Web developer nets chance at new tool

A Sydney-based software organisation found itself cast as 'johnny-on-the-spot' when a customer discovered its e-commerce gateway was down – eventually developing a new tool to meet the emergency.

Izilla, which also has a Newcastle (NSW) office, has its roots in Web development. While it was working in this field for a large Australian online company, the customer, in an unrelated discovery, found its e-commerce gateway was down -- and in fact had been for three weeks. It was only by chance that the problem was detected and the company was understandably shaken. Just how many orders had it lost? How many Web site visitors were likely to never return? And what if the company had simply not realised the gateway had failed?

Being on-site and working in the Web sphere, Izilla was asked if it knew of any monitoring tools available to keep an eye on Web-based applications and provide alerts on failure. Izilla took the challenge, but to its dismay found only simple tools -- programs that would basically test if the word 'welcome' was displayed, but nothing more. It realised a niche was open and committed to the in-house development of a tool to suit the purpose.

The end result is the development of what Izilla has termed "the WAM": Web Application Minder, using .Net. Izilla's business manager Chris Johnson says, "We originally called it the Web Application Monitor -- but that gives the wrong impression; it's not just a monitor." Instead, the WAM is a utility, which offers peace of mind to online businesses -- both in terms of keeping a site up, and in proactively minimising lost trade.

At its heart, the WAM runs pre-composed scripts -- on an externally hosted server -- to trace a 'perfect' walkthrough of the client's Web site. Should any script fail, the company's stakeholders are notified immediately. Of course, 'real' people don't always navigate in the 'perfect' order and so the WAM also actively logs each visitor's interactions with the Web site. Their actions can be fed back into the scripting engine, thus testing the site with realistic steps. Further, should the visitor abruptly stop working with the site, company personnel can be notified. It may be the visitor encountered a problem which only surfaces with specific input fields. Or, it may be the visitor simply changed their mind. Either way, the company can investigate and determine whether there is a genuine problem or if it can make contact with the visitor, learning of any concerns or objections and getting a second opportunity to capture the business.

Mark Davies, Web development manager, says .Net has been fundamental to the WAM's operation; Web services were central to keeping the component parts in constant communication with each other. "Without .Net and its Web services, we couldn't have achieved [this] without having to resort to much lower-level programming." By using Web Services, the externally hosted WAM server can have direct access to the client's Web server logs, a communication which was developed in Visual Basic .Net. Two full-time programmers produced the overall project in one year.

Although there is a lot more to the WAM, Izilla sees it as prevent organisations from losing business due to downtime, and helping businesses get a second bite at attracting a customer, which could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to large companies. The tool is in beta trial with two Australian institutions now. Izilla is planning future expansion into overseas markets.

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