Operations and Management: Systems Then and Now

The catalog management software (CMS) systems on the market in the early 1980s were outgrowths of systems that catalogers had written inhouse or contracted to be written specifically for their company. Most of the 15 or so “enterprise”-level systems were on mid-range platforms such as the IBM System 34/36/38 (later the AS/400 and now the iSeries) and the HP-3000. There were one or two mainframe systems, as well as a handful of entry-level PC systems that typically lacked most warehouse and many inventory management functions.

But innovation was rampant, and many things we now take for granted were in their pioneer phase: computer telephony integration for automatic number identification (ANI) “screen pops”; automatic credit-card batch processing; real-time customer service; merchandise forecasting; and database analysis.

Cataloging helped usher into practice many of today’s commonplace business functions: customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), business intelligence (BI), data marts, statistical analysis of customer behavior, and integrated Internet order processing, to name a few.

But most catalogers today have been blind-sided by the Internet and multichannel systems options. And few systems vendors have upgraded their offerings to take advantage of Web-based technologies. The few newcomers on the vendor scene, using mostly 1990s technology (as opposed to 1970s tech), generally don’t have all the bells and whistles that the mature systems have.

We will likely stay in this “molting” phase for three more years. By then, state-of-the-art systems technology choices could be less risky, and the new generation of marketers will have enough experience to renew the pioneer spirit and tackle new creative challenges.

Ernie Schell is president of Marketing Systems Analysis, a systems consultancy based in Southampton, PA.

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