This particular New Year's Day has special significance for information systems executives, since it marks another tick of the clock toward 2000 and its attendant computer problems. Many retailers identify swatting the "Millennium Bug" as the key IS priority for 1998.
In addition, now that many companies have amassed data warehouses full of information, making that data both manageable and accessible to the right people in the organization is also at or near the top of IS departments' "To Do" list.
Point-of-sale upgrades, especially those that link the front end to other store systems, also remain high on the agenda for several retailers.
IS executives shared these and other priorities for 1998 with SN.
chief information officer
Fiesta Mart Houston
A big part of our priorities is making our store systems Year-2000 compliant. In order to win the battle against the "Millennium Bug" we require that our software vendors sign a letter of compliance. We believe that vendor support is mandatory in order to get Year-2000 compliant.
We are investigating each area within our chain, from systems at our head office right down to store level. We need to see which systems are compliant, and fix those that are not. The areas we are focusing on include telephone systems, POS systems, all store software, even our PC networks.
We tried to think of everything that might be affected by the bug. For example, our midrange computer system is at the end of its life cycle, so we need to review the lease and understand what to replace it with. Another priority for us is our newly developed "Manager Workbench" software application, which uses store-specific data to run the stores. Such data include item movement and labor details for scheduling.
In the old days, we would provide this information to stores on a weekly basis. Store data were always received after the fact and too late to be proactive. This application will give managers store information to review from the previous day. It will also bring all of the item movement data on-line where the managers will see, in real time, which products are moving or not moving.
We have already installed the application in some stores, 20 so far, and we expect all 37 stores to be using the application by the first quarter of 1998.
El Segundo, Calif.
Last year, our goal was to gather and track the product data in a coherent way to create a data warehouse. Next year, we want to make this information more readily available.
Our top priority is putting our data warehouse, which stores all product information rung up at store level, on-line. We have a corporate intranet on our wish list.
Currently, the data warehouse is stored at headquarters. Stores can access it, but it's a strain on our wide-area network. However, through an intranet, our store and department managers can have access to that information without interruption or delays.
Through the intranet, our store managers will be able to query the system to see which items are moving out of the store, and in turn, streamline store orders.
Eventually, we would like to be able to query the data warehouse to see when a specific item is out of stock, and then have that item automatically reordered by the system. Taking the system to this point will have tremendous value for us. We expect this application to better control shrink, while lowering inventory in our warehouse and stores.
We plan to test the intranet, application by application, next month. We have the infrastructure in place; now we just need the time to train our associates and make the system a reality. Our goal is to have all six of our stores on-line by June.
director, store systems
Smart & Final
Our main focus is to really get moving with our new PC-based open platform POS installation. There will be eight stores rolled out with the new POS system by the end of 1997, and we are planning to outfit at least 50 more stores throughout 1998. By the end of 1999, we expect to have the entire chain -- 176 stores -- converted.
One of the benefits of this new POS system is the ability to develop applications quicker, through Internet browsers supported by the open platform. This technology will allow us to move into the arena of in-lane advertising and actually use full-motion video.
We are seeing a lot of opportunity by moving to an open platform. This is the future -- to deliver better value to our customers, while developing internal applications quicker through the use of the Internet browsers.
Besides our POS rollout, the other area we will be investigating in the upcoming year is the implementation of kiosks in our stores. The obstacle we keep hitting with this project is seeing a return on investment on the technology. We do not want just another method of distributing coupons. These tools need to offer more functionality and need to deliver more value to our business customers.
director, retail systems
of California Los Angeles
Our top priority is to fully deploy our "virtual chain" concept, in order to get the same systems out to our retailers as a way to generate synergy with stores. The virtual chain eliminates the issue of disparate systems among our retailers -- an obstacle that most cooperatives encounter.
Instead, we are trying to provide guidance to help the retailers choose systems, similar to the way a chain's headquarters would roll out systems to its stores. We are trying to take care of everything for the retailer.
We decided this should be a top concern because as the world continues to become more complex, it is hard enough for the retailer to be master of his domain without having to grow everything else he needs to do. We are trying to establish systems, including POS systems and time and attendance applications.
VP, finance and MIS
Pay Less Super Markets
We have two main technology priorities for 1998: replacing the front-end systems in all our stores and maximizing our data warehouse efforts.
The front-end upgrade, which is scheduled to take place this spring, is driven by both our card-marketing programs and our need for flexibility. In addition, the newest generation of front-end technologies combine really open software systems and a lot of back-office functions built in. Previously, the more open systems had lacked this back-office functionality.
Our data warehousing effort is aimed at making better use of the data we're already collecting. We've done a good job of accumulating quality information, but a data warehouse will let us organize and access the data more effectively than we'd been able to in the past.
The majority of the data warehouse information will come from point-of-sale data, although we also track details of what items are advertised and how they are promoted. It's important to be able to track and compare, for example, an item's movement when we reduce it from 99 cents to 79 cents; offer it as a buy-one, get-one-free; in conjunction with another item; or when we place it in a prominent display, but don't advertise it at all.
We have a lot of other information in the integrated database, including weather-related data and some information on what our competitors do. We even keep a record of all shelf talker and promotional copy used to describe products. This way, if there was customer confusion about a product, we know what we did and to change it the next time.