New Fairfax portal leads to a more engaged audience

Fairfax Media owns New Zealand’s most popular news website,, which reaches more than two million people each month and recently overtook TradeMe as the country’s fourth most visited website after Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

Stuff covers every aspect of news and information, from breaking national and international crises through to in-depth features, sports, business, entertainment, life style and technology articles, weather reports, travel services, movie reviews, rural news, and more.

More than 600 journalists around New Zealand work to provide this single online source of information for Fairfax. 

The Challenge

Fairfax wanted to create a membership portal that would act as a single entry point for customers across all of their digital platforms. Having a single source of customer data was expected to give Fairfax a better understanding of their customers, resulting in better relationship management and engagement through an improved customer experience.

Fairfax approached Datacom with the project’s requirements and work began in July 2014. Since then, Datacom and Fairfax have worked in partnership on developing and continuously improving the portal. 


The Datacom Difference

We developed an identity management system and membership portal,, which centred on the user’s profile and offered an improved online experience. As part of the project, existing members were migrated from the old legacy system to a new database.

In addition to managing user identities, key features of the portal include a self-service capability for managing newspaper subscriptions, and a means of accessing premium Fairfax content such as the popular annual School Report. Newspaper subscribers can report delivery issues or put their papers on hold when on holiday and donate their papers for arts and crafts activities through the Tools for Schools programme.

Being able to track users’ activity is key – Fairfax is now able to collect information on a single user over time and target relevant advertising and stories, which increases engagement and encourages customers to return to the website.

Getting the infrastructure right was crucial. The portal needed to handle the kind of traffic that websites such as TradeMe or even Facebook might attract, so we built it as a highly scalable web application using a modern public cloud, Amazon Web Services.

The portal was built within EC2, a web service that provides resizable computer capacity in the cloud so Fairfax could shift up or down as necessary. To achieve higher levels of fault tolerance and availability we used load balancers, which automatically distribute incoming application traffic across the EC2 instances.

Amazon Relational Database Service is used to store user profile information, and Amazon Simple Email Service is used for sending out notification emails. In addition to integrating with other Fairfax AWS-hosted applications such as Neighbourly, is integrated to key Fairfax on-premise systems such as their Subscription Management application. Datacom has also developed connectivity to SaaS applications such as Gigya for social media identity aggregation. The portal is an excellent example of a highly effective hybrid cloud implementation.

An automated, single-click deployment process is used for all releases and an automated test suite has been developed with full coverage of all portal functions.

We led the delivery, working with multiple teams across Fairfax New Zealand and other suppliers to provide the initial MVP portal over a six-month period. The process was rapid and adaptive, thanks to the close relationship between Datacom and a highly engaged team of stakeholders at Fairfax.

The project team performed daily stand-ups with team members across New Zealand via videoconference, and met in person for more in-depth collaboration as necessary. We were strict about adhering to timeframes with regular milestone dates that coincided with progress walk-throughs and demonstrations. Challenges were dealt with by time boxing and scaling the team to avoid compromising on quality or the deadline.

Datacom manages the portal from the AWS platform through to application.


  • 171% growth in members since launch in December 2014

  • The portal is used by Fairfax as a foundational component of multiple value-add content projects. Examples include School Report, which enables members to view rich NCEA data, Stuff Quiz Battles, and bespoke newsletter offerings.

  • We continue to work to extend the platform with Fairfax.

“The portal gives us a whole view of all the people using our newspapers, sites and other services. Suddenly we can create an experience that is really powerful.”

Jeremy Rees, National Community Titles Editor, Fairfax Media