Review of the Trilogy Commerce Manager Software by Ernie Schell

Ernie Schell (ernie@schell.com) is President of Marketing Systems Analysis, Inc. a US-based consulting firm (001-215-396-0660) and author of The Guide to Catalogue Management Software (US and UK Editions).

Originally published in October 2004 and reproduced with the kind permission of Catalogue & e-Business

TRILOGY SCORES A HAT-TRICK

Numerologists love the number three. It certainly gets around. In sports, when a player scores three goals in the same game, it’s known as a ‘hat trick.’ And that’s exactly what we have with Trilogy Commerce Manager, whose name itself hints at its three-part success story.

Part One: once upon a time, this was a well-designed order management system written for booksellers.

Part Two: evolving to meet a wider range of user needs, the system broadened its functionality to include virtually any direct merchant, and did so with panache.

Part Three: the system hit the big time, was acquired by The Trilogy Group (a multinational technology provider) and became recognized by Microsoft as a leading global solutions partner.

Third time lucky, as they say.

Current Technology

Written in Visual Basic on Microsoft’s SQL/Server database, TCM’s new interface is written in .Net for thin client presentation. The GUI interface is mouse-friendly but can be totally keyboard-driven if you wish.

Scalability is no problem with TCM. Trilogy is maintaining a database of four million customers and prospects for one user. The system can handle up to 500 orders per hour per agent.

There are also some impressive ‘bells and whistles.’ For instance, the system offers a very robust multi-tier campaign management module, with fully automated business rules. You can set up campaigns by dates, costs, target responses, sizes of adverts, colours, media, products promoted, premiums, lists (with rental prices), and forecast take. There is also a ‘Deal Wizard’ with branched decisions. If there are multiple deals on offer, the system automatically finds the one with the best price. P&P can be by campaign or by country.

The piece de resistance in Trilogy is a remarkable and impressive ‘Formula Editor’ for managing user-defined business rules which result in parameterised ‘frameworks’ that eliminate the need for a lot of bespoke code to ‘customise’ the system. This alone would put Trilogy in the top class of direct commerce solutions, but there are other strengths, as well.

TCM has its own Sales Ledger, but can also be integrated with Great Plains Business Solutions, Sage Accounts, or Access Accounts.

Order Management

Customer Services (i.e., order entry and customer service) opens with a ‘Bulletin Board’ of reminders in the user’s ‘Action Diary.’  You can set reminders for yourself or for others. There are different, user-configurable interfaces for Mail Order Entry, Telephone Order Entry, and Trade Order Entry.

Kits can be pre-built or built to order, with the quantity of the kit equal to the least available component. You have the option of whether kit components print on the packing slip or not.

Gift notes are available per line, with gift despatch dates available by the line, as well. As with any future ship dates, you have user-definable rules for when to allocate stock (based on item lead time).

TCM lets you track Loyalty Points earned and redeemed for each customer. Given its roots, it is no surprise that TCM also lets you manage book club promotions and fulfilment, along with subscriptions and continuities.

TCM has a very strong size and colour matrix management. In fact an item can have an unlimited number of sizes or ‘dimensions.’

Item personalisation is adequate, supporting charges for specified personalisation styles or by the line or the character. But you cannot set up ‘templates’ to manage the process in a ‘wysiwyg’ format.

Gift messaging is flexible and free-form, and has a library of personalised standard messages, but does not include spell-checking and does not support the automatic replication of the same message to multiple despatch addresses.

Discounts (with a start and end date) are triggered by quantity, customer type, customer number, or catalogue code, but not by list code or customer purchase history. Moreover, on multiple discounts the system will automatically apply the one that offers the customer the best price.

Premiums and free gifts are managed in the ‘Deal Wizard,’ but there is no support for deferred or installment billing, and no flag for assembled kits to despatch complete. You can display number of customer returns during order entry or customer service, but not average order value.

Prompts are a mixed bag: you can set up separate prompts for consumers and trade customers (or manage these in different ‘frameworks’) for instance, but you cannot trigger prompts by source code, key code, or catalogue code. There is also no branched scripts for order entry prompts.

Stock Management

The system supports multiple warehouses, with one-step transfers within a warehouse and two-step transfers between warehouses. There is a three-level hierarchical structure for all inventory, based on the system’s book origins where ‘subject,’ ‘category,’ and ‘sub-category’ were the driving elements.

The system has a materials processing workflow tool to manage product finishing (or assembly or packaging), with a Gantt chart function to track the status of each item batch or process. You can also attach charges and costs to these steps.

For trade customers you can have contract pricing or formula (discount) pricing.

Inventory valuations are at ‘current cost’ or ‘average cost.’ At receiving, you have the option to confirm that the item is booked in at the agreed cost price, or to create a new FIFO accounting ‘cost bucket.’

The system supports four price columns, or pricing by formula, such as wholesale plus a mark-up percentage or value. There is support for contract pricing (by customer number). And you can set future prices that take effect (and expire) at user-specified dates.

Trilogy supports multiple suppliers per item, multiple warehouses, and multiple primary picking locations in each warehouse. This is convenient for a lot of reasons. For one, you can have a ‘fast mover’ section where you pick all orders that contain only fast-moving items, plus a standard picking location for orders that include non-fast-movers (this can do wonders for fulfilment efficiency in peak order season).

You can handle royalties on products, with multiple payees. In fact, there is a comprehensive Editorial Rights and Royalties module.

On the other hand, there are no productivity reports for warehouse activity. It wouldn’t be that difficult to have them customised, but they are not standard.

TCM manages rental of products by serial number. If the items don’t come with serial numbers, the system can generate them for you.

The system supports very rich stock data, with the ability to build lists of data and flag specific items to prompt customers in the call centre or on the Web (for allergy warnings on ingredients, for example).

There are robust supply chain management functions in TCM, including a full roster of bona fide EDI protocols for communicating with your suppliers (purchase orders, acknowledgments, delivery notes, etc.).

There are some interesting default settings: for instance, you can designate that a particular client’s sales orders should always be treated as ‘RUSH’ orders. Or you can set customer despatch preferences regarding back orders (and at what percent-complete, e.g., never more than half the items) and whether a draft invoice should be included in the despatch carton.

Surprisingly, however, there is no support for cycle counting.

An usual feature among order management systems is support for content management to track which content (text, data, images) is used where (catalogue, advert, Web page), who has permission to assign it, and who did the assignment. You can also use the content management tool to automatically export stock data and images to a desktop publishing program, with all the latest pricing and sales copy.

Fulfilment

You can manage picking confirmation at the packing station (with a ‘blind’ quantity, requiring counting or wanding of each item instead of simply confirming the display of quantity ordered). You also have the option to print despatch notes and despatch labels at the packing station, so that you can print the notes to indicate the exact contents of each carton. Despatch labels include a bar code of the delivery address.

However, you cannot designate all back-ordered items on a customer’s order to despatch-complete. And fulfilment methods do not include consolidated/trolley order picking, nor is there support for zone or wave picking.

Database Marketing

Any proper database marketing platform requires a data warehouse, and lo and behold, Trilogy has one, with support for cross-tabs and pivot tables. In addition, the program is designed to work with Business Objects, a world class data query and analysis tool. The system also supports a virtually limitless set of profile fields for each customer.

When it comes time to generate a promotion list, selections can be shown with counts on up to 20 criteria. You can assign key codes and a promotion keyword. However, you cannot select customers by order method or method of payment.
You can identify possible duplicates in the customer housefile, and there is a merge/purge function to dedupe the file and combine the customer histories of duplicate records. You can also use this function to eliminate duplicates on imported prospect lists.

Multinational

With multi-currency, multi-language functionality, Trilogy supports sales to customers outside the UK. In fact, if you are thinking of doing business in the US, Trilogy may be of service there, too. They are installing TCM at a direct marketing company in Maryland in the US, which will be taking advantage of its continuity, production scheduling, and item rental functionality. The US version includes state and local sales tax management capabilities.

In Sum

Trilogy certainly has a lot going for it, and is reasonably priced. A typical 10 concurrent user system would be £8,000 – £15,500; a typical 20 concurrent user system would run £14,000 – £25,500, depending on modules installed.

A ‘hat trick’ can win a game, but a game does not a season make. Trilogy still has a bit of growing to do to be the league champion. The prospects look good; this is a young athlete with a lot of potential. What you get today is solidly built and exceptional value for money, what you will get in the future will be based on a very strong foundation indeed.

Best of all, with its legacy background Trilogy already has 90 installs! So this is a well-tested solution, with a track record to prove that it is ‘going for the gold.’

Ernie Schell

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