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RedLeaf reduced IT workload and costs while generating greater user satisfaction and faster investment returns by revamping a financial exchange’s mission-critical website.

Since its founding in 1985, International Monetary Systems has grown to become one of the largest publicly traded barter exchanges in the world. More than 16,400 members across North America now use its electronic currency to buy and sell goods and services among themselves, thereby conserving cash, bolstering income and expanding their markets. Managed by seasoned industry veterans, IMS is a recognized member of the National Association of Trade Exchanges (NATE) and the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA).

As IMS has grown, so have the demands put on its IT systems. Internally, the company’s nationwide network of trade brokers rely on proprietary, Web-based applications to help members move goods and services, and to demonstrate the smooth, reliable operation of the system to prospective new members. Externally, IMS members use the website to track their accounts and exchanges with unfailing accuracy, and to expedite their buying and selling activities quickly, efficiently and around the clock.

Complexity creep

“We needed a system we could grow upon.” Over the years, the applications on the website and their interrelationships had become increasingly complex. Maintenance was difficult; upgrades were very time-consuming. IMS’ internal IT staff found it harder and harder to continue improving the site’s functioning for company personnel and members alike. André Robitaille, IMS’ IT manager, saw that it was time to make some fundamental changes.

“We needed a system we could grow upon,” says Robitaille. “It meant starting from scratch and bringing together our front- and back-end systems, but we had to do it. The complexities were just slowing us down too much.”

Cost was a concern as well. “Members count on us not only to move their goods and services but also to do it as cost-efficiently as possible,” notes Robitaille. “Streamlining our systems would reduce our maintenance and development costs, and it would also make it easier to add automated features to save us even more money.”

Choosing RedLeaf

Robitaille went looking for external developers who could take on the project. After the demands of the project proved too much for two different firms, Robitaille turned to RedLeaf Software.

RedLeaf’s Ruby on Rails track record gave it a big edge. “First and foremost, RedLeaf was very adept with Ruby on Rails,” says Robitaille. “That was key because we wanted to build this on an open-source platform that would be easy for our team and outside vendors to use.”

Robitaille was impressed with RedLeaf’s extensive Ruby on Rails track record, the programming sample it sent, and the company’s deep involvement in the developers’ community. Its commitment to agile software development methods was another plus. A call to RedLeaf’s principal, Sergei Serdyuk, convinced Robitaille that RedLeaf could not only handle the scope and time pressures of the job, but also that it would stand behind the quality of its work.

In taking on the project, RedLeaf confronted many challenges. The new system would need to seamlessly interface with IMS’ well-regarded trade management application and data base. Strict accounting protocols would need to be observed. And though the new system had to be easier for employees to enhance and upgrade, authorization controls and other security features would need to be iron-clad.

What’s more, IMS initially was looking for the project to be completed within eight weeks. It later relaxed that requirement – but only after doubling the scope of the project, which included enlisting RedLeaf to manage the graphic re-design of the website as well.

Accuracy a must

Recognizing that there was no room for error in the system that IMS would deploy, RedLeaf began the project by developing rigorous tests designed to assure that the applications would function as required. Though this took some extra time at first, in the long run it eliminated the delays inherent in rooting out and correcting errors affecting thousands of lines of code.

Agile development set the stage for a virtually bug-free launch. “RedLeaf uses the agile development approach and that gave me a nice sense of security,” says Robitaille. “I didn’t want to worry about getting calls at 2 a.m. because someone’s $20,000 transaction wasn’t going through the system.”

To further streamline programming, RedLeaf set up a staging server on which Robitaille and his team could test features and functions of the system as they evolved. That enabled IMS to give RedLeaf immediate feedback on its work so that developers could quickly make any necessary changes and continue their work secure in the knowledge that no wholesale fixes would be needed further down the line.

“We really liked the collaborative approach that RedLeaf took to the project,” recalls Robitaille. “They thought through everything they were doing, kept in close touch with us and suggested alternatives to avoid a lot of issues that we hadn’t anticipated.”

High-quality outcome

For all the meticulous testing that it conducted, RedLeaf completed the project on time, turning over to IMS a system that performed virtually bug-free from Day One – and on IMS’ existing servers, which saved the exchange an investment in new hardware. The few fixes that had to be made – primarily corrections to the displayed text – were made, in Robitaille’s words, “extraordinarily quickly.” “We can now add code and make changes at an unbelievably fast rate.” Features can now be added “almost on a whim.” According to Robitaille, “Everything is laid out so well. We can now add code and make changes at an unbelievably fast rate.” Non-technical employees and even members themselves can make changes to certain listings without getting the IT team involved.

With its newfound freedoms, IMS’ IT staff has the time to keep its website and programming abreast of the continuing rapid growth in the exchange’s membership, adding new features to attract new members and make it easier to serve those already aboard. Robitaille sums up, “The website and applications that RedLeaf built for us have brought us to where we can move quickly with the marketplace, which are tremendous benefits for our members and our organization as a whole.”