Mixmasters find an alternative to all-in-one ERP software: Page 4

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Hybrid ER
Companies are leveraging strategic advantages from building hybrid ERP systems around packaged integrations.

The DataGate middleware system from Software Technology Corp. of Monrovia, Calif., sits at the center of the best-of-breed applications strategy helping to propel the fast-growing catalog retailer Genesis Direct Inc. of Secaucus, N.J.

Founded in 1996, Genesis took in $400 million last year, selling sports gear, gifts and collectibles, and children's products. It's driving toward a goal of $1 billion in sales by the new millennium. Not all of that growth will come through sales increases though. Genesis plans to continue its acquisition and consolidation strategy: acquire more nonstore retailers, and consolidate those retailers' operations into its 500-seat call center in Secaucus and its national distribution service in Memphis.

Genesis' CIO Dominic DiMascia set out to assemble an integrated enterprise information system that put best-of-breed functionality ahead of single-source compatibility.
Centralization lets Genesis drive down costs through economies of scale. But it demands the support of information systems that are both very capable and flexible enough to absorb the burgeoning growth of the company, says CIO Dominic DiMascia. Therefore, when he joined the company as its 19th hire (Genesis now employs more than 1,600), he set out to assemble an integrated enterprise information system that put best-of-breed functionality ahead of single-source compatibility.

"We wanted to find and implement the best software for a given need. We didn't want the technology to drive our decisions," DiMascia says.

The two key elements of the system are separate applications for catalog management and warehouse management: the Mailorder and Cataloging System (MACS) from Smith Gardner and Associates of Boca Raton, Fla., running on an HP 3000 server, and PKMS from Atlanta-based Manhattan Associates, on an IBM AS/400. Six other elements round out the hybrid package, including a financial-management system from Lawson Software of Minneapolis.

To make that level of choice possible, Genesis sank about $6 million into its DataGate integration to join the various modules, including software, hardware, and consulting. Development and implementation ran about 20 months. DiMascia's IT staff of nearly 70 people uses STC's DataGate to create communication sockets that plug into each application. That's a programming job, using the C++ language. Additionally, IT business analysts set up data maps, repositioning and reconfiguring information exiting one system so that it will be in the appropriate places to be recognized by the receiving system.

"It's not just one-to-one record mapping," DiMascia says. "We can also split transactions. We can take, say, a ship-confirmation record coming up from the warehouse, and [while] we're sending it through DataGate to the catalog management system, we can push a sales record up into general ledger."

For more information

See, "Mixmasters find an alternative to all-in-one ERP software," for more information.

Using another middleware feature, the warehouse-management system constantly monitors a data queue within the catalog management application, ready to pick up credit-card-authorized orders that it can begin filling on the spot. Thus, for some sales at least, Genesis cycles from order entry to fulfillment practically instantaneously--a big benefit in mid-December, when order banks typically log $3 million daily. During the holiday rush, DataGate clears as many as 1.75 million transactions a day, DiMascia says. //

Jeffrey Zygmont writes about business and technology from Salem, N.H. He can be reached at jzygmont@concentric.net.

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