Two Programs Make Use of Web and Warehouse
First, there's a peak of excitement when the technology is introduced, followed by a valley of disillusionment when initial expectations are not reached immediately and then a steady rebound as real-world implementations finally appear.
The two Big Things in technology today are on opposite sides of the middle valley: the Internet is just coming off the initial high of excitement, while data warehousing is regaining credibility after a period of disillusionment. The Next Big Thing, knowledge management, still is climbing its first wave of enthusiasm.
Because database marketing systems are part of mainstream information technology, they also participate in the industry's larger trends. Here are two systems that implement marketing databases through Web and warehouse:
Relationship Management System (RMS) (MarketVision, 303/755-1181, email@example.com)is designed to work within the now-standard model of a "corporate information architecture" that includes operational systems, data warehouse, analytical data marts and an intermediate entity called an operational data store (ODS).
The ODS contains unified data from all operational systems. Unlike a data warehouse, it is limited to current data only and can be updated by end users. This mix of operational and warehouse functions resembles a typical database marketing system. As a result, it takes much less additional work to provide full database marketing functionality where an ODS is present.
RMS provides access tools to use data warehouses, marts and ODSs for marketing purposes. The databases themselves may be constructed by the vendor or someone else. RMS relies on a central catalog of "metadata" to store the location of all the different data elements available. This allows marketing processes, such as queries and selections, to find the appropriate data elements regardless of where they reside.
In practical terms, this means that a query can mix summary data from an analytical system with detailed data from a operational system, without the user being aware of the difference.
The system supports a "network" data model that makes visible all the relationships among individuals and companies. For example, one company may be a customer, distributor, supplier and reference site to another. This is especially important in business-to-business and marketing through dealers.
The functionality of the access tools is quite strong. Users can generate complex queries that create multiple, deduplicated file segments. These can be loaded into a campaign manager, where they can be further split into random samples or on specific variables such as sales territory.
Segments can be assigned source codes, multiple output formats and additional attributes, including text messages for telemarketing. The system automatically maintains the promotion history of each individual.
RMS also provides an online contact management module, which lets telemarketers and field sales people make direct entries into the underlying marketing database and set callback dates. It does not include advanced functions, such as scripting or computer-telephone integration. Reporting is done with third-party software.
The product runs on Windows, Macintosh and Sun workstations and Windows NT and Unix servers. Prices start at $300,000 and can be higher if extensive database development is needed. RMS was released in 1994 and currently has four installations.
Gravity (TPC, 781/270-5100)provides Internet access to a database marketing system, allowing a range of users to enter and retrieve information without a usual network connection.
Web access turns out to be fairly difficult, because standard database software expects a continuous session with each user, while Internet communications are inherently discontinuous or "stateless." TPC has solved the problem by not executing queries against the underlying relational database.
Instead, the system tracks the user's session and runs queries against a set of bitmap indexes. This provides fast response -- usually a few seconds -- although it limits queries to fields with existing indexes and does not allow complex ad hoc queries or calculations.
Complex queries can be embedded in custom indexes if they are known in advance or done with conventional query tools if a user can make a non-Internet connection to the underlying database.
The query interface presents a form with check boxes, radio buttons and drop-down lists, similar to other Web forms that are filled out and then submitted.
After a query is executed, the system can find the related records in the underlying relational database and display them for browsing or do simple cross tab and frequency reports.
The campaign manager can assign codes to records as they are extracted, do Nth and random selections, limit selections to a specified quantity and store detailed information at the program, campaign, activity and cell levels.
Multisegment, deduplicated selects and multistep branching promotions currently require custom programming, although the vendor is adding these as standard capabilities. A set of custom-built standard reports is delivered with each system. Reports include cross tabs and some graphics. Calculations, mapping and modeling are done outside the system with third-party tools.
The system provides simple contact management screens, although it is not designed for large-volume data entry. Users can take notes, view a customer's history and schedule future contacts. The vendor plans to add the ability to present users with sales scripts that are personalized for the individual being addressed.
Gravity also provides common Web functions such as discussion groups, online reference materials, and combination of text with audio. Users can be presented with different sets of screens, data elements and functions depending on their responsibilities.
Gravity runs on Windows NT or Unix servers and with any standard Web browser. The underlying data can be stored in any standard relational database.
Each Gravity installation is highly customized, using the base system as a template. Pricing depends on the amount of development required and is usually $100,000 to $200,000, not including creation of the underlying marketing database. The vendor is considering a lower price for customers who wish to purchase the base system by itself.
The initial version of Gravity was introduced in 1995. It currently has four installations.
David M. Raab is a consultant specializing in marketing database analysis and evaluation. He is based near Philadelphia.