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July 1, 1990


By CBR Staff Writer

A Department of Trade & Industry-sponsored club called ExMar has overcome technical problems and wayward contractors to bring at last a strategic marketing system called ExMar to market. The project was set up back in 1987, when the ExMar product was the brainchild of Langton Ltd (CI No 628). Langton has in fact been part of the project until the last few months (following its takeover by Pi Holdings Plc), when it bowed out, leaving AI Ltd with the intellectual property rights to the ExMar product. Indeed, AI’s contribution to the project has been something akin to the arrival of the cavalry in a 1950s Western. You see, for the first year of the ExMar project’s life, all did not go well. London’s South Bank Polytechnic was contracted to do the technical development of the expert system but chose an awkward methodology and the group left en masse after about a year when it became clear that the technical problems were not going to be easy to resolve. At this point AI Ltd of Watford, Hertfordshire, was called in to salvage the technical development of the product and, as the ExMar Club says, if AI had come in from the beginning we would have got more value out of the money we invested. Dr Bob Wiggins of the Department of Trade & Industry agrees that if AI had handled the project from the start the system would have been delivered within budget and within the set timescale. As it happens the project has taken three years altogether, costing UKP250,000, of which roughly half came from the Department, with Club members British Airways, British Telecom, ICI, NCR, Royal Mail Parcelforce, Rolls Royce, Simon Engineering, WCRS and Wellcome, each contributing UKP13,000. The Club was originally set up in 1987 by the Department of Trade & Industry to investigate the potential of expert systems in marketing, in an effort to increase the competitive advantage of UK companies in international business in order to grow exports. AI Ltd has developed this system into a commercial product and the Club is now seeking new members to broaden the user base for ExMar. The product has been devised to help companies set their three-to-five year strategic marketing plan and is said to be of most value to companies with turnovers above UKP15m that sell a wide range of products and services into a variety of end-user markets. The system uses the expertise of Professor Malcolm McDonald of the Cranfield School of Management and basically, as AI managing director David Butler quipped, the system is McDonald replicated on floppy disks. The product shows you how to grow a company, knowledge that McDonald finds sadly lacking in the UK. He argues that marketing has not yet stormed the bastion of UK industry and that, riddled with financial control, the UK industrial base is suffering from Anorexia Industriosa. Anyway, the system’s on screen tutorial, written by McDonald, advises the user on how to build and maintain a consistent approach to amrketing.


ExMar, so the sales pitch goes, uses a mix of computer technologies including graphical user interfaces, object-oriented programming, expert systems and hypertext. In fact the vague impression lingers that if AI had had a clean slate to begin with, the system may have been rather different time constraint appears to explain why the company chose to write the system in the memory-devouring SmallTalk language rather than in C++; similarly with more time ExMar might have been developed for the Microsoft Windows environment, enabling it to be accessed via executive information systems. However, AI intends to continue developing the product and is looking to integrate it with standard personal computer interfaces, develop multi-user and Apple-Mac versions and eventually have it running on a laptop linked to a relational database. At present AI can sell you a commercial prototype, suitable for an 80386 personal computer with an 8Mb memory, priced at UKP5,000, or a Sun SparcStation version for UKP7,500. Educational establishments qualify for a hefty discount. A fully supported and documented prod

uct will be released by year-end. The ExMar Club is now the ExMar User Group – membership costs UKP250. – Katy Ring

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