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When Bigger Isn't Better for Commerce

JDA product lineupThere are at least 60 companies in the world that are still using Ecometry direct commerce software on an HP 3000, according to members of that software's community. Perhaps four times that number have already made a migration off MPE/iX, many taking the road to Ecometry Open on Windows.

But that path might have become steeper than the migrated sites expected since Ecometry's owner RedPrairie decided to join JDA Software. JDA is to logistics software as Infor is to manufacturing: a company with a practice of purchasing other companies. Bigger is better to these kinds of entities.

A deal announced in November to combine the two companies says that RedPrairie is acquiring JDA by purchasing JDA stock, but it's a reverse takeover. RedPrairie is the smaller entity, buying up JDA stock to plow through the regulatory scrutiny if the deal was the other way around. The merger was announced as complete about six weeks later, during the Christmas week where news gets dumped because nobody is supposed to be looking.

A larger owner can sometimes not be looking at the best of interests of smaller, acquired customers. It matters enough that some users say say they're freezing Ecometry projects until they get convinced the software will still exist in a year. The 131 products that are now part of JDA, post-merger, suggest something's got to give -- at least in the software development resource derby. At Infor, plenty of software checks in with an ability to continue to pay for support. But development often slows for these acquired products, such as MANMAN.

There was a time -- and not so long ago -- when Ecometry was the sole focus of its ownership. Those owners included people who'd grown the customer base from its HP roots while the server was rebranded the e3000.

It's not easy to remember what the "e" was supposed to stand for in e3000, but HP added the vowel as a way of trying to brand the server as a web resource. (Okay, you'll read something about Enabling growth, Enhancing app partner and solutions focus, and Embracing new technology. Less than two years later, Hewlett-Packard was using the little "e" to mean "extinguish," as it shut off HP futures for the server.)

Ecometry, named to draw upon the new e-commerce strategy, was a flagship app partner in that e3000 era. Even as recently as 2005, Ecometry was just taking its first departure into the realm of equity capital ownership.

The founders of the company, Will Smith and Allan Gardner, retired and sold off their firm in 2004, but that transaction didn't change things for customers as much as another retirement. The equity firm Golden Gate Capital, guided by Ecometry executives led by CEO John Marrah, mothballed a strategy that all Ecometry HP 3000 customers had to leave the platform by HP’s Dec. 31, 2006 support deadline.

Even though that deadline was extended twice by HP, that timetable never mattered as much as establishing a continuing support business. That's the strategy at Infor and JDA, too. MANMAN and Ecometry sites, regardless of their platform, buy support for their applications from the current owners.

Question 17 of an FAQ about the merger explains how a customer would know if their product had been terminated.

JDA’s general policy is that products are not sunset, and that customers are not forced to upgrade to specific versions of our products. Our customers are our top priority and we are committed to continue to provide customers value for the maintenance fees that they pay.

Additionally JDA has a comprehensive solution investment policy available online that outlines JDA’s industry-leading policy for supporting legacy versions of products. This policy will carry forward to the merged company.

JDA established that investment policy in 2011, after it acquired Manugistics and i2. These company brands like Ecometry, Escalate and even RedPraire all become integrated, running behind the shield of JDA. Some of the largest retailers in the world are being served by the combined product roster now, according to the FAQ. The combination of the two companies creates a customer list of more than 3,200. At its height of direct commerce focus, Ecometry had less than 400 companies in its client base.

What JDA now calls an impressive customer roster includes 82 of the STORES Magazine global top 100; 87 of the Consumer Goods Technology global top 100; and 22 of the Gartner Supply Chain Top 25. If that sounds like a mismatch against smaller retail customers such as Seeds of Change, TLA Video, Stumps and Diamond Essence, its because these smaller companies believe they're entitled to some assurances. One problem is the preferred system integrators for JDA, CAPGemini, Tata, and Wipro, can't work on projects of under $5 million. There's too much overhead to start the integration engines for less than that figure. Integrations figure large in the customer experience of "omni-channel" retailers like the Ecometry sites.

Smith and Gardner retired after building up their company to the point where they renamed it Ecometry. As it moved into equity capital ownership, it represented one of the biggest single groups of HP 3000 packaged application customers. There were the best-known brands in the 3000 base there as well, such as M&M/Mars, Brookstone and Title Nine.

The buy-up plan began in 2005 with the Ecometry doing the acquiring. It grew its customer base off competitors through purchases. Marrah said that Ecometry, bolstered by Golden Gate’s $2.5 billion wallet, "would pursue an aggressive acquisition strategy, buying companies to both extend its customer bases and advance its technology."

But in the meantime Ecometry was spreading the word that 3000 sites could expect application support of its MPE-based software during 2007. The 3000 sites can still buy support, six years later.

Customers say they want to know more than support plans for the lifecycle of a retailer app. The JDA Focus conference is scheduled for May 5-7. If there's one thing in common with those classic Ecometry days for these customers, it's the location of Focus. The show is held in Florida, the state where Smith and Gardner founded their company. RedShift, the RedPrairie conference, was to be held in Las Vegas -- where HP is opening its Americas Partner conference tomorrow.