CINCINNATI -- In a move to put the right information into the hands of category managers and other key personnel, Kroger Co. here is implementing a client-server computer platform at its headquarters and divisional-level offices.
The system will be able simultaneously to process many more requests for information by end users than is currently possible and provide a much more comprehensive menu of data analysis and other programs, said Randy Agee, general manager of technical architecture and planning for Kroger.
The first step in the rollout of the new system will take place next month when the chain goes on-line with a renovated risk management program. The program will allow users at Kroger's regional headquarters to more easily access information about personal injury claims and reduce labor costs significantly, Agee said.
But a more ambitious use of the platform will come in early 1995 when Kroger introduces a system designed to help category managers consolidate and analyze storewide data. A less extensive version of the system that runs on personal computers has been undergoing testing in a series of pilot programs at the regional headquarters level.
The new client-server platform "will basically give category managers a better workbench and better information. Say a category manager is responsible for a group of canned goods. The system will give that person information about all aspects of those products: inventory levels, merchandising, pricing and advertising," Agee said.
The category manager will be able to access several data banks at once and consolidate the information needed in graphs and reports. The new system will also enable a category manager to access a higher quantity of information. "It will be able to handle more categories and products, larger numbers, more history and some of our shipment data in addition to the scan data already there [in the pilot program]," he said.
Kroger plans to eventually roll out the system at the individual store level after seeing how it works at regional headquarters. "Eventually we even have plans to put [the technology] out in the stores, but that will be way after 1996 or 1997," he said.
Kroger first embraced the concept of category management at its 11 regional marketing headquarters early last year when it implemented a major repositioning of manager responsibilities for specific product categories. With the new client-server technology, Kroger is now seeking to create the same type of consolidation with the data bases category managers need to access. The system uses a data base from Informix Software, Menlo Park, Calif., and is run on an IBM RS6000 hardware drive system.
"We've taken vertical job functions, such as a merchandiser, retail pricer, buyer and an inventory person that all dealt with a certain set of products and instead of looking at them as vertical functions, we are now doing it horizontally," Agee said.
The client-server system will solve Kroger's quandary of having a unified, "horizontal" concept like category management reliant upon data received from traditional computer systems designed for individual, "vertical" applications.
"Our present system supports all the old vertical job functions. With our move to category managers, we now have to use the client-server technology to bring all the necessary data together. We have to create a horizontal base of the data so that the category managers can do their jobs," Agee said.
Since the concept was introduced in early 1993, category managers had been using a PC-based pilot program at the regional level. The program essentially was a test to see if category management could succeed at the regional level, Agee said. "The old system was a test to see if category management works at Kroger. The answer was yes."
But the pilot program soon was swamped with requests from various category managers.
"In a very short time it has outlived its ability to keep up with the requests the users want to put into the system," he said.
In the area of risk management, Kroger had been relying on a program tied in to Kroger's mainframe system in which access to information was difficult and time-consuming.
With the new system, clerks at the regional headquarters can use their PCs to access injury claims more quickly and comprehensively, Agee said.
"The system will allow clerks to access information quicker" when they receive claims from insurance companies representing employees or customers who have filed accident forms.
"The savings will come from the reduced amount of time it will take clerks to do the research on a claim. Previously they would have to access the mainframe and have to thumb through pages and pages of reports generated from the mainframe to find what they needed. Now they will be able to bring up just one report," he said.