All Grown Up

Jun 01, 2002 9:30 PM  By

We all have to grow up someday, but most of us remember the carefree innocence of childhood, the oft conflicted soul-searching of adolescence, and the achievement of crossing into adulthood. For Marietta, GA-based CoLinear Systems Inc.’s Response Version 7.0 (Rv7), its day has come.

Once classified as an entry-level system because of its price range and “shrink-wrapped” positioning in the marketplace, CoLinear’s Rv7 has finally come of age. Rv7 is now unequivocally an enterprise-class application, capable of holding its own with virtually any other competitor for both business and consumer direct commerce. Its largest user processes in excess of 15,000 orders per day, and the system itself is capable of processing up to 25,000 two-line orders per day.

CoLinear, founded in 1984 when the PC was in its infancy, is one of the first vendors of PC-based direct commerce order management systems. With over 450 installed users, its “Response” system has met the needs of a wide variety of catalog and direct commerce companies.

One thing that Response has not done in Version 7.0 is to abandon its low-end pricing, making the system not only a full-featured power-hitter, but a bargain to boot.

A two- to five-user license starts at $2,500. Additional users are priced from $599, with significant price breaks at six, 12, 24, 48, and 96 users. A three- to ten-user license that runs on the free Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine clocks in at $5,995; a six- to 48-user license that runs on SQL Server 7.0 or 2000 costs $12,995; and a 16- to 256-user large enterprise edition will run you $24,995. There are optional modules that could increase the final cost by several thousand dollars; but all in all, you’re getting an exceptional value for the money.

Back to basics

Rv7 runs as an object-oriented, two-tier client/server system using the Microsoft SQL Server database (and optionally Oracle on the large enterprise edition) on any Intel/Win32 platform (Windows NT/2000), with system code written in Visual Dataflex, Visual Basic, and C. The entire system resides, remarkably, in a single, 11-megabyte executable file, with the initial user database requiring a mere 25 megabytes.

Response’s true Windows-style graphic interface (with full Windows user-configurable options) makes exceptionally good use of screen real estate, yet still supports keyboard-only data entry with discrete use of function keys and control-key combinations (hot keys can be displayed on a floating menu). Context-sensitive help is thorough, well indexed, and abundantly illustrated with screen shots. There is also a complete printed version of the Response user guide.

Internet onramp

Unlike many of today’s “catalog management systems,” Rv7 does not bundle an e-commerce platform. Instead, it offers a “Web connectivity kit” (developed originally for Microsoft’s Internet Information Server, but also supporting most other major platforms) for integration with virtually any e-commerce application. A collection of more than 300 objects, properties, functions, and methods fully exposes the Response back-end database to the shopping cart environment for real-time inventory and other on-demand functions (note that use of this “middleware” component on Microsoft’s Transaction Server actually turns Rv7 into a three-tier client/server application).

Rv7 includes access to a number of third-party applications, including CASS-certified address formatting using either the AccuMail or Mailers+4 systems. In addition, telephone area codes are automatically updated quarterly with a third-party tool. There is support for NCOA postal processing as well (export/import customer records). Rate shopping is available from Winfreight and from UPS Online. Shipping and handling charges can be related to the order total, a fixed cost per item, or calculated by a user-defined formula; on multiple ship-tos you can calculate the rate for the entire order as a whole or by ship-to address.

Rv7 also includes configurable/programmable interfaces to the Majure Data “RF Navigator” warehouse management system (with support for wireless picking), or other WMS applications or “secondary processes” that need to receive data from Rv7 and subsequently feed data back into the system. The system can generate this data in XML format, if required, and there is a built-in export to the Abacus database.

Bells and whistles

You can access existing customers by phone number, last name, and ZIP code, but since so many TSRs prefer to just type in the customer data without doing a formal search, Rv7 will automatically search for a duplicate customer record and display possible matches for confirmation. Prospects are maintained in a separate finder file with finder numbers (one user maintains 75 million find records on a separate, linked server). Customer contact records include fax numbers and e-mail addresses, plus business title and company name. Order data includes P.O. number, order type (user-definable), source, sales rep, and media code.

All items can be searched by SKU number, name, keyword, or any word in the description. Size and color for an item are displayed in a tree-and-branch fashion, and the system also shows the total quantity available for any size or color, and then the individual quantities for each size/color combination as you “expand the tree.” Kits are handled in a similar fashion, with the ability to nest kits within kits (support for variable kits should be included in the next version).

Each line on an order can ship to a separate address, and addresses can be flagged as residential or commercial (with the system maintaining a list of all ship-tos for each customer). CoLinear will support a separate media/key code per line item in its next version; gift messaging and gift invoices are both currently supported. Unfortunately, item personalization is managed in a notes field only, with no template available to indicate personalization parameters.

In the warehouse, Rv7 allows you to store multiple items per bin. All location types are user-definable, and can be ranked. For slotting purposes, bins can also be defined as small, medium, or large, in addition to maintaining the actual bin dimensions in the system.

Each product can have 16 price codes and six price breaks, with support for nested product classes. You can track both units of measure and units of packaging. For each SKU, the system maintains the first date sold, last date sold, average number of units per order/average dollars per order, sales units this year/last year/two years ago, and profit month-to-date and year-to-date. There is also a full purchase, receipts, returns, and adjustment history for each SKU (P.O.s can be received in part or in full).

Rv7 can be easily configured to tightly interface to any third-party manifest program using a traditional file-based or real-time ODBC mechanism. Configuration templates currently exist for UPS Worldship, Starship, APSS, Pitney-Bowes, and Clippership.

Continuous improvement

Rv7 has an elaborate and useful RFM calculation tool that lets you define how you want to calculate, update, and display recency, frequency, and monetary value of your customers’ orders. You can track customer purchase history, but not promotion history. There is support for customer segmentation and problem-customer flags.

Finally, CoLinear isn’t done with Response Version 7.0 by a long shot. Over the next year or two, expect to see a series of enhancements to what is already a very impressive and maturing combination of robust features and functions.

Ernie Schell is president of Marketing Systems Analysis Inc. and author of The Guide to Catalog Management Software. He can be reached at (215) 396-0660 or ernie@schell.com.

Call for a Response

Response, Version 7.0
CoLinear Systems Inc.
4343 Shallowford Road, Suite H-7
Marietta, GA 30062
Contact: Alicia Den Beste (adenbeste@colinear.com)
800-265-4632
www.colinear.com