Report • 14.02.2009

Flexible Software: Everything from a single source

The whole IT infrastructure depends on intelligent software - supplied from major global providers or retail specialists. More and more hardware providers are turning into system houses which offer complete software and support solutions. ERP Software controls operating equipment, Business Intelligence provides analysis and strategy support, and CRM programs consolidate customer loyalty and provide the basis of customer cards or couponing. The inventory management system is an indispensable link in supply chain management - the interface between suppliers and the shelves. In order to prevent items from going out of stock, prognosis software is available, in addition to automatic ordering systems. Sales and proceeds can then be controlled through strategic price optimisation. In light of tight retail margins, personnel costs carry particular importance.
 

ERP – Complete Operating Equipment Control

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) has long been a programmer’s domain. Through this, an ever-increasing number of self-developed retail systems are being replaced by standard software which is adapted to the specific requirements of each case. This is known as customizing. The advantage: More users meet the costs of ongoing revisions in light of new legal or economic requirements, whilst retail centres hope for a smaller IT department. Nevertheless, changeovers are a deep incision into the company's own structure. In addition to this, the standard programs developed for large companies are not always scaleable enough to ensure that they can be adapted to small and medium sized entities. Standard software offers a range of versions for the different sectors.
For the retail branch, Oracle, SAP and Aldata are the main suppliers. CSB, SoftM and the Move Retail cooperation offer software exclusively for the retail sector and consumer goods manufacturers.

Databases, programming languages, security architecture, operating systems – in all these areas, ERP software must be adapted to the company. Meanwhile, retail companies are constantly changing: mergers and take-overs, holdings and subsidiaries, ERP must be able to cover complete corporate structures. Edeka, for instance, decided to change the stock control system for its discounter Netto to the 'Gold' software by Aldata. After taking over branches formerly pertaining to the Plus chain, Netto must face a triple increase in sales figures.

Ulrich Müller, IT Manager at Euronics, emphasises just how important it is to have detailed specifications and an exact process analysis at the very beginning of software introduction procedures. Several hundred processes were described in great detail within the confederation before software and suppliers were selected. The resulting contract with the system houses chosen to implement the project was established at a fixed price, stated Müller at a meeting for the confederation's SAP user group in October.

More and more providers are developing web-based products which present the user interface in a browser window. This enables suppliers and customers to be directly included in business processes. In the store, this means that manufacturers of a wide range of products from muesli and make-up to music CDs are given access to the central warehouses and even to individual sales receipts. They assume responsibility for goods replenishment and in return, obtain valuable insights for their own market research.
 

Software in Stock Control

An endless series of data is accrued throughout the whole delivery chain. As far as possible, such data should be prepared automatically in order to ensure that those responsible can use the PC to quickly identify where bottlenecks occur within the logistics chain, where there is a threat of items becoming out of stock, and when replenishment supplies can be expected. The movement of goods is particularly high in the food retailing sector. Here, demand not only fluctuates depending on the season, but often also even daily, depending on the weather. And to top matters, many products can only be preserved for a short time. In relation to this, support is offered by Advance Planning and Simulation. APS supports planning and improves the transparency of transport networks, whilst also promoting a uniform data flow across the whole company. Reducing the amount of security stock in inventories is not only an aim of foodstuff manufacturers. The management of remaining stock and returns is part of the supply chain and thus, stock control. Business Intelligence can support stock control. It links current and historical data and offers a range of analytical tools.
 

Planning Staff Allocation with Intelligent Software

The retail sector has already done a lot to reduce its costs. Nevertheless, the area of staff management still presents considerable potential without making service quality suffer in the process. This is known as Workforce Management (WM). In comparison to other branches, such as the automotive industry or banks and insurances, the use of specialised WM software is yet to take hold in Germany's retail sector.

Given that personnel management has to accommodate so many variables, this is the perfect domain for intelligent software. Alongside legal regulations such as those established by the collective bargaining law and contractual stipulations, a range of other factors must be considered, including budget allowances, working-time accounts and the various wishes of staff members concerning when they want to work. If an employer listens and reacts to such wishes, employees will be happier with higher levels of motivation. If companies make allowances for nurseries, schools or car pools, they will consolidate their public reputation. Simply having a plan that adheres to regulations is not enough. It must also be balanced in order to meet the real requirements as much as possible. If personnel numbers are reduced too much, service quality, and subsequently, sales figures will sink. Whilst industry only organises shift operation, the retail sector offers long opening hours and branches with a range of different staff compositions. The retail sector cannot transfer its locations to cheaper places abroad.

With real time evaluation and online consolidation of branches, WM software providers promise the full transparency of all data. This includes the evaluation of sales figures, customer frequency and the number of sales receipts. Coupled with the use of effective prognosis software to calculate the influence of long weekends, holidays or the weather on sales and thus on personnel requirements, such measures would enable a retail company to react to changes much faster than its competition.

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