1997 Apr 02

Acquis AIMS
David M. Raab
DM News
April, 1997

The problem with the mainstream is it’s easier to drown there. When database marketers were a small community of specialists, they were largely ignored by senior corporate and technology managers. This wasn’t great for self-esteem but left marketers free to build systems tailored to their needs. Today, database marketing is touted as the Next Great Thing throughout the business community. The catch is that database marketing can only justify its newly exalted status by extending its reach to all corners of a company’s operation. This means that database marketing systems must meet a new set of more demanding requirements. Traditional database marketing systems often founder in these unfamiliar waters.

The critical challenge posed by company-wide database marketing is tightly integrating the database marketing system with direct customer contacts. Traditional database marketing was largely about generating lists for targeted direct mail and, maybe, outbound telemarketing. By contrast, the new systems are asked to guide conversations as they take place over the telephone, at a service desk, or on the Internet. This means they must hold complex instructions for handling different contingencies, must issue those instructions as a customer interaction is taking place, and must work through the normal operational systems used for customer contacts. This implies very sophisticated campaign management, near-continuous updates from operational systems, and compatible technology. Not surprisingly, a new set of systems has begun to appear with exactly those capabilities.

AIMS (Acquis, 331-42-66-54-38) provides sophisticated, event-driven campaign management in a relational database environment. The product’s developers, based in Paris, France, had previously worked for Third Wave Network on its pioneering MIND product–arguably the first of this class of enterprise-wide database marketing systems. But MIND assumed the user would build a conventional marketing database that existed apart from a firm’s operational systems, while AIMS can work directly on the operational systems’ databases. MIND (which is now owned by Admiral Customer Solutions and is still being sold) also relied on external call center software, while AIMS provides its own contact management system.

AIMS will work on any data structure so long as there is a unique ID assigned to each customer. Data preparation and consolidation are done outside of the system, either at a service bureau or in a company’s own data center. The available data is defined to AIMS through a “metadata” manager that defines each element, indicates where it is stored, and controls how it is used throughout the system. Users access data through views that define which elements are available, how they are related, and whether the user can make changes.

The system has a point-and-shoot query builder that is reasonably powerful but does not allow complex formulas embedded directly within a query. Instead, users can write SQL code or call external calculation routines. When records are selected, they can be stored with a “snapshot” of data elements chosen by the user. This can store the original values permanently or update them with current information every time the set of records is used.

AIMS campaigns are defined as multi-line “scripts”. Each line can be associated with a specific population and marketing action. Lines can be linked to define a sequence of marketing actions that will apply to an individual. The user can also define the time interval between steps and schedule a script to execute automatically at specified intervals. The population assigned to a line can be defined by a query or as the subset of the population associated with a previous line. However, the campaign manager cannot directly limit the number of names selected per household or control the total number of promotions sent to an individual across campaigns.

Marketing actions can include sending materials, executing telemarketing scripts, posting direct mail responses, or calling an external program such as a SAS calculation or Microsoft Word mail merge. The actions draw on detailed catalogs of products, offers, scripts, surveys, promotional materials, and sales resources such as telemarketers or field sales people.

The system provides a contact management interface can be used by telemarketers or sales people to execute telephone scripts, record outcomes, and assign new actions. Responses are stored in tables maintained by AIMS and can also be posted directly to existing corporate systems. The system can be set up so that remote offices have their own copy of a subset of the database. These subsets are periodically sychronized with the central database.

AIMS provides detailed campaign reports, including sales and promotion costs for each action, broken down by response code and sales channel. The system automatically reports on sales of products associated with a campaign but can only measure responses by reading response codes placed on order records. When such codes are not captured along with the response, users can have the system create them by defining an appropriate query. The system can compare results for test, control and non-promoted segments.

There is a simple cross tab report, but otherwise users are expected to rely on third-party report writers. Complex calculations, statistical modeling, and mapping are also done outside of the system.

AIMS can work with any ODBC-compatible database and has existing installations in DB2, Oracle and Sybase. Workstations can run on Microsoft Windows 3.1, 95 or NT, while the central server can be any computer that will run the necessary database. There is no fixed data structure for the main database and AIMS will create its own tables for campaigns, scripts, products, sales resources and other entities.

Pricing for AIMS is based on the number of customer and prospect names in the database and on the number of user workstations. Charges range from $20,000 for 50,000 customers to $500,000 for five million customers. Workstations cost from $200 to $1,000 depending on type and quantity. Installation and training are additional and usually run $10,000 to $50,000.

Acquis was founded in 1994. AIMS now has ten installations, including large clients in banking, insurance and telecommunications. The system is sold in Europe by Acquis and in Asia through a strategic alliance with NCR.

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David M. Raab is a Principal at Raab Associates Inc., a consultancy specializing in marketing technology and analytics. He can be reached at draab@raabassociates.com.

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