The following article appeared in the October 1984 issue of Online Today, CompuServe's magazine for CIS subscribers.
Plugging in corporate America to the wonders of videotex is something at which CompuServe Incorporated is becoming rather adept. Interchange, initiated two years ago, is a private videotex service specifically designed to provide fast, efficient, timely information dissemination to businesses of all sorts. CompuServe works with nearly 100 business customers, from high-tech companies to fast-food restaurants.
The Interchange system is developed individually for each business so that it can organize, maintain and disseminate information of all kinds and in any quantity. Information is stored in a database and accessed from a menu of options. Target audiences vary from corporation to corporation, but can include employees, customers, distributors, suppliers and purchasing agents.
The numerous advantages of using Interchange include cost-efficiency, versatility, ease of use, and independence of time, location and hardware. “A videotex system like Interchange is more cost-effective in a lot of instances than normal information-delivery mechanisms,” according to Bob Root, CompuServe's manager of videotex system marketing. “It is even cheaper than the telephone, especially when information must be delivered to a widely-dispersed audience. Many companies end up spending dollars for bulk mail, when the same item sent on Interchange costs just pennies. And of course, it is less expensive than holding a conference in one city, where several people must chalk up travel expenses.”
Components of Interchange — which is viewed as a concept more than a product — include information delivery, communications, computing and networking. Information delivery is the heart and soul of any videotex system; at the touch of a button, managers can see up-to-the-minute product descriptions, sales literature, pricing information, newsletters, catalogs or advertising presented in a textual format.
Communications, the interactive element of videotex, provides electronic mail, conferencing, bulletin boards, surveys and order entry. Managers quickly discover the convenience of choosing what they want to read, when they want to read it, rather than wading through endless piles of memos. Perhaps best of all, the game of telephone tag becomes obsolete and differing time zones are no longer a problem.
Interchange customers can choose between user-supplied and CompuServe-supplied software to assist in their computing efforts. Now, through the networking component, the information and resources of the Executive Information Service or the Consumer Information Service are also available, as is remote hosting.
Says Root, “The programming techniques utilized by the Interchange system are by no means exotic or revolutionary. What is revolutionary about Interchange is that this single system combines all these components into a convenient, easy-to-use package. Videotex has pizzazz, and this interests a lot of people. By using such a system, a company can create an image of being on the leading edge of high technology.”
Interchange’s greatest strength is that it effectively ties together computing and networking, creating a powerful business tool. That tool has become an integral part of the daily operations of such companies as Borg-Warner Chemicals, the Independent Insurance Agents of America and Televideo.
Borg-Warner Chemicals initiated its Interchange system, called Plastivision Molding Assistance Network, early in 1983. Today, 150 plastic resin molders, who are customers of the Parkersburg, W.Va., plastics manufacturer, have instant access to a detailed videotex database. The users, who buy bulk plastics from Borg-Warner to mold parts that are then sold to manufacturers in a variety of industries, receive access time to Plastivision at no cost.
The unique database includes static information, such as typical properties of products and engineering data, dynamic information, such as newsletters, current events and an economic forecast, and an interactive system where users can check the database for information on the pricing of products and jobs. It is this final component that most pleases Borg-Warner’s users, according to Charles Hostetler, marketing manager. “The interactive capability provides a major productivity benefit. Users can conduct a number of computing jobs they were never before able to do,” he explains.
One customer, for instance, determined through the cost analysis program, that he had actually been selling at a loss the leading item produced at his plant. Naturally, he increased his prices and is now improving his profitability.
“Borg-Warner is a large corporation with a staff of all kinds of technical and financial people, but many of our customers are entrepreneurs with small staffs that are unable to carry out all the sophisticated financial modeling that is so necessary in this complex business world,” says Hostetler. “Through Plastivision we are providing them with a management tool that will improve their productivity and their profits.”
And that’s not the only thing that has improved. Because of Plastivision, Borg-Warner has developed an enviable image as the high-technology leader of the plastics industry, and has realized a significant increase in sales since the installation of the videotex system.
The Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA) is based in New York City, but, like all industry associations, must be able to effectively communicate with members all over the country. IIAA executives realized that telephone calls and letters could not do the job as well as they wanted, and so installed an Interchange system called the Electronic Management Information Service. Through EMIS, independent insurance agents now have instant electronic access to information that helps them respond quickly to changes in the insurance marketplace.
Although the agents must purchase their own hardware and software, access to the videotex system is free and includes daily updates of legislative, financial and trade press news. The association serves nearly 60,000 agents; more than 1,000 have access to EMIS and another 1,000 are in the process of computerizing their operations and will log on soon.
One of the most popular aspects of EMIS is the bulletin board system, according to Rebecca J. Newman, database administrator. “If an agent has a question or a problem, he or she can post a message and another agent will reply. This saves a lot of research time and frustration, since they don’t have to search through massive amounts of data to find the information. Also, some agents are experts in various fields, and sharing this expertise is wonderful for all.”
News from the trade press highlights the key items of concern to agents, which appear in the weekly trade publications. Through a unique arrangement with the trade press, these items are provided on or prior to the date of publication. In addition, EMIS offers agents information on marketing data by state and a variety of agency management information. Users can also purchase demographic information by ZIP code that can be used in target marketing efforts. News about IIAA activities is provided as they occur, including a weekly report on the lobbying activities of the association’s Washington, D.C., office.
IIAA is pleased with the results of this videotex system. According to Newman, the association plans to initiate two more databases this fall. One is the Electronic Insurance Resource Library, to be offered free to the insurance trade and general press and to insurance departments. Containing more than 1,000 topics related to insurance, the system will be accessed through a keyword search. The second database is geared for consumers of insurance and will provide information via the CompuServe Information Service on automobile, home, rental, personal liability, commercial risks and property-casualty insurance.
Televideo, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is a manufacturer of computer hardware. Its Interchange system, called TeleCnet, was developed to quickly disseminate detailed maintenance and repair information on Televideo computer components. Directed to the regional sales offices and Televideo distributors, TeleCnet is a free service featuring electronic mail, field bulletins, technical information, new product announcements, marketing information and sales leads. More than 100 users around the United States and Europe have access to the videotex system.
One unusual feature of the TeleCnet is that it consists of 17 different databases arranged in four sections. The first section is available to all users and features information directly from Televideo. Newsletters, field bulletins and comments from executives are included here and are definitely the most popular part of TeleCnet. The second section is divided into 14 geographical regions, some covering just a city, such as Newport Beach, and others covering several states, such as the Pacific Basin. Users in a given region only have access to the database from their region. The third section is a database for the distributors; again, access is restricted to one specific area of the database. The fourth database is for internal Televideo use only.
Says Lynne Marshall, supervisor of sales administration, “We are impressed with TeleCnet because of its efficiency, speed and ease of use. I know we will always have it. We’re constantly thinking of new ways to use it and expand it. There are just so many capabilities. ”
The capabilities of Interchange are endless and, in fact, are limited only by an organization’s imagination.