Making a referral

Sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know that counts.Take for example the referral that lead a Burlington, Ont., Lotus solutions provider to the Brain Tumour Found-ation of Canada, a project that wound up being a long-term relationship.
The foundation, an advocate for the estimated 55,000 Canadians with brain tumours, has a Web site for information, to let survivors communicate with each other and fund raising.
“For our organization it’s critical,” said Susan Marshall, executive director of the London, Ont.-based association.
However, there were problems as the foundation’s membership grew and demands on the site increased.
Members wanted more communications features and the ability to donate money online. In addition, the developer who built it around Lotus Notes and Domino had to be called in to make any changes, meaning the site was rarely up to date.
It had been hoped the foundation would be able to update the site itself using Notes, but staff members didn’t find the interface easy to use, in part because it didn’t use Notes for e-mail.
Meanwhile, the foundation was growing and had outstriped the abilities of the original site. It was time for it to be enhanced, Marshall said.
However, the original integrator had left the programming business. Gary Walsh, a former employee who’d left the firm to become a co-owner of Decision Labs Inc., a Lotus specialist with a staff of 12, came in to help.

Two months’ work
“They needed Web conferencing and instant messaging, and the ability for a non-IT person to manage the content,” recalls Walsh.
After he nailed down the requirements, the work was turned over to DL developer David Wice, who took two months to put together solutions to the problems.
Because the foundation had a tight budget and non-technical staff, the answer was to combine a free open source HTML editor, called RichText Editor from Ramesys Construction Services, with DL’s SiteLite, a Notes-based content manager.
That combination allows staff to change Web site layouts, style sheets and content.
Using the Notes developer toolkit, instant messaging was added to the site, allowing the foundation to host special online “ask-the -expert” question and answer sessions.
DL also gave the organization the ability to collect metrics on the site’s use.
Arrangements were made for a link from the Web site to a third-party service provider that handles online fundraising. Finally, Wice created a rich text e-mail to announce the new site.
The entire project cost about $10,000.
That was just over two years ago.
Since then, DL has continued to be the foundation’s source for site maintenance and improvements. One of the latest additions is the ability to show streaming videos of its presentations that members can’t get to.

Unique visitors up
Marshall is pleased with Decision Labs’ work. In September over 3,000 unique visitors came to the site, an increase of one-third over the same month in 2004.
On average the site gets 17,000 hits a month.
“We see Decision Labs as our partner in helping us grow our organization,” says Marshall.
And it all started with a referral from a friend.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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