Overcoming the Multi-channel "Nightmare"

Flow Systems offers solutions to help retailers, distributors plan and execute promotions across channels

Longueuil, Canada — June 16, 2003 Software company Flow Systems has released a new solution designed to help retailers and distributors plan and execute promotions across multiple channels, including electronic and print, while maintaining consistent product data.

Flow Systems, a division of Mediagrif Interactive Technologies, has set for itself the mission of tying together a complete product information management (PIM) system with a publishing platform that allows for the reuse of product content.

The provider is attempting to address the challenges facing enterprises coping with managing product information across multiple channels, including the traditional print channel and new electronic channels such as e-mail, e-catalogs and e-marketplaces.

"With the multiplicity of these channels, synchronizing product and pricing information across channels has become a nightmare," said Martin Le Sauteur, CEO of Flow Systems. "The current level of technology in the marketing and merchandizing department is Excel. Sometimes they'll have a FileMaker database that somebody set up for them. But I think the last big step in technology was made by 3M supplying them with giant Post-Its that they can move around on the wall."

The provider said that its Promo Connect 2.0 works with the provider's flagship PIM solution, Content Factory 5.0, also available in production with new features this month. The two solutions together are intended to enable marketing organizations to rapidly execute promotions more cost effectively.

Promo Connect uses a graphical user interface that lets merchandisers create such promotions as print flyers and e-flyers in a paperless environment. The solution lets a retailer's staff pull information from the PIM system for incorporation into the promotions, ensuring that the most up-to-date information finds its way into flyers and other collateral. At the same time, the solution allows for the development of promotions for multiple regions and multiple price zones in multiple languages and currencies.

Other features of Promo Connect include the automatic recreation of custom page layouts in QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign, as well as reporting features that allow for profit-per-page analysis, square-inch analysis and vendor co-op reporting.

Content Factory allows an enterprise to centralize the management of product-related content, including rich multimedia and international data, so that users both within the company and at trading partners can access up-to-date product information. The solution helps ensure that product information is universally consistent, no matter which marketing channel is used, a major challenge for companies operating multiple PIM systems.

In fact, a recent survey showed that 65 percent of companies have more than six systems to maintain product information, and more than 20 percent are running more than 10 such systems. "Maintaining these systems is costly in terms of hardware, software and human resources," Le Sauteur said.

Le Sauteur noted that the Flow Systems solution is agnostic with regard to where the product data comes from, whether it be another PIM system, like a Trigo solution, or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. "You can import your item-level data or synchronize it with our system and then make it ready for publishing," Le Sauteur said.

New features of version 5.0 include a new Media Management module to centrally manage digital assets, such as product pictures, data sheets, video files and warranty documentation. An improved Workflow Management module allows product content creators and users to collaborate and share information in a paperless environment.

In addition, version 5.0 provides access to such new merchandising features as product cross-referencing, support for special characters, text formatting and complex table design.

Flow Systems also offers a solution called Web Connect, for building a Web catalog based on the data in Content Factory, as well as Print Connect, for publishing major, "industrial-strength" catalogs, and Business Connect, for automating the syndication of information to an e-catalog, as for an e-procurement catalog or an e-marketplace.

Flow Systems' customers include such companies as Boise, Hagemeyer, 3M, Snap-on and Corporate Express, among others. Corporate Express, for one, has reported that it has used the Flow Systems solution to reduce the time it takes to produce the first proof of a flyer. Previously that process took seven weeks for a single flyer. After implementing the solution, the company was able to produce proofs for two month's flyers in just two days.

Content Factory licenses for $150,000, while the Promo Connect module licenses for $100,000, as does Web Connect. Print Connect and Business Connect license for $50,000 each. Le Sauteur said that Flow Systems' typical deal size is about $500,000.