Data Directions: Datacasting: A New Way to Get the Word Out

So you’ve upgraded your system to be Year 2000 compliant. Yet you still have not really changed the way you do things. Orders come in the same way. Maybe more is coming in via EDI. You are talking about using the Internet, but a “shopping cart” just does not seem to fit your industry.

The Internet provides new ways of doing activities that we have been doing for years. It is very good at sending out data, OK at bringing data back, and getting better at integrating with our organization. With all the data (reports) we produce in our companies, there must be a better way to do it.

I was looking for a new truck so naturally, I decided to use the Internet to get information and price comparisons. What I found was a lot of data and basically the same pricing structures everywhere. There were some very nice sites where a lot of information was given, some that compared features among different models and makes.

On one site, you had the ability to buy online. They would hook you up with a local dealership. But the way they did it was to put your selection (the truck) into a shopping cart! Now I know that all the simple e-commerce tools use the shopping cart metaphor, but maybe the designers could have changed the term to “Store Your Selection” or “Save Current Model,” almost anything but “Place in Shopping Cart”. The image of a truck being picked up and put into a shopping cart like at the local supermarket just doesn’t fit. I certainly was not going to pick it up and put it in the cart. Besides, I have a problem thinking of anything that expensive in a simple cart.

Anyway, it got me to thinking of the various ways we are using this “new” technology medium and how it could drastically help companies who need to move data around. For the most part, the Internet is being touted as a way to present data to your customers, e-mail notes, and hopefully take orders (I am skipping the games, sex and the Starr Report).

Every company I deal with has dozens, if not hundreds of reports that are used to review what is happening in the business. Getting these reports to remote sites, offices or employees is expensive, slow and usually overkill. Overkill, in that every time I do a study of who uses what report, the bulk of the reports fall into the “I don’t really use it, but it’s nice to have” category.

But now, there are tools that are designed to reformat the data in ways that most users are not accustomed to, but can be much more effective, particularly when it comes to analysis and comparisons. It does not make sense to take an invoice register and deliver it graphically, but it makes tremendous sense to take last month’s comparison to last year and present that graphically. Or to take data from different sources and combine them into a single report for a graph that can be used to spot trends or make other decisions.

Datacasting is a new term to cover the technology of pushing data to users (consumers) via electronic means (normally the Internet). With a little effort, you can take the reporting data that you have been wrestling with over the years, and put it into a format where it can be sent over the Internet to those who need it. Don’t worry too much, there are lots of ways to secure it today. The important thing is, rather than using an overnight service to transfer physical reports, you can do it electronically. And do it directly from the data on your AS/400.

With a little imagination, you can also change the format to use something more useful. Most of the data warehouse tools have facilities to send this data over the Internet to your sales reps or other users who need it. They can then store this data locally on their PC for their own review and analysis.

The key here is that we have all heard of and used the Internet. Most of us are looking at new things we can do with it. Maybe, rather than just look for new capabilities, we could take existing functions and do them better.

John Bussert is president of Swift Technologies (Marengo, Ill.), a company specializing in AS/400 and Windows NT software.