REVIEWER: Terry Wolvert, partner for Digitalrep, LLC.

BACKGROUND: Digitalrep, LLC provides beverage retailers, wholesalers and suppliers with schematic development, retail sales analysis tools and comprehensive image databases. Digitalrep's enterprise software solutions enhance companies' retail space allocation, sales forecasting decisions and provide methodologies for collaboration within the value chain. Consequently, a major component of the company's business strategy is to aggregate large volumes of data for decision analysis efforts.

PLATFORMS: Digitalrep is running our entire business on Compaq ProLiant servers with NT Server 2000 and NT 4.0.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Our goal was to be able to analyze weekly distribution data of retail beverage sales to allow the company to build accurate decision models for each of its clients. On a weekly basis, we must convert 84,000 delimited files from an FTP site and convert scan data (such as UPC, price cost and movement) to an OLAP cube. The data size ranges from 80 to 200MB per week and must be grouped by week, store and SKU. The data, in string format, must then be aggregated and transformed to an SQL OLAP database through an OTP link. We wanted to find an integration solution that could handle this type of data transformation without requiring a long time to implement.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Syncx from Commerce- Route was not only able to handle the initial task for which it was purchased, but we plan to use the appliance for additional projects including aggregating multiple vendor data streams and integrating with POS databases.

STRENGTHS: The major strengths of the Syncx appliance are its low cost and quick time to implement. Once the appliance was installed (a few hours), it took only one day to begin automating the data interchange operation.

WEAKNESSES: The main weakness of the Syncx appliance is its difficulty accessing legacy data.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The main considerations in choosing the Syncx appliance were its low cost and quick time to implement. Prior to the Syncx appliance, we spent approximately $75,000 on a custom visual basic program that transformed, aggregated and loaded beverage data to the SQL database. However, at only $34,999, we expect to recover our investment in Syncx during the first month of use.

DELIVERABLES: The Digitalrep retail customers compile weekly reports that are key to the decisions we make for the way a store is merchandised. Two primary reports are electronically distributed to our FTP site at the end of each week. The first report, AUTHORIZATION, tells us what items are authorized to sell for that week from a particular store. The report also tells us the current price, whether an item is an advertised special and what items may have been discontinued. Secondly, the POINT OF SALE report tells us what UPC's are sold in a given store for that same week. Price, cost, profit, movement and categories are measurements that we use to determine what products we will recommend for a particular store or geographic area. The AUTHORIZATION list and the POS reports are store specific. Additionally, the reports that we received cover four separate divisions, or about 250 stores. The data streams available to Digitalrep total 100+MB/week, and at any point the source layout of this data can change. It was the constant change of the way the data was sent to us that drove us to find a flexible solution. Instead of relying on an application developer, we used our internal support staff to intelligently map the changes as the source layout files evolved. With the CommerceRoute products mapped directly into our backend SQL databases, we are able to report consolidated sales information by UPC, name, category, etc., for all beer and wine sales of 250 stores. This is done with a high degree of accuracy and little human capital investment. Our Web tools provide real-time updates for our clients who use this data to make key business decisions.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Vendor support was the highlight of our experience. The Commerce-Route team was not only knowledgeable about their own product features, but they also understood and provided a wealth of information about the optimal way to design our database. Their broad experience with other client installations helped to reduce the amount of time we spent on the integration of the appliance.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is complete and easy to understand. The hard copy manual gives you a generic overview, but the real tool breadth comes from the online help and demonstrations. To date, I have not used the technical support organization.

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