Mammoth Migration

Jul 01, 2002 9:30 PM  By

If you use an Ecometry system — and even if you don’t — the doings of the Delray Beach, FL-based software provider (formerly known as Smith-Gardner) make for some fascinating summer reading. But unlike most beach novels, this saga is anything but predictable.

In the latest plot twist, Ecometry’s proposed merger with Syngistix, a software firm in Englewood, CO, fell through on May 31. SG Merger Corp., headed by Smith-Gardner founders Will Smith and Allan Gardner, has since purchased Ecometry for $2.70 a share. But Ecometry still faces having to help its Retail Enterprise system (MACS) users transition to a new platform. Last November, Hewlett-Packard announced that after the year 2006, it would no longer support the HP 3000, which runs the MACS catalog management system.

That leaves a few hundred users — including such catalog heavyweights as Coldwater Creek, Frontgate, and Brookstone — with the choice of running Ecometry’s automated tools to convert to an open platform, buying a new system from another vendor (not cheap at $100,000 to $200,000), or working with vendors who support the HP 3000.

If you decide to stick with the HP 3000, there are plenty of small companies that will service the system, such as Higher Experience, based in Delray Beach, FL, and Marketing Concepts, located in Spicer, MN.

Ecometry’s migration tools will automatically convert customer data from the HP 3000 to the Oracle database running either the NT or UNIX open platforms. The migration tools will allow customers to run those two systems (both the HP 3000 and the new open platform) simultaneously. Thus, the retailer learns how to operate in the new environment while still doing all business transactions in the MPE (multi-programming executive [HP 3000]) environment.

Dollars and cents

As with most capital expenditures, conversion charges will vary depending on the size of the operation. “There’s going to be a very minor conversion cost,” says Ecometry president John Marrah, “as well as a cost associated with renting the migration tools on a monthly basis.” Hardware acquisition costs can be as low as $5,000 to $10,000 on the NT side. However, if you’re a catalog company the size of Nordstrom, conversion can cost you more than $100,000.

Marrah points out that both the Unix and NT servers are less expensive than the MPE servers. “From a lifecycle standpoint, we believe that this can save customers money.”

But according to Tom Danner, president of Redmond, WA-based NewHaven Software, which sells the CMS Mail Order Wizard software solution to small and medium-sized catalog businesses, “the cost goes way beyond the replacement cost of the hardware and software. There are huge internal costs that never show up on anybody’s proposal.” [Ecometry subsidiary NewHaven Software was purchased by Danner's firm, BrodieWare Ltd., last November.]

Hurry up and wait

“If I were a customer, I’d be angry, but I’d have to think really hard about leaving the Ecometry package, because I already know it,” says Bill Kuipers, a partner in Spaide, Kuipers & Co, a consulting firm in Haskell, NJ. “The issue isn’t the hardware as much as the operating system. Replacing a hardware environment is less intrusive and shocking to the system than upgrading the software.”

Many Ecometry users take a wait-and-see approach. “We have plenty of time to come to a decision,” says Mike Muoio, president of Oshkosh, WI-based gifts marketer Miles Kimball. “We’ve never had a problem with the HP 3000 system.” A MACS client since 1992, Miles Kimball processes 3.5 million to 4 million transactions annually.

Most users echo Muoio’s sentiment, praising the HP 3000 for its ability to handle large numbers of transactions. “I’m more pleased with the system now than I ever have been,” says Steven Leveen, president of Boca Raton, FL-based writing tools cataloger Levenger, which was one of the first catalog mailers using the MACS system in 1991. “It’s been a real workhorse for us.”

Mark Del Franco is a reporter for Operations& Fulfillment. David Pluviose is Operations & Fulfillment‘s associate editor.