Some countries have populations numbering in the thousands: Liechtenstein, with 31,000, for example. Imagine, then, a company with more than 57,000 employees worldwide; a company that not only manufactures and distributes its products, but also sells them through company-owned retail stores and outside dealers. Put these elements together and you have Bata Limited, an international manufacturer and seller of footwear. And yes — managing an enterprise as big as Bata's is very much like governing a small nation.
Projects that affect the enterprise of Bata are measured in years and planned with the precision of a military stratagem. When the Toronto-based company implements an IT project in its own country, it then turns to its facilities on almost all the earth's other continents: Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia. Bata footwear is so widespread that even if they're not making shoes in Greenland and Antarctica, someone there is bound to be wearing them. Currently, the company sells 1,000,000 pairs of shoes each day.
An Infrastructure Built On Legacy Systems
Bata Limited was founded in Zlin, Czechoslovakia in 1894 by Tomas Bata, a ninth-generation shoemaker. The company's IT infrastructure has, fortunately, advanced since the time of its founding father. But, it's no surprise to learn that the majority of Bata's systems are still legacy technology.
Noel Cruz, director for international information systems, comments on Bata's proprietary technology. "The majority of our systems have been developed in-house. We are in the process of changing that – but change at a company as large as Bata does not come overnight. We have an integrated, enterprise-wide strategy for technology at our company. Right now, we are in the process of making it a reality."
The core of Bata's integrated, enterprise-wide strategy is the worldwide implementation of an SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Bata officially launched the SAP implementation this year. In fact, the company has a dedicated team for the project that is housed in a separate building in its Toronto headquarters.
"Our implementation team is focusing solely on the SAP project," says Cruz. "SAP is helping us with the retail and financial component of the installation. That's going on right now. The latter phase of the project will include our wholesaling and manufacturing operations."
Bata's project is made difficult not only by the sheer size of the organization, but also the company's dual role of manufacturer and retailer. Most ERP implementations focus on one industry; Bata's focuses on two. "Implementing the retail and manufacturing components makes it more difficult than the typical installation," comments Cruz. "But we are taking every possible precaution to make this installation a success. We have been in touch with a number of companies that implemented SAP. You hear about good stories, bad stories, and the horror stories. We want to learn as much as we can — what other companies did right, and what they would never do again."
Bata also has WMS (warehouse management system) technology at the company, but it too is proprietary. As part of its technology strategy, Bata will eventually redirect its attention to the integration of other technologies, but not before finishing with SAP. "We are going to look at integrating our WMSs, RF (radio frequency), bar codes, and shop floor data collection…but for now we are focusing on finishing the ERP installation. Without its success, nothing else makes sense."
Major POS Rollout
Bata Limited has over 5,000 stores globally – and they want them all to be running on a global platform. The company is in the midst of achieving that goal, but it is certainly in opposition to Bata's prior cash register system.
"We had manual cash registers that were not very efficient," explains Charlotte Levert, manager of store systems and international information systems. "You can imagine what that costs with a company our size. We have begun an implementation in Canada that includes bar coding and scanning, which is faster and more accurate at the store level. It will better serve our customers and our company. We can expect quicker checkout times at the retail level, as well as more meaningful data transferred to the home office."
The solution that Levert refers to comes from ADS (Applied Digital Solutions) of Cleveland. Bata implemented ADS' Tradecenter solution in 245 of its Canadian stores; in all, the installation included 725 PCs. The new solution runs on Windows NT. Tradecenter acts as the company's data warehouse, nightly downloading POS data to the company's home office.
In addition to ADS' Tradecenter, Bata is using Tradewatch, a component designed for loss prevention. "Tradewatch gives us more immediate information about specific stores and allows us to react accordingly," says Levert.
Training Employees On A New System
Changing to a new technology system also entails the difficulty of training – an aspect most people take for granted. But not Bata. "Training new employees was an extensive project," says Levert. "The logistics of moving across Canada…booking hotels, pulling people from work — it required a great deal of planning."
Bata's training initiative began by extracting 42 employees from across Canada. Levert refers to the initiative as a "train the trainer scenario." Each of the 42 people was taught to use the new system, and each in turn trained employees at eight to 12 Bata retail stores.
Install Brings Immediate Benefits
In all, the installation took roughly three months, and was completed in July 1999. Already, Levert has noticed improvements in its Canadian stores. "We find that most store managers are spending an additional half to full day more on the floor working with customers and employees rather than being in the back office preparing reports. The technology has helped them tremendously. Not only has it helped with productivity – morale has increased. It has made employees' jobs more enjoyable because daily tasks are much easier to accomplish – allowing them to focus on other important duties."
Completing A Worldwide Technology Rollout
Despite the success of Bata's Canadian rollout, the company still has a great deal of work ahead. It plans on expanding the functionality of its POS stations in an initiative that Levert refers to as "phase two" of the POS implementation. "We will be developing a loyalty program that will allow us to not only improve upon our customer relationships, but also to increase the amount of valuable data we receive from the retail stores."
Beyond that, Bata has to continue the POS rollout to the rest of its international retail stores. "We just finished 60 stores in Switzerland in November 1999," comments Levert. "It was an aggressive rollout – we finished in about seven weeks. It was also difficult because the installation was done in French, German, and Italian. Right now we are working on 200 stores in Chile, and we're also in the middle of a rollout in Thailand. It's a big job, but we feel confident that we will finish it as successfully as we started."
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at DougC@corrypub.com.