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M&S: Food Tech Connect extranet portal

Marks and Spencer plc are a well known and trusted multi-national retailer established in 1884 in Leeds. Their operations, in the present day, are based out of their head office in the City of Westminster, London. They specialise in the selling of clothing, homewares and luxury food products.

M&S: Food Tech Connect Extranet on an Apple iMac, a MacBook, an iPad and an iPhone
Connect has been a great success. It is intuitive with clear codes of practice... and it affords us better management of our contact lists with clarity on when updates take place as emails go directly to [suppliers].
Claire Hughes - Head of Central Technology at M&S
Claire Hughes
Head of Central Technology

Having worked with M&S on previous projects, it was our pleasure to accept the major undertaking of developing a brand new, critical piece of software for them to supersede an older system.

M&S Food Technical Centre required a system to support their operations and interactions with suppliers and auditors.

M&S: Food Tech Connect Extranet Document Store page on an Apple MacBook

The web software needed to encompass multiple applications including:

  • A document library
  • A complex database of organisations and users
  • Form submissions and tasks management
  • Custom audit control processes
  • Nutritional benchmarking
  • Bespoke Excel and on screen reports
M&S: Food Tech Connect Extranet Home page on an Apple MacBook and Document Store on an iPhone

The solutions we provided include:

  • We had a series of discovery workshops with the client to determine the key areas of the project and identify goals
  • We created a content strategy to define what new data structures should exist to allow for rich linking of content
  • We proposed a phased delivery of the website application based on priorities
  • We took the previous system's raw data and created several algorithms to transform the data into the new data structures
  • We iterated through some design prototypes to arrive at a consensus for the site templates and user journeys
  • The client partnered with us as we built the system functionality, testing the various components as they were delivered in order to validate their effectiveness in addressing each of the business cases
  • We demoed critical functionality early, and continually so we could make amendments as we progressed
  • The initial application was launched in January 2015 and continues to be extended as M&S's requirements evolve
M&S: Food Tech Connect Extranet Home page on an Apple iPad

As we started to analyse the requirements, we realised that there were going to be a lot of different user journeys through the application. So the first step was to design a stripped back and minimal interface with plenty of opportunity for expansion, to give us a good basis for future flexibility. Our designer Darren came up with an icon set which clearly defined each area. This helped to visually represent which part of the application the user was in and the necessary tasks that could be carried out.

M&S: Food Tech Connect Extranet Document Store on an Apple MacBook and Home page on an iPhone

We created a set of "style tiles" which clearly defined how buttons, boxes and form elements should look. This meant that as the project grew the design could fit all aspects of the content of each section. M&S were immediately taken with our design presentation so we set to work on coding the interface in a responsive way so that it was usable and beautiful on a variety of device displays such as tablets, mobile phones and laptops as well as desktop screens.

M&S: Food Tech Connect Extranet Home page on an Apple MacBook and Document Store on an iPhone

M&S Connect launched in January 2015 and continues to be actlively developed by Real Life Digital as new requirements arise.

The system as a whole has been met with praise from its users (auditors both internal and external to M&S, food technicians and supply organisations) and has led to other ideas from team leaders at M&S to add complementary new functionality to the initial build.

M&S Connect is a private website, but you can read more about some of the other projects we have worked on for M&S such as the Supplier Exchange and the Producer Exchange.

M&S: Food Tech Connect Extranet Home page on an Apple iPad

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