Christchurch design firm lands worldwide Harcourts contract

“Location, location, location” may be the real-estate agent’s mantra. But a Christchurch web interaction design firm Left Click has found its locale no object to landing a global contract to rebuild Harcourts' back-end systems, and public websites.

LeftClick’s six staff are putting the finishing touches on a new online listing system that will be used by 5000 Harcourts staff across the real-estate agency's 600 global offices. The back-end system took nine months to create, says Left Click founder Alan Cox.

Grand designs
The company will now embark on designing a series of new-look public websites for Harcourts worldwide. Cox says the new customer-facing sites will incorporate Web 2.0 features. Elements may include social networking features and “mash-ups”, such as the ability to select the address of a house you’re looking at, then use an Ajax feed to overlay desired features – such as the nearest schools or shops or demographic data – on a Google map.

Do-up potential
Harcourts Chief Technology Officer Jason Wills says his company investigated a number of existing off-the-shelf property listing systems, his company realised it needed to develop its own system to meet its goals. It began what he describes as “an exhaustive worldwide search” for a company to design its interface systems, ultimately landing with LeftClick.

LeftClick was able to parlay success upgrading Harcourts’ Australasian sites into the worldwide deal, says Mr Cox, which is worth around $200,000 to his company. Harcourts board members visited Left Click’s Christchurch office, and also spoke to its existing clients, who include AMI and National Bank.

Well-behaved tennants
Harcourts was impressed by LeftClick’s “guinea pig” design approach, says Mr Cox, which involves a clients’ employees being plonked in front of a PC then observed as they use their company’s existing systems.

In Harcourts’ case, LeftClick’s four-month study led the Christchurch design company to recommend Harcourts not just upgrade its decade-old online booking system, but extend its website project to a full ecommerce makeover including facets like contact management and email marketing.

“We try to identify low-hanging fruit and make changes that deliver the biggest bang for buck in the shortest amount of time,” says Mr Cox of LeftClick of his company’s strategy. His focus was to upgrade “horizontal slices” of Harcourts accounting, property management, contact management and other online systems almost immediately then upgrade them incrementally, rather than make the company wait a year for “vertical” big bang upgrades in each area.

The new-look Web 2.0 Harcourts public websites are set to go live during March 2009. The first-stage revamp of the new property management system will be followed by further upgrades over the next 12 months, says Mr Cox.

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Well done; always good to see innovation at work and paying dividends;

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