Portal overhaul helps Future Electronics turbocharge online selling

A major revamp of its e-commerce portal enables Future Electronics to improve search capabilities and increase ten-fold the number of product items it can feature online, the Montreal-based firm reported this week.

Future Electronics is a global distributor of electronic components.

The firm’s portal was initially set up to handle 500,000 parts online, and its IT architecture incorporated a customized Java-based application to organize the e-catalogue contents. Product item data was retained in an Oracle database running on Unix eight-way servers.

However, as the company grew, it faced a “technology bottleneck” as the old configuration couldn’t scale to support product items beyond 500,000, said Bob Seney, solutions architect, Future Electronics.

To meet customer demand, he said, the company decided to migrate to a “live, ready-to-sell inventory of some five million parts, with 24-hour access to product information.” But this transition required a complete refresh of Future Electronics’ IT environment, he added. Specifically, the firm updated its back office using Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000.

The technology – based on the Microsoft .NET framework – enables Future Electronics to develop an online catalogue for searchable components and enhance its online presence, said David McJannet, senior product manager, e-business, for Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co.

The portal was developed with the help of IT integrator Avanade Inc., said Robert Lapointe, vice-president, information technology, Future Electronics. After a review of available options, which included a proof-of-concept testing phase, the firm selected Microsoft Commerce Server 2002 to rebuild the e-commerce portal.

An e-business portal such as this one is typically suited for retail organizations and financial institutions, McJannet said.

The upgrade, Lapointe said, allows Future Electronics to offer an improved online technical index that allows customers to search items citing specific technical attributes. In addition, the number of parts that can potentially be catalogued online has increased from 500,000 to five million, he added.

He said in future the company will be able to sell in much smaller units. “When you’re franchised for five million parts, it’s hard to explain to your supplier why his parts are not on your catalogue.”

Implementing the new system not only provides a competitive advantage, it also serves to reduce inventory costs, Lapointe said.

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