University of Amsterdam
An e-commerce application that lets shoppers create and buy a CD that combines their favorite tracks from different artists. A "virtual laboratory" that lets researchers in different locations collaboratively conduct DNA experiments. A simulator that aids development of complex electronic auto toll systems.
At first glance, these applications may seem to have little in common, aside from the fact that all are based on Matisse and are being developed by the University of Amsterdam and its commercial software arm, Power Computing and Communications.
Look closer, and you'll see that they share characteristics that take advantage of Matisse's strengths. All involve complex data, often involving multiple media types; all required considerable design flexibility to respond to rapidly changing business requirements. "The Matisse data model is very flexible, and the technology is scalable," says Dr. L.O. (Bob) Hertzberger, a professor in the University's computer science department. As a result, PCC is able to use Matisse both as a rapid prototyping tool and a platform for application delivery, he says.
Free Record Shop plans to use these applications as a major part of its "bricks and clicks" strategy to extend its considerable retail presence. That presence comprises nearly 300 stores: 170 in Holland under the Free Record Shop brand, plus several other Dutch music retailers as well as top store chains in Belgium, Norway and Finland.
Today, in these stores, customers can listen to CDs before deciding to buy, and even, in some outlets, hear digitized music clips. Free Record Shop wants to take the idea much further, using digital media to create new applications that expand customers' options both in stores and via the Internet.
"We would like to digitize [media and other information] once, store in a database once, then use it for several purposes," says Wouter Hurts, financial director at Free Record Shop Holding N.V.'s headquarters near Rotterdam. For instance, the same underlying system could be used to let customers browse and select music at each store, as well as for Internet shopping and broadcasting the music that plays in the background in stores.
Entering one of Free Record Shop's stores, consumers could use a multimedia listening booth to search for music by artist or album, listen to audio clips or view promotional or other video clips, then either choose to buy existing CDs or select tracks that will be burned onto a CD and shipped to them. Free Record Shop also plans to offer similar capabilities direct to consumers via the internet. "We are trying to create a more personalized experience" by letting customers search for, hear and combine tracks in new ways, Hurts says. The self-service approach has another benefit, he says: "We need to reduce staff-related costs." Free Record Shop is currently using a pilot application with around 1000 CDs' worth of material. It hopes to start rolling out elements of the system to stores in coming months.
Building these new capabilities requires a new approach both to technology and to business relationships.
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