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A year-plus later, Ecometry awaits a map

NeedlepointAbout one year ago, users of the Ecometry multi-channel software were wondering what the future might be for their software. According to analysts, the software (now joined up with the Escalate Retail system, to add extra Point of Sale power) is being used by 60 percent of the $200 million and under retailers. That's a lot of companies, and some will sound very familiar to the 3000 community. Catalog and website providers like M&M Mars, or retailers with strong online store presences like Hot Topic. These were all part of the Ecometry community that's been folded into a much larger entity.

That would be JDA, a company large enough to join forces with Red Prairie in early 2013. But not large enough to deliver a futures map for the Ecometry customer. These customers have been loath to extend their Ecometry/Escalate installations until they get a read on the tomorrow they can expect from JDA.

The JDA Focus conference comes up in about a month, and right now there's only one certain piece of news. JDA will meet for the last time, via conference call, with the Ecometry/Escalate user group before Focus opens up. That's not extending the contact with customers. There's a total of six meetings, including one meet-and-greet and two updates on enhancement requests.

MB Foster's been tracking the Ecometry situation for years by now. As a result of being a partner with Red Prairie, they're now a partner with JDA since the merger of 15 months ago. In all that time, says CEO Birket Foster, no evidence of product planning has emerged from the larger company. JDA is very big, he notes, more than 130 software suites big. Ecometry is just one. JDA is so large they now offer a JDA Eight, which is 30 applications in one bundle.

Foster's view, backed up by work over the years in migrating Ecometry's MPE sites to Ecometry Open, is that anyone who's making a migration to the Open version is in a better place to react to whatever plan JDA might introduce. "I think it's possible there's nobody left in JDA who can even spell MPE, let alone know what it means to Ecometry sites," he said.

Foster would like to assemble a consortium of companies, partnering together, to assist in these migrations to Ecometry Open. In part, that's because the estimate for a migration which the customers get from JDA today runs 6-12 weeks. This is accurate only to the point that it describes installing the Open software on Windows or Unix servers (for SQL Server or Oracle databases) and Windows servers (for the app.) That's the part of the project where JDA (nee Red Prairie, nee Escalate) helps with the software transfer. But it's only a part of the 3000 customer's migration.

"In a lot of people's minds, from the day they decide to go to Ecometry Open, it's just a month or three," Foster said. "That [JDA] estimate is right. They come in, start it up, make sure the menu screens work right, and they're done. We do the integration work for everything else outside of the main Ecometry stuff."

In the JDA practice, the customer is responsible for loading its own data. "If you have any issues with your data, you might have to get more services from [JDA]," Foster said. "Or in this case, from MB Foster" perhaps along with its partners.

But without a clear roadmap from JDA, these customers cannot make plans to migrate with confidence. About a dozen of them are looking into this prospect, but have to work with only those half-dozen Ecometry sessions scheduled on the Focus agenda for the April 28 meeting. "They're scrambling for content, again," Foster said. "We've been addressing Ecometry customers since 2002, standing with [former CEO] John Marrah [of Ecometry] to talk about migration."

Foster's organization practices assessment as an essential prelude to change. Once an assessment has been completed -- in an overall look -- the cost of the migration can be estimated for the Ecometry site within a 30 percent plus-minus range. "After a detail assessment, you should be down to plus-minus 10 percent," he said. Other practices include doing a "parking lot" routing for parts of a migration that can be postponed with no ill effects, plus good project management and change control.

A migration away from an essential 3000 application like Ecometry should include a solid estimate of the costs. "You can get though a project like this on time and on budget," Foster said. "We don't believe in the philosophy that you should bid low and change-control people to death. We like to be up front and say 'this is what it's going to take.' Some people may not like the number they see, but that's actually what it's going to take."

Pragmatism about processes is really a significant part of the way an Ecometry customer operates, anyway. Foster shared a story about retailers who still ship out catalogs. Really, here well into the 21st Century? "Of course," Foster said the retailer told him. "With a catalog I've got a half-hour of your time on the couch on a Saturday, without the distraction of the Web. Focused on my products for you." One catalog retailer, a needlepoint supply resource, says the majority of its customers are beyond age 65. "That company actually gets a lot of orders from the paper order form in the catalog," Foster said.