The Extranet Trilogy: Our Present, the HTML Extranet

The Extranet Trilogy: Our Present, the HTML Extranet

Welcome back to our blog series about the HTML Extranet. It’s the second part of the trilogy, with neither a beginning, nor an end. This, however, doesn’t mean that the road towards the present doesn’t contain any interesting developments. On the contrary, a lot has happened to get where we are right now, so let's continue where we previously left of.

After rejecting the Silverlight-style Extranet in HTML from India, the decision was made to develop a new version internally. In order to make sure that development on the Extranet wouldn’t take away precious development time on the rest of the channel manager, the SmartHOTEL team expanded. New faces brought new ideas and new skills, and therefore progress went pretty well. The framework that was chosen was ASP.NET MVC, allowing us to deliver a rich web application suitable to handle all the features that were present in the Silverlight Extranet.

Nonetheless it was a busy time for SmartHOTEL, as there was plenty of work to do. Some of this work was caused by issues in the system that needed to be resolved, while other work was the direct result of our wish to 'turn the hospitality industry upside down'. It was January 2013 when we kicked off a period of 1000 days, in which we would become a competitive player in international channel management, completely revise our software, and implement many new features. The Extranet would become the embodiment of this new channel manager, with clean and robust code in its backbone, intelligent logic in its brain, powerful features in its limbs, and the passion of all SmartHOTEL employees in its heart. All pieces of the new software had to be separate entities with their own purpose.

We knew we couldn't achieve all of this alone. Fortunately, we didn't have to. People who've gained our trust over the years, and whom we've gotten to know during that time, were willing to aid us in our quest. Or perhaps it was just the delicious food that led them to our office on a rainy night in November 2013. This so called SmartEvent proved to be a success. Hoteliers, resellers, OTAs, and other partners mingled together to talk about problems they were facing at that moment, features they were missing in our (or any other) channel manager, interfaces they would like to see, and cool stuff that would be really revolutionary. We listened carefully and took note. Actually, we took a lot of notes.

 

SmartEvent
SmartEvent

 

With many fresh ideas we continued on improving the channel manager and enriching the Extranet. One thing was clear for certain: the Backoffice had to become obsolete, with its features woven into the new Extranet. From any place with access to the internet it had to be possible to define rooms, rates, and services, connect to new OTAs, and handle prices, availability, and reservations, just like in the Backoffice and the Silverlight Extranet. And then there were the newly requested features.

 

Early implementations of the HTML EXtranet
Early implementations of the HTML EXtranet

 

 

 

Early implementations of the HTML EXtranet2
Early implementations of the HTML EXtranet2

 

 

 

Early implementation of the HTML Extranet (3)
Early implementation of the HTML Extranet (3)

 

 

A few months later, a day before Valentine's Day 2014, we hosted another event. Not just to invite people who weren't able to join us earlier, but also to show guests what progress we had made. With heart-shaped balloons in the background and some hearty snacks within reach, everybody was able to provide useful feedback to what was possible and visible in the Extranet by that time. All comments proved to be useful; some of them were about bugs due to this work in progress, others were about features we hadn't thought of yet, but we definitely considered including at some point in time.

 

 

ValentineEVENT ValentineEVENT

 

The most heard comment was about the user interface, which wasn't clear enough yet, and could use some tweaking to make it look more professional. In order to accomplish this, we asked an external designer to review the Extranet and come up with an improved design. Not much later we received several ideas for a cleaner user interface, which eventually resulted into a fresh coat of paint for the Extranet, with new colors, icons and styles.

 

 

Extranet designs
Extranet designs

 

 

 

Extranet designs (2)
Extranet designs (2)

 

 

 

The Extranet re-designed
The Extranet re-designed

 

 

A new user test followed in May 2014, in which a hotel in the city of Rotterdam set the stage for more feedback and discussions. Again this resulted into a fruitful afternoon. Guests appreciated the way we listened to their requests, even though it wasn't always possible to fulfill those. At least, not at that moment. This is something we'll get back to in our final blog.

Our intention was to deliver a version of the Extranet that would include most features of the Silverlight Extranet and the Backoffice, and provide it in such a way that customers would be able to use it without encountering critical bugs or other annoying impediments. This resulted in an extensive testing process, during which we found out that the ASP.NET framework unfortunately wasn't capable of handling all the load. A new solution was found in light-weight JavaScript frameworks Durandal and Knockout. We won't go into details here (Google is your best friend), but it suffices to say that the Extranet became much easier to work with after we ported the code. Ok, here’s some additional tech information if you're really interested: the JavaScript code of the Extranet retrieves its information from a C# web service, which handles calls to the SQL database, after which it returns the info in JSON format, which can then be displayed on the user's screen by dynamically creating the HTML page with Knockout.

 

 

Current HTML Extranet
Current HTML Extranet

 

 

 

Current HTML Extranet (2)
Current HTML Extranet (2)

 

Early 2015 we felt it was the time to finally release the new HTML Extranet. It was an exciting moment for us, not just because the Extranet would go live, but also because much more on the back end / server side would change. It was one of the biggest releases in the history of SmartHOTEL, if not the biggest. During the rest of the year, we worked hard on stabilizing the entire channel manager, and any major developments on the HTML Extranet were kept to a minimum. Several changes were made though, in order to resolve several bugs, add some more features, and improve browser compatibility. When the period of 1000 days reached its end, we looked back at a turbulent time. Even though the road hadn't been easy, we were proud of what we had accomplished. We were able to leave some of the past behind: we had waved goodbye to some old servers, had closed the book on the development of several back end applications and the Silverlight Extranet (even though it is still in use by some), and had given the Backoffice its well-deserved retirement. The Extranet still didn't contain all the features that we wanted to include, but a new foundation was there. For SmartHOTEL, it would be the beginning of a new era. With plenty of ideas left, we anxiously awaited what the future would hold.

To be continued…

Bewaren

By Basil February 10, 2016