Simware won race to build The Brick

The Brick chain of furniture stores needed to implement a Web-based extranet, and it needed to do it quickly.

Dave Upright, vice-president of information services for The Brick at the company’s headquarters in Edmonton, said the store’s no-interest, do-not-pay-until-next-year sales were conducted by selling the approved loan agreements to a third-party lender. Salespeople would enter credit information into “pretty nasty” looking 3270 terminals in the store, Upright said, that linked through a gateway to the lender’s mainframe.

The decision to bring in a second primary lender in October 1998 put the company in a box, Upright said.

“The box was that the salesman would not be allowed to decide which lender he was going to send the application to. The system had to decide that for him. And we were only going to teach the salesman one user interface, and of course each lender’s system was totally different. One of them was four screens to fill out a credit application, the other was three screens.”

The decision was made that one Web-based user interface would have to be built over the two systems that would also capture the valuable customer demographic data for The Brick’s own use. This new interface had to be created without any changes being made to either lender’s system, because both lenders were mired in their own year 2000 projects and could not spare any efforts for changing their extranet links, Upright said.

“And here’s the other wrinkle: we were going to bring in the second lender in a month,” Upright said.

“I brought in two web-to-mainframe companies and I said, ‘You have one week to show me how far you can get with the existing lender.’ And Simware with Salvo got it done in two-and-a-half days, so they won the deal to do the integration with both lenders.”

Simware is a Canadian extranet vendor headquartered in Ottawa. Salvo is an application development and deployment environment for building extranets. Upright said he is very happy with what has been built in Salvo for The Brick.

“What we have now is a Web page that the salesman fills in and pushes a ‘submit’ button. The system decides which lender it’s going to go to, communicates with that lender, paddles through their nasty 3270 interface with all of the information the salesman has keyed in, comes back with an answer and presents it to him.”

Most of the salespeople training was done over the phone because of the simplicity of the interface, Upright said.

Even though the concept of bringing in two companies to race for the contract was done because of the particular time constraints of this situation, Upright said he’d be tempted to do it that way in the future because of the benefits. He said although both companies had to be paid for their efforts, the end result was cheaper over all because there were no padded estimates.

“In this case, we got to pay time and materials to a guy who had it finished in two-and-a-half days. Normally they would never say less than a week to do anything…It came out to a week with both of them, and in that week we probably got three weeks’ worth of work from both of them because they were in a competitive situation.”

Furthermore, Upright said the system paid for itself in a matter of days because the credit approval rates went up due to competition between the lenders and that meant a huge payback in the Christmas shopping season.