of moving to cloud. There are a wide range of benefits that provide a great overall ROI (Rate of Investment). Listed below are some.
For the project to be successful, organization is very important. Let’s plan the project timeline, infrastructure and requirements.
For this project, we will assume moving On Premise SQL Server to Azure cloud. The project planning for moving to AWS or another cloud provider will be similar but of course the technology tasks will be different.
The first task is to test compatibility to the target cloud platform. Compatibility issues are the main causes of database problems when migrating. There are various tools and methods to test for compatibility. This particular process is outside the scope of this blog but I encourage the developers to properly research this process before proceeding.
The next task is to plan the project. There are two main ways to migrate SQL Server to Azure. The first is simpler but may require significant downtime for the existing database.
Figure 1 shows a process document recommended by Microsoft for this procedure.
The 2nd option is more complex but is required if you can’t bring your production database down while performing the migration. This method uses transactional replication as a migration solution. The source database must meet the requirements for transactional replication and be compatible for Azure SQL Database. The typical workflow for this type of migration is following.
The Project plan
While many companies are adept at using Agile methodology for software delivery, sometimes the practice is lost when doing infrastructure and web operation projects similar to this one. We recommend combining this project with overall software Sprints. It helps with communication, planning and effort.
Sprint 1 (2 weeks)
Sprint 2 (2 weeks)
***more sprints maybe required for code changes, testing based on the application and the migration method as discussed above.
Have you been tasked to plan a migrate a on premise SQL server to Azure cloud? This blog provides a high-level summary of how to go about successfully delivering this project.
I hope this helps you get started in the project planning. Please do not hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for specific questions.
It’s remarkable the impact of technology on business. Put differently, it’s remarkable what happens when small businesses don’t utilize technology in today’s world. The impact of technology on small and mid-size businesses has never been so obvious as it is now, particularly when you consider the myriad payment options, customer contact points, and even simple communication. Even the most traditional of businesses can see significant increases in their efficiencies, profits, customer acquisition and retention by utilizing things like ERP, CRM, e-commerce, and digital marketing utilities.
But how do you as a small-to-medium sized business owner decide what technologies you need, and what could you do without? Here’s a list of the Top Five Reasons you, as the owner of a small- to mid-sized business, should consider ERP and CRM systems to drive your business.
The old adage is that “information is power.” Without the drama of evil empires, the basis of the statement is true. Your staff can serve a customer better when they have a customer’s order history, payment history, account information, and likes/dislikes more readily at their fingertips. When a customer is treated with the deference of being a long-standing and loyal customer, their satisfaction is affirmed and they’ll more likely remain loyal.
What’s more, how many times have you tried to remember your account information for a particular retailer? That unique password amongst dozens. Unless you’re super human, it’s a hassle and a barrier to a purchase. If your staff – either on a customer service issue or a new sale – can make the account information easy, then you’re that much closer to revenue.
Good technology also gets you closer to getting paid. The easier, faster, you make it for customers to pay, the more likely they will be to pay on-time.
The top four reasons good technology makes your staff better are:
It’s almost cliché these days that when someone asks, “how are you?”, the answer inevitably is “busy.” Of course, everyone is busy these days. If you’re not busy, you’re not living and working to the fullest. But what if your business helps save your customer time? Isn’t that going to the very heart of what they say they need most? Time?
Good technology doesn’t replace or change human behavior. What it does do is make a human behavior easier or faster. Think about it. Facebook didn’t invent a new human behavior. People connected through telephone, email, social events, and snail mail before. What Facebook does is makes it easier and faster to share news and messages to larger groups of people, and for them to respond in a faster and easier way.
So what does this mean for your business? Technology can make the way your customers do business with you faster and easier. It won’t change what they do. But in the end, good technology satisfies the customer because they walk away saying, “that was easy.” And for a small or mid-sized business, that’s a win.
What are the ways technology can make you faster? Here are the top three:
As a general rule, the longer you make a customer wait the less likely it becomes that they’ll complete their order. Time is key, so being timely directly relates to profitability.
Imagine this scenario. A couple has season tickets to a theater in a trendy neighborhood. In addition to the theater, there are several restaurants and bars. As the couple begins going to that season’s productions, they make a reservation at a particular restaurant that’s just down the block from the theater. It’s an up-scale restaurant that also has valet parking. The next month, because they enjoyed their meals and the convenient proximity to the theater, they make a reservation at the same restaurant. The third month, much to the delight and surprise of the couple, a few days before the show they receive an email from the restaurant suggesting a reservation and makes an offer of a complimentary dessert with their reservation. Because it’s surprising and useful, the couple makes the reservation and decides that it’s now their custom to eat at the restaurant before each show. In addition, the couple now receives a personalized note from the general manager after each meal thanking them for their visit.
How does it work? The restaurant uses a CRM system that recognizes the name from a reservation, and the pattern with which they make reservations. Once the CRM establishes the pattern (a visit every third Thursday, for instance), the system uses an automated marketing flow to suggest repeat behavior, plus an incentive. The result? The couple confirmed their behavior by receiving timely, relevant, and useful information.
So what are the top three ways that technology helps small businesses be timely and therefore more profitable?
You know the cliché. It’s in every power mogul’s playbook. They walk into a restaurant and the maître de falls over themselves, dropping the customer’s name, and doing everything they can to ensure their satisfaction. Practical? No. Necessary? Not really. But when the customer feels like they’re known as a valuable customer they feel differently about your company. That’s one of the benefits of a smaller company – you have the chance to get to know your customers on a personal level.
Reality is, big companies want to retain this aspect of being small. They want to recognize their customers. How they buy. When they buy. What they buy. That’s why there are loyalty programs that not only reward the customer for their patronage, but also feed information into their systems so that their sales and service folks can have a better idea who the customer is, even when they don’t.
But is it really practical, even for small businesses, to know that much about each of their customers? Not without technology to help.
That begs the question then, what should you try to know about your customers? Here’s a starter list of the top data points you’d want to know about your customers:
The answers to these questions can be at your sales people’s and service team’s fingertips with the right ERP and CRM systems.
The reality of today’s marketplace – whether B2B or B2C – is that people expect buying to be easy. That’s a combination of both the “what” and the “how”. There’s a measured value in the experience, in addition to the message. If you suggest a targeted, value-driven message to the right customer and then offer an easy method of purchase, the customer sees greater value than a simple price savings equation. Check out this article in the Harvard Business Review for a deeper dive into how this is explained.
The simple fact remains that if everything in your company is manual in a digital world, you’ll have to try and compensate for that lack of technology with more and more people. Or, you simply surrender your position to a competitor. This is the opportunity cost of not making an investment into the right technology.
Here are six examples of how not investing into the right technology might cost you money you didn’t realize?
The Sum of the Parts
Here is a great comparison chart of the top ERP systems for small business. Some combine both ERP (operations and financial systems) with CRM (customer relationship management and marketing automation.)
You may find that you would be better served by having an independent CRM solution, in which case here’s a great list of software options to choose from:
If you’re in a place where you don’t feel comfortable evaluating your position or opportunity with technology, then let us help. Contact us and you’ll get a free digital assessment of your company’s –and your competitors’ – presence online and an assessment of your company’s technology opportunity. It’s no obligation and free, so drop us a line today.
As a small business, you have enough challenges keeping your head above water and focusing on how to grow. Navigating the digital world can be complex if you don’t understand the various channels and what you should focus on to get the most bang for your buck. Even if you do understand the technologies, how do you find enough time in the day to do it all? In this paper we will give you a concise list of things you can easily do to boost your business by leveraging the power of digital with web, social, and mobile.
According to the Boston Consulting Group, businesses that make use of the web expect to grow 40% faster than those that don’t. And according to Google, 97% of consumers go online to look for local products, yet only 37% of US small businesses have an online presence. Increasingly, the web is important, but so is making use of social media and mobile technology to engage with your potential customers.
If digital technologies like web, social media and mobile are so important, then why don’t all small businesses make use of them? There are several reasons that include perceived cost associated with doing it, not having enough time, or believing that it’s just too complicated. Lucky for you, there is plenty of help to address the complexities of digital while also managing your time challenges. There are marketing services companies that cater to small business needs. It’s also less expensive than you think, especially if you can pay for it with the increased sales that you can enjoy.
So let’s get to it – here are our top tips for digital success.
Since consumers are going online to search for businesses, unless you have a website you will not be found! Consumers will go to your competitors if they are easier to find. A couple of other things to consider are optimizing your site for relevant keywords that consumers may be searching on and making sure you have a responsive design. By having the right information and content on your website, you will help your company be found when consumers are searching.
A responsive design simply means that your site is optimized for viewing and interaction across different types of devices (computer, tablet, mobile). The site will be easy to navigate, read, and interact with, taking into account the different screen sizes that your web site can be accessed from. Also consider the user experience. They want to be able to access the information in as few clicks as possible. So, put yourself in the user’s shoes when designing your website – easy to navigate equals better engagement for you. Clunky or disorganized websites will result in potentially lost sales opportunities or your user exiting the site.
Getting your business listed on Google is another important step to getting found online. Google My Business helps you get listed on Google and also provides key information such as business overview, hours of operation, phone number, and address. For users using their mobile, they can use Maps to get directions and click to call. Consumers can also leave ratings and reviews of your business.
These days, advertising online has also become important to drive new customers to your business. It’s fairly easy to set up an advertising CPC campaign on Google. With Google Adwords, you can specify whether you want your ad to be local and what specifically you want to advertise. Google provides tools to help you decide which keywords to advertise, setting up budgets, and managing the whole campaign. And the good part is that you only pay if someone clicks on your ad. There can be potentially many more people that see your ad and read it, but you don’t pay unless they click. It’s important to track how much business is resulting from your advertising budget and make regular adjustments as needed to get the most out of it.
The top social media platforms you should consider are Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, and Pinterest. You don’t have to be on all of the social media channels, but the ones that make the most sense for your audience. It gives you an opportunity to build loyalty with your customers and connect with them outside of your normal business interaction. It also provides an avenue for you to then share what’s new with your business, advertise specials, and foster a loyal customer base that will keep coming back.
We already talked about a responsive design that helps you interact with customers that are on different devices such as tablets. That will also help you for customers using mobile. Increasingly, consumers are using their phones to make purchases, search for local businesses, and using click to contact the businesses directly.
People are also spending more and more time on their mobile compared to other devices. Their mobile is always within reach. If it makes sense for your business, you should also consider mobile advertising, such as SMS, MMS, or banner.
Now that you are online, advertising, and getting found by your customers, you need to understand if the money you are spending is giving you a return on your investment. Analytics will help you track and review data that is relevant to your business. Best of all, Google Analytics is free! You can track every click, measure every dollar, and get insights on the type of device that your customers are connecting with (mobile vs. desktop). And by looking at how many conversions you have, the dollars of business that translated into, and how much you spent on advertising, you can tie it all together to ensure it is paying back. You can also tell if your activities on social media are driving traffic to your website.
Now you have the 6 top tips for succeeding in the digital world. Perhaps you were already doing some but not all, now is a chance to dive into the rest of the digital initiatives. Some of these tips are free to implement (Google My Business for example), so it won’t cost you a cent. It will take an investment in time, but increasingly digital is the way to reach your target customers. And if you can’t do it all yourself, there is plenty of help out there without breaking the bank.
UCLA Extension Engages Xcelacore to Improve Site Enrollment Through Search Revamp and Site Optimization
UCLA has one of higher education’s elite brands. For nearly a century, the school has produced some of business’ elite, science’s laureates, music and film’s innovators, and sports elite. The UCLA Extension is the university’s global continuing education arm, and the path for thousands of students to start or explore new careers in some of the most intriguing and high-growth fields.
As UCLA Extension grows, so too does the demand for its online presence. Two areas where they knew they needed focused solutions were in online enrollment conversions and search. To truly grow and improve its online experience, UCLA Extension sought the expertise, strategic planning, and implementation of both crucial projects from Xcelacore.
After an intensive deep dive into the business requirements and user expectations with key stakeholders, Xcelacore proposed a highly reliable, scalable and fault-tolerant search solution utilizing Solr/Apache Lucene. This cloud-based system provides distributed indexing, replication and load-balanced querying, automated failover, and recovery.
At its core, Xcelacore’s primary goal is to strategically solve business and marketing challenges with technology solutions. To achieve that, Xcelacore executives invest intensive time into clearly defining problems, expectations, and outcomes with key stakeholders. In addition, Xcelacore delves into analytics and consumer information to fully inform the requirements and have the greatest impact on performance.
Although Xcelacore works on more than technology solutions, we utilize an Agile Development Process. At its core, this means that the delivery of a project is broken down into specific time periods (typically two weeks), with specific deliverables. In addition, this methodology provides our clients with a clear method of monitoring delivery of projects, finances, and quality against the overall project expectations.
|For this project, Xcelacore used Agile methodology for all phases of the project including requirements gathering, development, performance, usability, and integration testing.|
After a thorough exploration into user data, stakeholder input, and business requirements, the following feature requirements were created:
Xcelacore researched, defined, implemented, and delivered a highly functional, variable search engine that dramatically improved the course discovery process for prospective students.
“Xcelacore does great work with integrity.”
– Radhika Seshan | COO and Associate Dean
“At the project kick-off meeting, Xcelacore partner mentioned the new search will be a game changer for UCLA Extension, I am very excited to say that they have delivered on their promise.”
– Wayne Smutz, Ph.D. | Dean
With a switch from a homegrown platform to a third-party SaaS solution earlier in 2016, UCLA Extension saw a measurable drop in online enrollment during the second quarter. Was it due in part to the platform switch? Or, were there breaks in the user experience that were causing fewer enrollments? Again, UCLA Extension turned to Xcelacore to define the problem and offer solutions.
Xcelacore employed two paths for helping to define the potential problem and offer solutions. One, Xcelacore professionals dove into the site analytics to define breaks in behavior before the platform switch and after. Although the experience between the two platforms wasn’t parallel, a pattern of behavior began to emerge based on the deep-dive into analytics. Second, Xcelacore utilized drew on more than 20 years of e-commerce and online experience to identify breaks in the intuitive UI/UX path which were then underscored by behaviors gleaned from the analytics.
Xcelacore provided a step-by-step page analysis and recommendation for optimizing each step in the enrollment process, with the ultimate objective of increasing conversions.
Based on the recommendations, UCLA Extension was able to positively impact the conversion path by implementing the following: