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Resourceful Retail

Hickory Farms improves productivity by building a Web-based application and datastore.

Hickory Farms improves productivity by building a Web-based application and datastore.

Functionality at its Finest

To address these and other issues, the company decided to build the Web-based KMS, as well as some other applications, using Business Computer Design's (BCD's) WebSmart application-development tool. This process began in June 2004. Hickory Farms continues to develop KMS to offer additional functionality to its field employees, who now can log on to the system from laptops they use to dial into the network - whether from a regional office or a mall-based kiosk.

The application-development process began when a committee of employees from the IT department and representatives from both the corporate office and the field was formed. Together, they worked to design a basic application that would initially deliver a limited number of functions. As the project progressed, however, the application became increasingly sophisticated. "I would listen to what they wanted to do and then go back to my cave to put it all together for them," Burnette remembers. "After I'd complete each screen, I would take the application back to the committee and have them look at it." Prior to setting the application loose into the wild (before the holiday-selling season of 2004), Hickory Farms first used it in an isolated testing environment.

Using the KMS application, as well as those that are part of what Burnette calls, "our application gateway," employees can access much of the information they need from a centralized location. Both the KMS application and the data reside on the 720, the former hosted by the Apache HTTP Server and the latter held in a DB2* database, which allows users to log on via the Web with user IDs and passwords.

Field representatives can now access information wherever they have Internet access, giving them a one-stop location to more easily conduct their business. This allows them to better oversee their respective stores and increase their employees' productivity.

File downloads are in the form of XML files. This export option, which was added to KMS in 2005, allows users to import data directly into Excel. Before this option became available, users had to print the reports off their screens when connected to the Web. Now, when they hit the download button, the information is automatically opened as an Excel file.

Another issue addressed by KMS involves corporate communications with field employees. In the past, tracking down and contacting store supervisors was sometimes a chore, with corporate employees often having to wait for e-mail recipients to get a chance to check their e-mail. Now, however, messages can be sent to store point-of-sale (POS) systems and printed on receipt paper. "We have a screen that allows you to determine which stores you want a message to go to, depending on who you want to receive it, and that message is related back to the POS system and comes out on the register tape when the store is opened," Burnette explains. Field representatives also have the option of plugging their laptops into store phone lines to access the Web and their e-mail, which are automatically generated in tandem with the POS-based messages.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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