Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC) is going to use Internet Protocol (IP) technology from Sprint Canada to keep up with bandwidth demands associated with a trio of retail application projects.
Canada’s largest department store retailer chose Sprint’s IP Enabled Solutions late last week to connect all its
sites into Sprint Canada’s virtual private network (VPN). The deal is part of a four-year agreement that will also see Sprint Canada continue to provide long-distance, toll-free, audio conferencing and automated integrated voice response services for HBC. The two companies have been working together for three years. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Gary Davenport, HBC’s chief information officer, said the company did pilot tests to make sure digital subscriber line (DSL) technology could provide the service levels it needed before sending out a request for proposals (RFP).
“”It’s going to really vault us ahead in terms of the things we can do at store level,”” he said. Some locations, for example, currently use DSL while others connect via Frame Relay.
Sprint launched IP Enabled Solutions — which is designed to allow users to set up new IP networks without extra capital costs — last September as part of a collaboration with Cosine Communications. The products map virtual circuits from each customer site to a virtual carrier-grade router, providing routing between all sites.
The virtual router allows customers to connect over Layer 2 technologies like Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Frame Relay, while a network-based firewall residing on the company’s core network provides secure access to the public Internet.
Retailers using more business intelligence tools
The IP Enabled Solutions portfolio includes Sprint’s network-based IP VPN, which offers traditional Frame Relay access (56K, T1 and SDSL), ATM access via T1, T3 and OC-3, analogue dial access and ISDN. Key applications that will rely on IP Enabled Solutions include a decision support system based on Teradata and Microstrategy, which Davenport said would be rolled out across its 450 stores later this year. The system is designed to help HBC better operate its business according to key performance indicators, he said, and will provide more relevant information to store operators than ever before.
“”We think they’ll walk before they run,”” he said. “”They’ll use the more rudimentary aspects first, and as they get used to navigating the toolset and the power of the tool, they’ll start to drill down into some of the more added features.””
A number of retailers, including Black’s Photography, are turning to sophisticated business intelligence products to fine-tune everything from store assortment to inventory control. Davenport said HBC is confident the system will provide better response time to customers.
“”This is a tool that’s not just for the stores,”” he said. “”It’s for the buying office, it’s for supply chain. We expect the power users to be more at home office than in the stores, but still we wanted to give the stores some capabilities.””
Network to support online training
Other projects include the rollout of an Oracle-based enterprise resource planning system that will include a content management module allowing associates to better sell big-ticket items like refrigerators and furniture directly to consumers.
Davenport said the Sprint network will also help supply enough bandwidth to support the ongoing rollout of online learning courses it offers store employees to learn selling techniques, improve their product knowledge and familiarize them with HBC procedures.
While IP Enabled Solutions are scalable from small hub and spoke networks, Sprint Canada Business Solutions president Greg McCamus said HBC’s project represents a fully meshed solution. Content management and e-learning are typical of the kind of features driving customers to the company’s IP Enabled Solutions, he said.
“”In many cases they’re taking those applications further outside of the core locations of their network,”” he said. “”They’re extending it to customers, suppliers or travelling support people.””
McCamus said other markets for IP Enabled Solutions include services and distribution.
“”I think people in the past have focussed more on the application side and have all of a sudden gotten to the problem of how to connect it,”” he said. “”That can have a big impact on how effective application rollout will be. The companies that are more progressive in that area are starting to talk about the network in conjunction with that.””
Until recently, most of the customers of Sprint’s IP Enabled Solutions had fewer than eight locations. But earlier this year, however, the company said the Oppenheimer Group, a Vancouver-based produce marketing company, had chosen its IP Enabled Solutions to link its 25 North American locations.