Data Integration Project Helps Publishers Keep Newsstands Stocked - InformationWeek

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Data Integration Project Helps Publishers Keep Newsstands Stocked

Comag taps Composite Software to deliver time-sensitive reporting on magazine stocking and merchandising trends.

With advertising revenues off and subscription renewals lagging, the last thing publishers need these days is to miss out on potential sales. Services firm Comag Marketing Group has responded with faster reporting on newsstand stocking and merchandizing trends, giving its publisher clients time to react to consumer demand. The upgrade was part of a customer relationship management (CRM) system deployment; behind the scenes, data integration software made the difference.

A joint venture of Hearst Corporation and Condé Nast, Comag provides more than 25 publishers with two core services. First, it processes payments based on newsstand orders and returns information received from wholesalers, retailers and third-party service firms. Second, Comag's field force performs in-store shelf stocking and merchandising inspections in more than 140,000 retail locations, including newsstands in 47 airports. These "check and balance" inspections ensure that specific titles are in stock and properly displayed. Comag also collects funds from wholesalers, pays publishers and handles returns.

Until last year, Comag relied on an antiquated, Lotus Notes-based application to aggregate and report on field data, and information lagged behind data collection by as much as six weeks. In contrast, order, return and point-of-sale information was much more timely on the payment-processing side of the business, with Oracle Financials handling transactions in near-real-time and Business Objects reporting on trends against a data warehouse. By early 2008, Comag knew it would replace the Notes app as part of a Microsoft Dynamics 4.0 CRM deployment; the question was: How would it get information into the CRM system?

"We knew we had most of the information we needed in our back-office systems. But we didn't want to just dump that into the CRM system, because we'd then have the problem of making sure those two separate worlds would sync up," says Sean Poccia, Comag's senior director of Information Services.

Comag considered a homegrown approach as well as data integration options from Microsoft, Denodo Technologies, Oracle (and its acquired BEA AquaLogic software), Red Hat (and its acquired Meta Matrix software) and Composite Software. After a review that concluded in August 2008, the company settled on Composite Software.

"With Composite, we saw that we could take the information within Oracle Financials, Business Objects, our data warehouse and our legacy systems and expose it through Dynamics CRM using repeatable Web services without actually putting it into another SQL table," explains Poccia, adding that his lean, 27-member IT staff could ill afford the ongoing maintenance and synchronization challenges of batch-oriented integration.

The initial project was completed by January 2009. But the company then tacked on a 60-day project to add CRUD (create, read, update, delete) functionality exposed through a portal. "Our original intent was just back-office integration, but we expanded the use of Composite to give users the self-service capability to enter and update information," says Poccia, adding that data correction formerly required IT support.

The larger CRM project is still underway at Comag, but the Composite deployment has already yielded benefits beyond streamlined data integration. "The reports that we're now able to provide to publishers are the biggest win," Poccia explains. "We can produce reports the day after information is collected from the field with regard to the condition and stocking of magazines."

Reports are now typically available within one week rather than six weeks, so publishers of monthly and quarterly titles can resupply newsstands while those products are still within their on-sale dates. What's more, publishers can adjust initial orders to specific locations, relying on current information rather than two-month-old trending data. And that translates into more sales, higher profits and customers that are more likely to choose and stick with Comag services, Poccia concludes.

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