Startup does supply chains by the book

When office products retailer Staples began offering catalogs and customer ordering via the Web, one thing became clear, says Laura Brooks, manager of site design and operations for the company's Web channel: The existing content-management system was woefully inadequate. Despite the best efforts of the IT team, producing content was slow and inefficient, resulting in wasted time, missed deadlines and poor quality.

By February, however, the Framingham, Mass.-based firm had switched to new online channel-management software developed and hosted by Brisbane, Calif.-based Trigo Technologies Inc. that's designed for suppliers.

Trigo's software has enabled Staples to build a content-management team out of merchandisers, marketing staff and business analysts the product experts instead of the IT experts, Brooks says. It also let the company develop a process for more easily producing custom catalogs for individual clients and for the online exchanges from which many Staples customers purchase office supplies.

Building Up Business

Before using Trigo, Staples sold only 8,000 products online, and all of the content went to one catalog that was available at www.stapleslink.com, explains Brooks. The number of products online has since increased by a factor of 10, she says, and Staples regularly builds catalogs for individual customers and exchanges as well.

The ability to easily produce sales material for exchanges is a key advantage, claims Trigo CEO Tom Reilly. Customers can buy the software directly or use Trigo's hosted service. The company aims its offerings at large manufacturing and distribution enterprises with sales of US$1 billion or more in areas such as indirect goods, office products, factory goods and finished technology products.

Trigo requires only a browser on the client, but the user must build a master catalog on the back end that contains all product information. Building individualized catalogs means specifying which information from the master catalog to include in the custom catalog, adding any customer-specific contract details and targeting a specific output format, says Reilly.

Trigo helps suppliers handle formats necessary to sell through online sales systems from Commerce One Inc., Ariba Inc., Oracle Corp., i2 Technologies Inc. and MRO Software Inc. It also includes tools to build links to other exchange protocols and to private exchanges and other online catalog formats.

Staples looked at products from Trigo, Poet Software Corp., Vignette Corp. and Blue Martini Software Inc., says Brooks. Among the several factors that pushed Trigo to the forefront, she says, was the vendor's willingness to support her company's legacy content repository, which was built in-house.

Another reason why Staples picked Trigo's software is that it's highly adaptable, says Brooks. Trigo can handle the proprietary information Staples sometimes needs to include in catalogs for its business-to-business customers. For example, Trigo's application allows customers to create their own product descriptions and SKU numbers, she explains. Staples also sells custom goods such as end-of-aisle retail displays and restaurant menus, and Trigo can handle these exceptions to the master catalog, says Brooks.

For the most part, Trigo is easy to use, says Brooks. However, she says she'd like to see improvements to the user interface for the tools that generate custom catalogs.

In Version 3.0, scheduled for release this month, Trigo plans to unveil usability improvements, along with upgrades to the product's workflow and business-process modeling tools, says Reilly. In the long-term, he says, he plans to round out Trigo's sales and fulfillment features. Right now, the product only encompasses online catalog production and order acceptance.

Johnson is a Computerworld contributing writer in Seattle.

Booming Niche In Bust Times

Trigo has two advantages in a tough IT market: a fresh infusion of venture capital and a hot growth market into which to sell. Projections by Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm IDC show supply chain services increasing from $23.1 billion worldwide last year to $82.8 billion in 2005, with a compound annual growth rate of 29 percent.

Like Trigo, the companies that supply tools to manage channels and exchanges are very young, says Andrew Bartels, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc.

Since the technology is so new, Bartels says, no single vendor has a distinct advantage over the others. To differentiate themselves, most vendors focus on particular industries or on companies at specific points in the supply chain. Trigo focuses on retailers of indirect goods in the middle of the supply chain, says Bartels.

What isn't unique about Trigo, Bartels says, is its ability to help suppliers connect with exchanges. Most software vendors have at least some features for doing that.

Comergent Technologies Inc.

Redwood City, Calif.

www.comergent.com

Comergent offers a channel management system for companies that sell through resellers, says Bartels, and it has expertise in high-tech products. The online channel Comergent serves differs from Trigo's in that it requires more support for order handoffs to resellers, as well as tools for product configuration, he says.

Ironside Technologies Inc.

Pleasanton, Calif.

www.ironside.com

Ironside offers tight integration between its business-to-business e-commerce software and midmarket back-end systems from J.D. Edwards & Co., Marcam Solutions Inc., SSA Global Technologies Inc. and SAP AG, making it a good choice for organizations that use those applications.

Trigo Technologies Inc.

8000 Marina Blvd., Suite 810 Brisbane, Calif. 94005 (650) 827-0500Web: www.trigo.comThe technology: Catalog management software for online indirect goods sellersCompany officers: - Tom Reilly, CEO - Byron Deeter, co-founder and vice president of business development - Reza Mohsin, co-founder and chief technology officer - Venky Genesan, co-founder and vice president of product marketingMilestones: - January 2001: Raised $10 million in first-round funding - February 2001: Released first product - August 2001: Raised $14 million in second-round fundingEmployees: 55Burn money: $24 million from Mayfield Fund, The Valent Group LLC and othersProducts/pricing: Trigo Enterprise software: $500,000 to $750,000; hosted version: $25,000 to $50,000 per monthCustomers: Staples, Moore North America (a unit of Moore Corp.) and Corporate Express Inc.

Red flags for IT: - Trigo's experience is mainly in the indirect goods niche. - The service only handles the catalog-production and order-acceptance steps of the online sales process.

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