TORONTO — Sears Canada has found significant cost improvements using mapping software to manage business geography and logistics.

Sears was looking to address problems faced by its delivery truck fleet — one of the largest in-house home delivery operations in North America. With more

than $960,000 worth of large home appliances delivered last year in Ontario alone, the retailer’s Vaughan, Ont.-based facility sees an average of 30 to 55 trucks depart daily.

“”Within our environment, we had problems with trucking routes,”” Ron Clark, project leader for Sears Canada, told a Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) Canada Regional Users Conference. “”So we broke it up and dealt with it as if it was several different delivery sites which gave us more control over things.””

Sears partnered with ESRI Canada Inc. in 1994 to help define the routing for its enhanced home delivery system (EHDS). The company modified ESRI’s ArcGIS (Geographic Information Systems) software as a means of determining its own route schedules and service delivery times.

“”Sears took it over for strategic reasons . . . we’re developing a strategy for street calibration and we’re still working on it,”” he said. “”We had a major Toronto carrier cancel our contract and leave us as they felt they should be responsible for determining the routes . . . but it wasn’t being done in sequence. There seemed to be a visual preference going on with the drivers. . . a tendency to choose routes that look compact and isolated (on a map) even though it’s not necessarily the most efficient.””

ESRI’s software is used primarily by government agencies, the forestry and agriculture industries, and increasingly by municipalities, according to Alex Miller, president of ESRI Canada in Toronto.

He said Sears Canada’s application of ESRI’s ArcInfo, software that provides a means of describing abstract geographic features whose attributes are kept in relational table, and ArcView GIS, desktop GIS and mapping software, are completely tied in to customer information systems.

“”Sears is a leader in this area and part of it is they vertically integrated the software and they own their own trucks,”” Miller said. “”What Sears is doing is using its inherent knowledge of the road network to optimize its routing.””

Kelly Hall, ESRI Canada’s project manager, said Sears is looking to expand its GIS integration in 2003. “”They’re open to all suggestions, but what they’re looking at right now is a means of tracking their shipments electronically via a delivery skew number. Now that they have their own routing and scheduling capabilities, they’re thinking of a mobile GIS.””

“”With Canadian Tire, they wanted to pinpoint their marketing campaigns to their store locations,”” Miller said. “”Our software is the mapping foundation for that.””

Sebastian Kowalcyk, GIS database analyst for Canadian Tire, also speaking at the ESRI Conference, said Canadian Tire looked to ESRI’s solutions to help sort out where its stores in the Greater Toronto Area were located in relation to its customer base and its competition.

“”There’s a favourite adage in retail: location is everything,”” he said. “”That embodies the essence of our business, so it’s no surprise that GIS is being adopted by major retail chains.””

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