ERP solutions can be tricky to sell to prospective clients as they are very difficult to
demonstrate and therefore the benefits to the client cannot be properly illustrated.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) solved this problem in April of this year when it opened the
Retail Solutions Centre (RSC) in order to provide leading European retailers with the
opportunity to explore visions for their businesses with retail experts. The RSC is an
interactive facility with a fictional retail outlet called T&K stores which enables
companies to experience and challenge best practice systems and processes, helping them to
break down barriers which exist in their own business. Experts are available to address
issues such as consumer demand, e-commerce, store and warehouse operations, and category
management. The facility is based in Swindon and is the first of a number of centres
planned around the world with the US and Asia next on the list. SAP R/3 Retail provides
the backbone for T&Ks operations, running on a Windows NT-powered data centre
implemented by Data General who worked with PwC to design the infrastructure incorporating
enterprise NT servers, fibre channel storage and thin/client architecture. Data General
took responsibility for the technical and commercial risk through its de-risking
methodology, which is a collection of practices that sees Data General take the risk of a
project away from the user. This methodology is founded on Data Generals SAP Retail
benchmark programme which, amongst other promises, uses Windows NT to reduce TCO.
PricewaterhouseCoopers is a market leading SAP implementation and retail partner with more
than 7,000 SAP consultants and over 20 projects around the world. Data General moved into
NT in 1994 when it changed from Motorola processors to Intel. The company is now the
world-leading supplier of enterprise NT systems (according to a 1999 study carried out by
IDC) thanks to the AViiON server family enterprise servers with the ability to run
up to eight Intel CPUs. Windows NT and 2000 explorer spoke to David Thomas (DT),
European Retail Partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Jason Smith (JS), Commercial Sector
Marketing Manager for Data General, about the Retail Solutions Centre.
Exp: This project was not an upgrade or a change to an existing system, it was a
brand new concept. What exactly does it involve?
DT: The RSC is an interactive facility with a fictional retail business called T&K
Stores where retailers can experience an authentic retail environment powered by SAP
Retail running on Windows NT. The RSC has four areas:
- A T&K department store, complete with a range of food, drink,
apparel and promotional items
- T&Ks warehouse, complete with racking
- T&Ks head office, with all management reports
- A home where consumers shop online at T&K
Retailers who visit the centre can literally pick up a piece of
stock from the shelves, buy it at the point of sale, then watch the
transaction go through SAP Retail. Because it is a live environment, retailers will use it
as the inspiration for their own projects, or replicate the system exactly, literally
cutting and pasting it into their businesses.
Exp: What was Data Generals role in setting up the RSC?
DT: The RSC was a Greenfield site, so there was no IT before DG arrived. They
supplied the hardware (apart from point of sale equipment which was supplied by Siemens
Nixdorf) and systems design. The hardware comprises:
- Two AviiON AV3700Rs, pre-configured as a Cluster in a
box, running the production, SAP Retail application and Oracle 8
- Two AV3700Rs are used for development and training of SAP Retail
- Two AV2700Rs, pre-configured as DGs TermServer in a
box, providing connectivity to thin clients for server-based computing
- Six various AViiONs providing e-business support
- 135 Gigabytes of RAID-protected fibre-channel CLARiiON storage which
is SAN ready
DG is also supplying additional equipment, which is due to be
installed later this year, to support data warehouse, supply chain and e-commerce
applications. They designed, supplied and implemented the complete infrastructure, from
processing and storage hardware to the WAN that supports it.
JS: PwC came to us with a very simple brief: build a best practice retail IT
environment running SAP Retail, and complimentary applications on NT, capable of powering
200 retail outlets. Aside from this we had carte blanche and provided the complete
concept design for the infrastructure implementation and complete system design for each
component and the overall solution. We also supplied the pre-configured systems based on
our SAP Retail Benchmarking to cope with the level of transaction specified by PwC.
Exp: Why did you choose Data General?
DT: Data General provides a fully-rounded service from inception and design through to
delivery and support. Their approach to an installation is from a consultative
perspective, working very closely with our own IT staff. This reduces any chance of a
mismatch between expectation and reality. The support of this technology through RELiiON
can be fully provided by DG, removing the need to aggressively monitor the installation,
and placing the onus of support with DG. Often, faults are reported, appraised and fixed
remotely without any user intervention at all. Technologically, their fibre-channel RAID
arrays remove the traditional bottleneck in a database-intensive application, allowing DG
to effectively underwrite the performance of the system they have designed and
Exp: Were there any stumbling blocks in the project?
DT: In an implementation such as the RSC, there will always be areas where we would
want more machines/power/facilities due to the constantly changing demands of our
demonstration facility, but no actual stumbling blocks. DG have been able to meet our
demands and act on our behalf in resourcing the extra facilities from third parties. We
did experience some frustrations in lead times depending upon the time of year that the
machines were ordered but DG loaned us equipment, almost always to a similar specification
to that ordered, meaning that development work was able to carry on.
JS: We didnt really come across any stumbling blocks, we avoided them by
planning, planning and planning. DG never ships a server without certifying it capable of
performing the number of transactions demanded by the user. In terms of the other
challenges, the de-risking approach means that whenever we see an overlap or a potential
risk, we take charge of it. The result is that PwC had several partners involved, but only
one taking responsibility for the complete infrastructure implementation.
Exp: Why did you choose DG to FM the project as well as supply the hardware?
DT: In any large project there are three main areas of concern: the overlap
between the infrastructure provider and the application, the overlap between the
infrastructure provider and the systems integrator and the overlap between the integrator
and the application. In these overlaps, you will find all of the risk associated with a
project. DG identified and managed the risks between itself and the infrastructure,
application and the systems integrator, and prime contracted the hardware installation at
the RSC. The benefits of this way of working are that we only had one company to deal with
on the IT implementation thereby avoiding several different companies, all blaming each
other, and causing delays.
David Thomas and Jason Smith were interviewed by Andy OBrien
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