Committed to Their Software

If you want to make it in the world of e-commerce, you can't get by with just a static, information-dispensing Web site. You really need an integrated e-commerce site if you want to speed order processing, improve customer relations, reduce costs, expand your client base and increase revenue. At least, that's the theory.

But is it the reality? The answer depends on how successful you are at pairing the right e-commerce engine with the right integration team to create and manage your site. Computerworld interviewed chief technology officers, chief operating officers and CEOs at seven companies that recently acquired e-commerce platforms from BroadVision Inc., CommercialWare Inc., Intershop Communications Inc. and InterWorld Corp.

We learned that most of the difficulties the executives experienced arose when integrating existing back-end operations such as customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning, inventory and order-fulfillment systems.

1pixclear.gif
1pixclear.gif
1pixclear.gif

Who's in Charge Here?

While interviewing site owners for this story, I sometimes felt that some of these folks were reading from a vendor's press release. No matter how deeply I probed, very few reported any significantly unpleasant experiences. Could the products and the application vendors really be so wonderful as to warrant the deferential way the users described the product?

Then I realized the site owners weren't so much describing the attributes of the vendors' products, but the qualities of their relationships with the vendors. And their attitude of deference had an oddly familiar feel.

Many years ago, my father suffered a series of heart attacks. He was an independent and strong-willed man - not unlike the executives I talked to for this story - but he spoke to the doctors with a reverence bordering on awe. I realized that the cause was his perception that the doctors had the power of life and death over him. And, to some degree, they did.

Fast-forward to the present. Looking beyond the words of the users I interviewed, I noticed a similar pattern governing the relationship between many of the site owners and their software vendors. Was this because the owners had committed hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to the success of their Web sites and had given the vendors the power of economic life and death over the companies - and some careers?

With so much money changing hands and online development moving so quickly, they picked their words with caution as they described their experiences, careful not to compromise relationships with their vendors.

But for all the similarities, the pattern didn't totally parallel that of a patient entreating his doctor for salvation. The site owners weren't ailing, just needful of expertise.

Occasionally they hinted at the considerable impatience they felt with delays, bugs and missed deadlines. While it was clear that the vendors controlled the visible portion of the relationship, the site owners would tolerate this situation as long as the vendors had their finger on the pulse of the site and kept it beating strong.

1pixclear.gif

Their experience confirms what enterprise IT managers have long known; it's not only the quality of the software that you select but also the quality of the support services available when things go wrong. Because things will go wrong.

Integrating Multiple Companies

For Andre Brysha, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Irvine, Calif.-based Phobo.com Inc., an offshoot of Beltsville, Md.-based Ritz Camera Centers, e-commerce was a natural extension of the parent company's 80-year-old catalog and mail-order business. One of the largest specialty camera retailers, Ritz Camera also operates Boaters World and OuterBanks Outfitters.

"We acquired e-commerce because we realized that if we don't cannibalize our own customers and expand into e-commerce, someone else will," says Brysha. After reviewing several products, Brysha chose Natick, Mass.-based CommercialWare to help launch Phobo.com (a contraction of photograph and boating), which receives 5 million page views per month.

"It came down to a decision between CommercialWare and Microsoft's platforms," he says. "CommercialWare could better integrate with our IBM AS/400 legacy system. That integration was critical. We did not want to create new pricing, purchasing and inventory management systems."

Although success came eventually, the integration proved challenging. "There are no true turnkey, seamless integrations," says Brysha, "but overall, we're very pleased with CommercialWare. And even though we had some problems, they were resolved. It's an ongoing learning process."

What would Brysha like to see in future releases? He says he would ask for "a completely integrated solution for customer database management and promotion management to eliminate the need for third-party add-ins."

Brysha says the company made the right software choice. "Without e-commerce, we wouldn't have the amount of business we have today," he says.

Better Health and Revenue

Expanding its mail-order business provided the impetus for adopting e-commerce at Swanson Health Products Inc., a vitamins and natural food purveyor in Fargo, N.D.

"We were a mail-order company," says Glen Pirie, chief operating officer at Swanson. "We acquired e-commerce capability because our customers wanted it."

Swanson chose CommercialWare software to build its Web site because of the application's back-office integration capability. The software's inventory, shopping cart and credit-card processing features matched Swanson's needs. The company's site gets about 1 million hits per month.

"People find Internet shopping much quicker than thumbing through our catalog," says Pirie. "It's a great program. The beautiful part about CommercialWare is that it links everything in the order process together."

Dean Plantz, Swanson's director of MIS implementation, says the rollout was "a seamless operation, but the process will never be finished."

Swanson boasts a significant increase in customers since it added e-commerce. "Thirty percent of the orders received from our Web site orders are new customers to us," says Plantz. "We know that because we run cross-checks to see if we've ever mailed them an acquisition piece."

Pirie says he would like to see the next generation of CommercialWare products do a better job of simultaneously managing multiple promotions. "We want to be able to queue up customer data in real time, sync it with our other pending offers and standardize pricing," he says.

Bundling Up Coat Sales

When Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp., a clothing wholesaler and retailer in Burlington, N.J., began its search for an e-commerce platform, modernization was a primary goal. Its Web site provided only static information. A virtual dinosaur, the site required customers to note product information and call in orders.

"We implemented e-commerce to bring our existing Web site into the 21st century," says Burlington's Web manager, Ginger Atwater. "We wanted to automate payment processing and catalog maintenance, take credit-card orders securely, offer shopping cart capabilities and automatically capture order data."

Before deciding on New York-based InterWorld, Burlington investigated several products, including Redwood City, Calif.-based BroadVision and San Mateo, Calif.-based Blue Martini Software Inc.

"It was like comparing apples and oranges. Every vendor has its own definition of e-commerce," says Atwater. "We had to constantly ask ourselves, 'What do we really want and need, apples or oranges?' "

In part, Burlington selected InterWorld because Dayton, Ohio-based NCR Corp., a trusted vendor, recommended the product and helped with the rollout and integration.

Atwater says the decision was a good one. "We are impressed with InterWorld and their support people. They came and did what they said they'd do. In this era, that's pretty good." Atwater says she would like to see only one improvement: "We'd like to see expanded functionality in the freight area."

InterWorld's encyclopedic functionality put pressure on Burlington to upgrade its internal order processing operations. "Prior to implementing InterWorld, our systems were manual, totally geared to shipping tractor-trailer loads of merchandise to stores," says Atwater. "Suddenly, we want to pick and pack individual merchandise to individual customers and to handle returns. We don't yet have a good fulfillment system and we don't yet have adequate customer services."

Shop at Home

Having achieved significant success selling products through its television programs, Shop At Home Inc. in Nashville, Tenn., sought to broaden its markets through an online shopping site. It chose BroadVision to power its Web site at www.collectibles.com.

"We needed a system that would easily integrate with our current Oracle databases and our back-end CRM, fulfillment and financial systems," says Wayne Lambert, Shop At Home's executive vice president and CIO. "We looked at Vignette and others but decided on BroadVision."

But the process, which began in June last year, wasn't easy. "We launched the site in November 1999. We worked at Web speed to implement the system and we experienced a lot of initial frustration," Lambert says.

In time, the problems were resolved and the company gives high marks to BroadVision. "They're extremely responsive to all of our needs," says Bob Miller, Shop At Home's vice president of enterprise technology. "If we have performance issues they will have a senior engineer on-site within a day."

As a result of implementing BroadVision to develop Collectibles.com, Shop At Home has increased revenue. "Ninety-five percent of our Web site visitors are new customers. We have no physical presence, so it's easy to determine how much is incremental business," Miller says.

The site initially had 2,000 unique visitors per day; by mid-July that figure had climbed to 15,000. It recently celebrated its first $1 million-sales month.

Powering the Site

Rockwell Automation, a division of Rockwell International Corp. in Greenville, S.C., makes mechanical transmission products and motors. The company chose BroadVision to power its business-to-business site because of "its superior online order management and customer relationship management," says Don Louis, director of e-commerce. "It makes it easier and more convenient for our customers to do business with us."

Rockwell looked at other vendors, including Netscape Communications Corp. "We looked for scalability and one-to-one marketing capabilities," says Louis. "BroadVision had a proven track record with large companies."

Launched last April, the site is averaging about 1,150 log-ins daily and has earned $10 million for Rockwell. "However, we can't attribute this increase in business solely to the launch of our Web site," says Louis. "That would completely discount the efforts of our salespeople, marketing staff and engineers."

Slow Starts, Fast Finishes

Livemind Inc., a San Francisco-based wireless e-commerce enabler, provides business-to-business solutions for Web merchants looking to extend their e-commerce model to consumers using wireless devices. Livemind needed to rapidly implement Intershop software to power its Web site at www.livemind.com, but experienced a few problems along the way.

"Since [Intershop's] Enfinity was a new product when we started using it, they lacked experienced support," says Iaian Scholnick, Livemind's chief technology officer. "We ran into a few bugs. It probably took a month to get to the point where we were comfortable and using it effectively and doing customized development. Once we got over that initial hump, the product has been pretty easy to use."

Scholnick says he considered other applications, including IBM and Microsoft Corp. products, but chose San Francisco-based Intershop because of the strong XML and Wireless Markup Language (WML) support, the drag-and-drop user interface for constructing business logic and the scalability of the product.

"The XML/WML support, intuitive process modeling and the open architecture of Enfinity has helped us considerably decrease time-to-market for the delivery of the Livemind wireless commerce management platform," Scholnick says.

Our Gift to You

Camdens Inc. in White Plains, N.Y., chose Intershop software to help it "quickly support and expand our e-commerce strategy and help Camdens obtain a competitive advantage," according to Antonio Yenidjeian, vice president and CTO at the online business gift company.

His experience parallels that of Livemind. Camdens' specialized requirements made the implementation process complex. "Intershop is easy to implement once you're up to speed and trained. We recommend taking the entire Intershop Enfinity training program first," says Yenidjeian.

Yenidjeian says you can have out-of-the-box e-commerce functionality in eight weeks. The only real problem his company had was in getting "rapid" answers from Intershop on hardware capacity/performance planning recommendations "because I think it's not all pulled together yet," he says.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon