List Execs Look to Replace Calls, Faxes With Web-Based Solutions

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The telephone, fax machine and e-mail likely will remain crucial tools for the list industry, but several list professionals are exploring ways to use technology better to simplify everyday tasks.


One such effort is DMexchange, an online list order information exchange system launched March 9 by American List Counsel and Millard Group Inc. The site, at dmexchange.com, aims to create a central location for list companies and service bureaus to trade information such as list order approval status and shipping data online instead of by telephone and fax.


Independent technology provider Generative Methods Inc. worked with ALC and Millard to develop the site.


"You can connect to the portal or site using either a [file transfer protocol] client, which is a software program, or your own custom program," said Jason Rembert, chief technology officer at ALC, Princeton, NJ. "It's a fairly simple way to transfer files, and I would say it's the industry standard. There is also a Web interface for uploading and downloading."


Information exchanged on the system includes order receipt, status and shipping, but the goal is to add order transmission and other data elements. GMi maintains and operates the site to ensure confidentiality of member data.


"It is a secured Web site with VeriSign certifications, so when you log on you will see the lock icon on the bottom right," said Larry Key, vice president of information technology/chief information officer at Millard, Peterborough, NH.


No personal information is transferred, Key said.


"We are not in any way advocating that we will ever transmit a mailing list to the Web site," he said.


Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT, also signed on as a participant of DMexchange, Key said, and two or three other companies expressed interest. Already, users say they are saving time and money.


"Most everything that companies exchange today is sent via fax, which requires phone calls to follow up and make sure they are received," Rembert said. "Not only do you have the cost of the fax and the cost of the paper, but you have the phone call and the time of the person who has to make it."


Even so, Key and Rembert said the eventual transmission of orders through the system would be tougher. They cited an industry initiative to implement electronic data interchange, or EDI, in the mid-1990s as highlighting the difficulty of standardizing order formats. EDI never really caught on because of its inherent problems.


"One [problem] is the complexity and the lack of flexibility," Rembert said. "The past efforts have tried to standardize the data that is shared between the companies like how things are formatted and what you call certain things like selects."


Rembert said DMexchange would not try to standardize all the information shared between companies because data standards would not work for the many list firms with old, inflexible legacy back-end order entry and accounting systems.


Tiered pricing for DMexchange ranges from $195 monthly to $595 monthly based on use.


While earlier EDI initiatives took a standardized approach, one proponent said his offering is different. Richard A. Lepoutre, who founded Statlistics and list software development firm Statware in 1983, has been testing dmEDI, a branded, trademarked product designed for the list industry, since last year with several list firms and service bureaus. The site is at www.dmedi.com. He also was involved in a list industry EDI initiative in the '90s.


In 2000, Lepoutre sold his stake in Statlistics to focus on Statware, which offers two key products to the list industry. PowerLIST is for order entry, invoicing, accounting and reporting while PowerCARD is a data card research tool. DmEDI is a Web-based technology that would let list brokers, managers and service bureaus communicate and transfer orders, invoices and documents directly in and out of a reciprocating "trading partner" system.


"DmEDI is not a static system and fixed solution," he said. "What we have in effect done is leverage the commonality between all the players into digital documents that are the direct analogs of the current paper 'real world' documents. We baked enough flexibility into dmEDI to be able to tweak the solution to anybody's legacy system."


In February, Statware released a dmEDI implementation guide for the industry.


Despite the innovations, at least one professional said systems like DMexchange and dmEDI are unnecessary for companies that maintain their own order status data online.


"Worldata has had an online job tracker for the last two to three years that companies don't have to pay to use," said Roy Schwedelson, CEO of Worldata, Boca Raton, FL. "There are 2,300 different companies in this country that view themselves as part of the list community, and they can go in 24/7 to check their order and shipping status."


Worldata accepts list orders online through FTP, Adobe Acrobat and e-mail, Schwedelson said, adding that there also is the issue of the companies that don't join DMexchange or dmEDI.


"If you still do business with the firms that don't join, you create internally two avenues instead of one, which slows down the process and adds cost," he said.


Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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