Magazine Article | October 18, 2006

Business Process Management Solution Cuts IT Costs

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Rack Room Shoes reduces its operations staff by automating batch routines.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, November 2006

Reducing IT overhead or realigning IT employees to business-critical projects is something all companies look to achieve. A recent Gartner study of IT operations in all industries found that 70% of business transactions still occur in a batch environment. So, reducing the number of operators manually running or monitoring your batch processing is one way to shrink overhead. Rack Room Shoes improved its applications (e.g. POS, accounting) batch processing with a business process management solution.

Rack Room Shoes sells shoes through approximately 375 stores in 24 states and has grown through several acquisitions and store names. The retailer opens an average of 30 additional stores per year. Several years ago, when Deichmann Schuhe purchased the retailer, Deichmann wanted all divisions to use Oracle as its standard database platform, so it mandated a transition from the previous mainframe environment to a UNIX-based platform. At that point, Ralph Wilkes, technical services manager at Rack Room, sought to use similar enterprise products (e.g. testing and debugging tools) with UNIX as was used with the mainframe. Rack Room’s IT staff never used UNIX before and was unfamiliar with it, so they researched software that would streamline processes in application development, as the transition to UNIX began.

“We tested automation software from several companies and wanted the ability to bridge the gap between applications development and batch processing operations,” says Wilkes. “As a result, we selected the AppWorx tool, which provides features beyond a general scheduler. AppWorx has the ability to check pre- and postrequisite jobs, it verifies feeds and preset conditions prior to running the next module, and it sends automated e-mail messages or text messages after critical points in the batch process are completed or when jobs abort.” Additionally, the product reduced the developers’ learning curve of the UNIX environment. Because the product provides a graphical drag-and-drop environment to create business processes, developers didn’t need to complete UNIX scripting as modules were transitioned from the mainframe platform, which eliminated the need for Rack Room’s developers to learn the scripting language.   

It took Rack Room developers approximately two years to complete the transition of all modules between the mainframe and UNIX platforms. All application developers and operations staff members currently use the system. In addition, Wilkes has one full-time employee supporting the AppWorx product, who adds jobs or applies patches to the product. Rack Room averages one major upgrade to the product each year to take advantage of enhancements. The retailer recently upgraded to AppWorx 6.1, which includes multidatabase querying and new reporting capabilities.

Improve Accuracy, Grow By 80%

“Whenever there is a major release, we determine if existing jobs and applications need to be modified and educate the developers on the changes and new functionality,” says Wilkes. “When changes were recently implemented, we piggybacked onto regional training taking place for another application upgrade. For the most recent release, we used Web-based training.” Overall, Wilkes thinks the maintenance on AppWorx is minimal, especially considering the improvements in accuracy the retailer has encountered due to the automated versus manual processes. Rack Room pays a standard percentage of the product cost for ongoing maintenance.  

Prior to the AppWorx implementation, Wilkes employed two operators per shift, covering a 24/7 schedule. “We no longer need someone to monitor a console 24/7,” states Wilkes. “Today, only one operator monitors processing during one shift. We’ve made excellent use of the system’s positive messages that notify key employees after certain steps in the batch process have been completed.” 


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