SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Associated Grocers, Seattle, is expanding the scope of its client-server computer platform, which has brought faster information flows, cost savings and rapid applications development, Richard Lester, vice president of information services, said in a presentation here.
The cooperative wholesaler, which posts wholesale volume of $1.2 billion and serves 350 independent supermarkets, moved toward the client-server model from a mainframe-based approach beginning in 1992. It now has about 40% of its operations using the client-server and plans to add new applications, Lester told SN after the event.
He spoke on client-server computing at the 21st Annual Information Systems Conference here, sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute, Washington.
"We've had substantial cycle-time reduction in the warehouses and areas where we installed this system," Lester said.
"Customers can't wait to get new applications installed. The system is faster than before. I couldn't have developed a major application on the mainframe in 120 days. And it's cheaper."
Applications currently running include some financials, electronic mail, category management, warehouse management and retail services. Programs now in the works include one to assist in the development of retail pricing and another to make retailers aware of vendor promotions and in turn provide vendors with automated performance feedback on the promotions.
Associated is using a three-tier client-server model that includes presentation, application and data base layers. The package combines a hardware and software mix from different vendors.
One new application, product billing and shipping, has enabled the company to move toward a paperless environment by allowing customers to access data bases on their personal computers that contain invoice information.
Associated provides free network connections to its retail customers and bills stores for the services that run over the network.
Lester predicted that the industry will achieve substantial adoption of the client-server technology very rapidly.
"This is going to be one of the fastest transitions you've ever seen an industry go through," he said. "It's complicated, it's not an easy thing to do, but it's a necessary thing to do. Two to three years ago this was pretty radical stuff. But now people are interested and know a lot about it. Most are getting started on it or are well into it."
While two-tier systems are currently more common, Lester predicted that the three-tier environment will be increasingly adopted in the supermarket industry. Associated's system has provided better targeting capabilities from smaller chunks of computing power, more portability of software from one machine to another, and "interoperability" of hardware and software.
Associated migrated to client-server technology after analyzing the forces challenging the wholesaler community.
"We got into it because we anticipated the role of the wholesaler would undergo radical change, which you're starting to see now," he said. "You become more of a logistics manager instead of a buyer-seller.
"The cycle times in our industry will have to be driven down. We have to be able to manage inventory tighter and move it faster and differently. Within a few years more than half the product will go directly to the store and never come to the warehouse."