Big Interview Xtra: Andrew Morgan, President of Distribution Division, ECi

Exclusively for OPI digital and premium subscribers, more from our interview with ECi's Andrew Morgan.

OPI: The main platforms that you’re running with are Red Falcon and DDMS, is that correct?

Andrew Morgan: Yes on Red Falcon, and then yes on DDMS, but with DDMSPLUS, which is a new SQL version of DDMS. This is a complete rewrite of the software –  that will be a cloud version of DDMS –  we have been focused on over the past several years. We began converting dealers to DDMSPLUS about four months ago; however, we are doing this in a controlled manner at this point to make sure that all the bugs are ironed out. But to answer your question, Andy, there will be two go-forward business system platforms, DDMSPLUS and Red Falcon.

OPI: So, has that been a question of transitioning or trying to transition dealers over from Britannia, for example? How did you handle that?

AM: We’re doing the transitions and have been doing those for a little more than a year now. We’ve converted all but 20 dealers off the Britannia platform in the past 16 months, the majority of those to Red Falcon. We’ve also converted a handful to DDMS and/or DDMSPLUS. While there are always some challenges when you end-of-life a platform, we believe the transition has gone very well. We are doing it free of charge and we’re making sure that there’s a full data conversion so that dealers have history and the necessary data from their previous systems.

OPI: Are you moving everything onto the cloud? Is that the plan going forward?

AM: That is one of the main strategic initiatives. As you know, Red Cheetah pre-acquisition was built from the ground up as a cloud-based and hosted solution, and DDMSPLUS will be mostly cloud as well. That direction is being dictated across most software solutions based on considerable advantages like IT expertise and security, disaster recovery, ability to stay current with the latest versions, better integrations and an overall reduction of IT and infrastructure costs.

OPI: I noticed your job title has been tweaked slightly from ‘Office Products’ to ‘Distribution’…

AM: It has. I’m sure I get called lots of titles (laughs), but this change reflects a business unit consolidation initiated by our ECi leadership team. We went to more of a macro sector approach, and so the Acsellerate, TeamDesign and Maytech divisions were rolled in with Office Products to create our Distribution division. We think this makes more sense based on the product expansion focus of this industry and will allow us once again to serve our customers better. So my title is now President of Distribution Division.

OPI: Does that mean you’re working with a larger variety of resellers, not what we’d necessarily call the traditional ‘office products’ reseller?

AM: I would say that’s correct. Acsellerate, obviously, from a business intelligence and analytics standpoint, TeamDesign from the contract furniture side, which is a much different dealer and reseller than just case goods dealers, and then the jan/san dealers from the Maytech side. So yes, we have a broader spectrum of dealers in distribution than we did in just OP, which also mirrors the expansion efforts of our dealer community.

OPI: To what extent do they still require separate or distinct systems? Would it be feasible or desirable from your point of view to have all these operating on the same system?

AM: That is desirable from a number of standpoints. One alludes back to the strategic initiatives of system consolidation but we’re a ways from that. We have continued to add functionality on our core OP platforms to enable dealer market expansion and that will continue. There has to be a steady emphasis on true reseller and dealer needs, so what that gap analysis looks like and what the level of effort is to create one system for all of those dealers is paramount, but most assuredly that is the end goal.

OPI: You’re broadening your scope to include the building industry, etc, in order to have a more balanced portfolio of products, aren’t you?

AM: That’s correct. We’re seeing tremendous gains in the manufacturing segment and in lumber and building materials. ECi is servicing in excess of 8,300 dealers globally, all the way from Australia and New Zealand to Europe, and the States and Canada. So the growth is good across all sectors at this point.

OPI: What’s the situation with the dealer groups’ content project that NOPA [National Office Products Alliance] is now overseeing?

AM: I’ve had great conversations with both Mike Maggio [TriMega President] and Mike Gentile [Independent Stationers CEO] regarding their initiatives. They are working in partnership with the two major wholesalers, Essendant and SP Richards; I have not seen a finished product, but from what I am being told and what I’m seeing, it’s going to offer a unique opportunity to some of their dealers.

But I don’t think that these steps are big enough or fast enough; we really need to think outside the box as an independent dealer channel and make sure that we are offering the content as fast as we are outside the channel. So I think there are greater opportunities and I’m eager to be a participant in getting that to the resellers and dealers. We need to make sure that we continue to press on that one.

OPI: What’s ECi’s role in this particular project?

AM: Our role is to work with all the parties to make sure that the content is searchable, that it is easily available and more readily updated for the dealers. Software providers doing quarterly or monthly content updates or cost and price updates, that needs to continue to move faster and faster. So our role in these initiatives will be to make sure that updates can be done as frequently as needed, that the content is more readily accessible and that the searches are fine tuned to find that product.

OPI: There are a lot of stakeholders involved with perhaps different interests; what’s the likelihood of the project succeeding, in your opinion?

AM: Great question. My issue with content specifically has always been that any time you have a content discussion, everybody wants to start with who owns it as opposed to how we can best service the independent dealer channel.

That ‘noise’ has lessened, which I think is a good thing, and I believe the odds of success are getting better. All the stakeholders are realising that to play a sole proprietary card is not good for anyone in the industry, so I would put the chances of success tremendously higher than they were six months or a year ago. However, you also have to remember that making the content available is only part of it. You then need a way to source and distribute the product, which isn’t a small task either. All parties need to work together to make this happen and the effort cannot be underestimated.

OPI: What do you think are the main things holding dealers back technology-wise?

AM: I think they tend to look at the fire that’s burning them the hottest at the moment, as we all do. Also, I think a lot of our dealers don’t have strategic, yearly plans; they don’t have a business process they’re going to follow with metrics and KPIs. It’s essential if you want to reach your ultimate goal to make sure you have a plan and that you’re executing on that, that you’re measuring that with your sales teams and with a specific set of KPIs and metrics so that you know at the end of the year where you are going to be.

One of the things that ECi is focusing on is understanding those strategic desires of the dealers. Not only does it help us make sure that the functionality meets the strategy, but it also helps us be a better partner to those dealers in where they’re headed. So, is the goal more online sales, more mobile sales, less stocking, faster terms and so on? ECi needs to be a communicative partner in that strategic oversight so that we are developing, not only now but for the future, the things that the IDC really needs. So my challenge to the dealers would be make sure that you do have those strategic goals and metrics and KPIs, and make sure you’re sharing those with the ECis of the world so that we can be a better partner.

OPI: You recently joined the BSA [Business Solutions Association] board of directors. What do you hope that will bring the industry?

AM: I hope it brings a continued presence of the need for standardisation in a lot of the things that we do. It’s not just important for the systems, it’s important for the dealers that purchase from multiple wholesalers, for the ease of content expansion and utilisation, and I hope BSA takes the leadership role in the expansion of that content. I think there are great things this sort of agnostic entity can do and I’ve been pleased with the involvement from all sides.

OPI: Is there any overlap or clash with what NOPA and the dealer groups are doing there?

AM: I don’t think so, I truly don’t. I think that the standardisation in what the buying groups are doing fits right into the BSA goal. The very ideas and sounding boards for where everyone is going with content can be done in a BSA environment, because I think it takes a larger audience than any one stakeholder to decide as an industry where content is going and what’s available.

I don’t feel it’s wise for the channel to say ‘okay, one wholesaler selects where the content is going or one buying group or one system provider’. It needs to be the group as a whole that is discussing and again standardising the content as we continue to expand it in the channel.

OPI: BSA and NOPA have the same management firm running it. I don’t know if that’s a positive thing or makes things a little bit awkward sometimes…?

 

AM: I would probably say it makes it a little bit awkward. I’m always one to call an ace an ace, and I’m on the finance committee for NOPA and obviously on the board of directors now at BSA. I do think that both entities have to be very, very safe and very methodical in what they discuss and how they go about doing what they do. I think both are great organisations and both benefit the channel, but I think they both need to be operating in their own channel, or lanes, if you will.