#SPC11 Session: Hallmark Retail Connect – Connecting Hallmark Gold Crown Stores

This is a session that I wasn’t able to attend live at the conference, and I’m just now finally finding the time to catch the recorded presentation.  This session is very interesting to me because my company recently launched a dealer Extranet in SharePoint 2010 that appears by the description of this session to be very similar to the one that Hallmark launched, so I’m aiming to find out more about it and how they implemented it.

#SPC230 – by Sindie Henson-Pugsley – IT Manager at Hallmark Gold Crown

Of 3000 Gold Crown locations, only 12% are corporately owned.  88% are independently owned, but they are not franchise stores, i.e. Hallmark sets some standards and makes suggestions, but they don’t dictate how they run their stores.

Pre-SharePoint – their portal that was built in 1999 was valuable at the time, but skillsets were scarce and it quickly became antiquated.  Posting content was difficult, content was unorganized, it had no multi-media capabilities, and no search.  Because of this, silo websites popped up, stores used lots of email, and they used too much paper for catalogs, brochures, etc.

They employed a very aggressive timeline for their new SharePoint 2010 portal – they started in October 2009 with their RFP; phase 1 went live in May of 2010; phase 2 in October of 2010, phase 3 in January, 2011; and phase 4 in late 2011.

Thus Hallmark Retail Connect was born.  Benefits to retailers were:

  • Richer, searchable content
  • User interface customized to role
  • Self-service user management
  • Single sign-on
  • Less paper and email

Hallmark employees benefited also, with:

  • Easier content management
  • Lengthened publishing schedules
  • Decentralized content management
  • Central site governance
  • Better access to information

Now for the interesting (to me) stuff – the architecture:

  • Employees and content creators are housed in Active Directory
  • Customers and their employees are housed in ADLDS (Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services)
  • Ancillary information (store addresses, office hours, etc.) is stored in SQL
  • .Net is used for customizations and web services
  • Windows Identity Foundation makes the magic of single sign on happen

Critical success factors included:

  • Executive buy-in and support – start small, prove the concept, do it on time, do it on budget, and we’ll give you more money
  • Business participation – a project such as this really needs business ownership.  It equates to the difference between renting and owning a house – renters don’t take care of the property; however, owners care about the property and will take care of it.
  • Solid information architecture – sets name and content guidelines, defines single location for content, guides end-user navigation, establishes content ownership, defines SharePoint physical structure
  • User security model – requirements were self-service, goof proof, preserve privacy, allow delegation, and be intuitive. People picker wouldn’t cut it, so they built their own .Net security model
  • Site governance model -governance is not just about technology!  They have 12 site roles defined.  Terms of Use or a contract is required for access.  Training is mandatory for content managers, and self-service training is required for others.  Succession planning is also required for content managers so that someone can take over should they leave.  In addition, all content has:
    • An owner
    • A lifecycle
    • A primary home
    • A set of standards

And now what I was really waiting for, the site demo to see how they built their solution:

The site is very beautifully designed and does not look like the standard SharePoint interface at all.  I really like the look of their site and the way they have their navigation laid out, it is very intuitive.

They have 12 different user roles and users in each role will see different content.  For example, at the store level they have Owners, Managers, and another role for general access.  And within Hallmark they have different levels of content managers and site administration access.

Hallmark employees such as content editors are stored in Active Directory, but are proxied into ADLDS.  Everyone logs in using forms-based authentication, which hits ADLDS, but for internal users they are recognized as a foreign member and then asks AD to let them in.  Because they are proxied in, they can be put in ADLDS roles as well.

One thing that I didn’t get from the demo is exactly how they implemented their item level security as far as how they are targeting fliers and content to specific stores.  She did mention (I think) that they created roles for each of their stores; however, it would have been helpful to see a demo of this in action.

We implemented our Extranet in a very similar fashion last year – we’re using AD for our internal users, and ADLDS for our external customers.  One thing we did differently is we are using Windows authentication for our internal users, and forms-based autentication for our external customers.  We modified the forms login screen to include a link for internal users to authenticate via their Windows credentials.  This link is only visible inside our network so external customers will never see this link.  We also use a combination of out-of-the-box content and custom .Net pages to display dealer data that is stored in SQL Server.  We are not using single sign on to link to other applications as Hallmark did.

Overall I thought this session was great.  It’s always nice to see how others are using the technology in their organization. And it’s interesting that we implemented a lot of the same ideas and solutions as Hallmark did.

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Wendy Neal

Wendy Neal

I am a .NET SharePoint Developer for DMI. I've worked with SharePoint since 2007. I love to share my passion for SharePoint and Office 365 by speaking at various industry and user group events, as well as writing articles for various publications and this blog.   Read More

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