One of multichannel marketer Brookstone’s catalogs is titled Hard-to-Find Tools. And for nearly a year now, the upscale gadgets and tools company has had a hard time finding a tool itself: an enterprise application integration (EAI) system.
EAI enables a company to share all its corporate data and business processes across all applications, including financial analysis, warehouse management, and customer relationship management (CRM). The system needs to communicate with all of these applications, ideally in real-time or near-real-time.
Finding and implementing an EAI system can cost a catalog company millions of dollars. Philip Roizin, executive vice president/chief financial officer of $338 million Brookstone, estimates that the company has already spent up to $400,000 testing software, including performing the necessary data manipulation.
Fred Morsheimer, Brookstone’s former vice president of information systems, chief information officer, says that sum could have been far higher. With the one EAI vendor with which it ran a pilot program, Brookstone secured a performance-based contract: The cataloger/retailer would pay the vendor only if the products worked with its legacy systems. In other words, Morsheimer says, the risk rested with the vendor, not Brookstone. And, Roizin says, the software did not perform as required.
In its search for an EAI system that would work with its existing applications, Brookstone has viewed reports from such research firms as Meta Group, GartnerGroup, and Giga Information Group. “These reports serve to balance out the marketing literature from the vendors,” says Morsheimer, who left Nashua, NH-based Brookstone in January to work as a systems consultant. Brookstone also tried to work its existing management software system into its EAI efforts. But that program would have required “adding extensive third-party software” to provide the functionality Brookstone seeks, Morsheimer says.
The eventual payoff
Despite Brookstone’s difficulties in finding the right system, the benefits of EAI are apparent, says Rick Walleigh, senior vice president of services for Escalate, a Redwood Shores, CA-based provider of channel-management software. “EAI gets the communication across all of your applications seamlessly, improving order processing speed and efficiency, and spanning various business functions.”
Morsheimer describes his former employer’s goals as being able to rapidly transport customer data among its proprietary databases and applications.
“Brookstone needs to get data out of its systems in near-real-time to provide order-status changes to the Web for improved customer service,” Morsheimer says. “Many online order-taking systems do not interface in real-time to the systems that maintain inventory at the distribution center.” If a system batches its orders, customers cannot be told whether items are in stock at the time they place their orders.
Beyond such relatively basic functions, EAI can facilitate personalized customer contacts. For instance, a marketer could send an e-mail promoting drill bits to a customer who recently bought a power drill, while sending an e-mail offer for garden tools to someone who’d purchased a gazebo.
Such promotions should, of course, drive sales upward. But EAI can also cut costs in the long term, by eliminating the duplication of data and improving productivity.