The New York Road Runners club overhauled its antiquated Website with the goal of making it a social hub for a large, diverse community of runners.
By Michael Vizard
Like any enthusiastic community, people who run want to be able to share their passion with other like-minded souls. The daunting hurdle that runners in the New York metropolitan area faced, however, is the Website that the New York Road Runners club (NYRR) used to operate was based on nothing short of antiquated technology.
Now after 18 months of effort, the team lead by NYRR CIO Mike Benyo has launched a modern Website that not only has increased membership for the non-profit organization, but lays the foundation for how NYRR will establish and maintain relationships with its rich and diverse community of members in the digital age.
The biggest challenge that NYRR is trying to address with the new Website is that it has thousands of members with whom it needs to foster a relationship. The NYRR originally started out as a club of 47 members. Today, with more than 40,000 members, the NYRR is a massive sports organization that manages all the logistics associated with everything from short runs in Central Park to the New York City marathon. One of the primary goals of developing the new Website is to leverage digital technologies to bring the intimacy of belonging to a club to the thousands of members who access the organization’s site.
To accomplish that goal, NYRR hired the IT services firm Icreon Tech to deploy a Drupal content management system written in PHP, and which is tightly integrated with a range of back-end business applications written in Microsoft.net, running on top of Microsoft SQL Server.
The toughest issue with project, however, was not so much the technology as it was the volume and quality of the data that had to be moved to the new environment, according to Benyo. “It was an incredible mess,’” he says. “The data was horrendous. We had a lot of data hygiene and migration issues.”
Much of that data mess was comprised of about 12 distinct components, including a flat file system that dated back to the previous century, which made it impossible for runners to get a complete picture of their running history unless they launched queries against multiple data systems.
With the launch of the new Website, NYRR wanted to ensure each runner’s customer experience was not only a lot better, but that the workflow as experienced by NYRR employees was also substantially improved.
Making that happen meant all of the revamped applications had to be launched at once. In order to make sure those applications performed flawlessly, NYRR went to the unusual step of taking its old systems offline for a week while internal users tested the new applications running on VMware virtual machines that are loaded on production systems hosted in a co-location facility managed by SunGard.
The good news for NYRR is that since the launch two months ago, customer satisfaction rates are up 22 percent, while registrations for particular events are up from four to eight percent, says Benko.
According to Icreon Tech COO Devanshi "Nikki" Garg, one of the things that distinguished the NYRR project is the senior leadership’s commitment to the project. “The senior leadership wants to make sure the organization could scale without losing that sense of intimacy it has with its members as a club,” says Garg. “There was a lot of focus from day one on building a solution for a specific audience and purpose.”
In fact, Benyo says NYRR’s online focus moving forward will to be add additional social networking functionality to the site so members can do everything from more easily collaborate with each other to compare how they might are in a race against some of running’s most famous competitors.
But none of this type of large-scale transformation is possible, says Benyo, without the buy-in of the organization’s top leadership.
“You need the support of the CEO and the board because, without it, any type of project like this would fail,” says Benyo.
Even so, with 18 months of development work and the support of senior management, Benyo concedes there are one or two things he would have done differently.
“And if I had to do it all over again, I probably would have added two more months to give the business more time to focus on the back-end applications.”
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