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It's become data mart season for retailers

This second month of the new year is the first full month for changes to retailer or e-tailer enterprises. While the HP 3000 is scarcely involved in retail IT, the e-tail aspects of the industry triggered the fastest growth in the installed base. That was during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, when Ecometry fielded so much growth that it represented more than half of the new HP 3000 installations.

BuddingThe nature of e-tailing is built around holidays, so the last three months of each year, and much of January, see few changes to IT operations. But now it's a data mart month for these enterprises. Marts have been around a very long time, well back into those 1990s. A mart is a subset of a data warehouse, and the mart has established itself as fundamental database technology.

In the e-tailer sector where 3000s still operate, new data insights are much prized. Catalogs started these businesses, and by now there's a gold standard to capturing customer dollars based on data analysis. The discount website Zulily measures customer interaction on a per-transaction basis, then tunes the landing pages to fit what a customer's shown interest in during prior visits. That's the kind of insight that demands a serious data mart strategy.

Most e-tailers, the kind of 3000 user that does e-commerce, are not that sophisticated. For those Ecometry sites with requirements that outstrip that software suite, Ability Commerce has add-ons like an order management system. For data mart setups, these sites can rely on MB Foster, according to its CEO Birket Foster. Ability and MB Foster are in a new partnership for this data mart season.

"Ability has complementary products to the Ecometry system," Foster said, "but they also can replace the Ecometry system. We, on the other hand, do work on putting together data marts for retail. We expect there will be an opportunity for us to have a chat about how a data mart might work for these people."

These e-tailing sites are just now getting to look at the most recent Ecometry strategy from last June, Foster added. It's a prime time for plans to form up and migrations to proceed. With every migration, data has to move. That's what a big online movie vendor learned last year.

TLA Video (Theatre for the Living Arts) migrated off  Ecometry (now known as JDA Direct Commerce) and onto Ability’s Order Management System last summer. TLA ran the MPE version of Ecometry. “We had been looking to get off the MPE Ecometry platform," said Eric Moore, Chief Technology Officer at TLA, "and Ability gave us the best package for that.”

Ability acknowledges they're replacing a superior software suite, "one of the top backend ERP platforms for ecommerce and catalog companies in the industry."  TLA's Moore said that the migration demanded that "Ability would help us streamline the movement of data between our various systems."

That's the heartland set of practices that's made MB Foster an Ability partner for 2015 and beyond. "These months [up through March] will determine how many people are moving, and how many people are going to find something else. When they're in season — well, at Vermont Country stores the IT manager said during the morning he was on the phone lines in the call center, and in the afternoon he worked in shipping. He told me, 'My job is just to make sure IT doesn't fail during that in-season process.' Extra staff is needed, and it's not uncommon in smaller companies."

In season, this manager is not allowed to change anything in IT, just keep what's running alive. At Vermont Country Stores, the absolute lockdown date is October 15. That means any migration that gets a greenlight this spring has to be completed in less than nine months. It's a schedule that demands experience and proven tools.

"There's a synergy between Ability and us because we have an expertise in moving systems and integrating data marts," Foster said. He notes that JDA transferred its Statements of Work they were doing to Ability Commerce. "JDA won't do any [Ecometry] statements of work now, unless it's a major revamp that the customer will pay for. JDA is doing with PCI [credit card security] assignments for customers, because if you had to do that certification yourself, you'd spend up to $300,000 to hire an independent third party. Two dozen customers might only pay $100,000 each for PCI compliance services. People pay for that support." But less than willingly.

Since other areas of functionality aren't being addressed for smaller customers, there's an opportunity for vendors like Ability and MB Foster to help improve the Ecometry experience. Or lift the customers into a newer, more facile suite like Ability's software.

"We offer something Ability doesn't, the data marts," Foster said. Both companies offer professional services, and Ability is staffed with people from the old Ecometry organization. "There's a lot of Ability Commerce customers who were, or perhaps still are, Ecometry sites," Foster said. Ability Commerce customers like American Musical Supply, Brookstone, Casual Male, Cornerstone — all either current or former 3000 sites — these are the kinds of properties, as the ecommerce sites are called, that are in the season for data marts and migrations.

"To move things ahead in their IT, they have to do some things," Foster said. "We have the experience to be able to pull data around and move it to the places it needs to be."