Sigma Micro’s Controller+ The business systems marketplace is demanding more options, more support, and of course, more e-commerce functionality. Sigma Micro is one of several WMS software developers responding to these demands. Its Controller+ has been installed by several large, well-known catalog and direct marketing companies, including Lands’ End’s German and Japanese divisions, Eastbay, Vitamins.com, Magellan’s, e-Luxury.com, Footlocker, The Gap, and Abbey Press.
More than 110 companies specializing in apparel, gifts, hard goods, home crafts, and publications, as well as business-to-business and e-commerce, have installed Controller+. There were six new installations in 1999. The average Sigma Micro customer handles 2,000 to 3,000 orders per day with 30 online users. The largest processes over 8 million orders annually and has more than 900 online users.
In our opinion, Controller+ ranks among the four best fully integrated catalog management systems available. The company also maintains one of the largest support staffs among vendors of this type of software.
Functions and features Controller+ is a full-featured catalog management system that can be customized to meet varying needs. With over 95 employees, Sigma Micro ranks as the largest developer of a Unix-based, direct-to customer system. The company has continued to enhance the core product while pursuing a multi-channel initiative via its E-controller software.
Controller+ has two installation methodologies: a turnkey system with modifications and ongoing software support, and a fully customized environment in which the core system is heavily modified and no ongoing support is provided to the user.
The primary platform for Controller+ is IBM’s RS/6000, but it runs in HP9000 and SCO Unix environments. Sigma Micro is an IBM Business Partner and authorized reseller of IBM equipment.
Controller+ is programmed in the ACCU-COBOL development suite and organizes data through ISAM data file structure. With the recent introduction of SigmaNet, any ODBC tools can be used for data manipulation. The company plans to add a GUI version in 2001, and will also move to using an Oracle database.
Web order processing. Users of Sigma Micro’s E-controller must have Sigma Micro host their sites or interface their current sites through APIs to the Controller+ system. E-controller processes orders directly and provides real-time inventory availability, but can’t yet process returns, gift certificates, coupons, or memberships. Nor can it upsell or cross-sell. The system does provide an e-mail order, shipment, and return receipt acknowledgment.
Customer service and order entry. Orders can be entered with only four screens; these highlight required fields. However, navigation through screens is somewhat cumbersome. Inventory inquiries made before name and address are recorded can be pulled into the new order. The system handles up to 98 ship-to addresses, each with its own source code via “hot key.” It supports weight-based shipping calculations, cross-selling, upselling, and substitute items. Color and size matrices for apparel and shoes are available. There is no call path telephony capability. Customer correspondence can be interfaced to word processing software, but the system doesn’t record replies in the customer file. There are no system-based management or follow-up reports based on customer diary notes.
Credit authorization. Credit card numbers are check-digit verified and passed against an internal fraud file. An automated batch process for authorization and deposit interfaces is provided to Paymentech, NaBanco, CES, Ceridian, Envoy, and First National Bank of Omaha. Controller+ also accommodates private-label charge cards and electronic check verification.
Order processing. Order processing can run concurrently with order entry. The system offers multiple methods of selecting and printing pick tickets (batch, zone, slot sequence, method of shipment, singles and multis). The distribution center can designate both the number of pick tickets per batch and the number of batches printed. Controller+ cross-docks backorders and interfaces to Postalsoft for address verification.
Financial balancing. The system provides numerous daily and management reports, including transaction balances, orders not shipped, cash, and sales.
Purchasing and receiving. Controller+ generates vendor orders based on min./max., seasonality, or catalog percent complete methods. Seasonality combines inventory movement history, projected demand, product seasonality, and on-hand inventory. Receiving against purchase orders can be performed online. Standard variance reports, by purchase order, vendor, or individual item, are available. There is no warehouse-directed putaway functionality.
Warehousing. Controller+ generates inventory replenishment reports and provides for an unlimited number of reserve slots for inventory. It accommodates multiple warehouses and return-to-vendor functions per company. The system interfaces to PkMS, Uniteq, and Retek warehouse management systems. The core warehouse functionality is somewhat limited, with few bells and whistles.
Bar coding. Controller+ includes bar coding functionality for pick/pack verification, shipment release, and physical inventories.
Accounting. Sigma Micro has integrated ABS’s accounts receivable and accounts payable modules into Controller+. The firm has also developed standard interfaces to the ABS general ledger module, Solomon, and PeopleSoft and supports all ABS modules used by its customers.
For business-to-business customers with AR accounts, invoicing and credits can be cumbersome. Product costing options include average cost or last cost.
Shipping and manifesting. Controller+’s ship verification process interfaces to UPS, USPS, CTC, Fedex, and Airborne manifesting systems. It requires manual placement of UPS, RPS, and USPS tracking number labels and double scanning of packages during manifesting.
Returns processing. Returns are tied to original orders, but the system allows return of more than the quantity ordered. Users can select a one- or two-step returns process. Return authorization procedures are available, if needed. Reasons for return, inventory dispositions, and balance information are entered and updated online. UPS call tags can be system-generated.
User comments Controller+ has a wide range of users, both in size and number of orders processed. Sigma Micro continues to support large users with highly customized versions of the software. This speaks well of their willingness to modify the base package.
General comments on the package vary greatly, with some users expressing total euphoria and others having second thoughts about even selecting Controller+. Its e-commerce module is less developed than that of the competition. System support received generally good marks, while warehouse functionality received largely mediocre reviews.: