Mark’s Work Wearhouse tries on Web-based reporting

Mark’s Work Wearhouse is hoping a Web-based sales reporting solution developed by Crystal Decisions will help it respond more quickly to changing

customer needs, drive sales, and reduce operating costs at the retailer’s more than 300 stores across Canada.

Existing technology already in use by Mark’s, including their IBM DB2 database, will be combined with Crystal Enterprise 8.5 and Crystal Reports 8.5 as they roll-out the installation of a new point-of-sale system.

The company hopes the real-time data the system will give them from their network of retail locations will help them chart the course as Mark’s carries forward with an aggressive plan to reach 450 stores by 2006.

Mark’s CIO Robin Lynas explains they were looking for a quick and easy Web-based reporting for their end users. They’d been using a five-seat licence of Crystal for about a year as part of a project, and that experience influenced them to go with it as the backbone of an enterprise-wide reporting solution.

“”We’ve tried lots of other business intelligence tools,”” says Lynas. “”There are lots of detailed data warehousing packages out there, but they tend to be fairly pricey.””

The company needs to track things like units per transaction and ticket size. They also have traffic counters in each store connected to their IP network, allowing them to compare traffic to sales in a given period to look at the closure rate.

Lynas says Mark’s has now stripped all the servers out of their stores. Everything is running completely on Java and Linux back to the corporate office, where they store all the information. The system has also been kept as simple as possible for the staff in the stores, who can access the system through their Web browser.

“”The operations group here is predefining the reports, the people in the stores have a Web portal they go into that brings them into all the point of sale reports,”” says Lynas. “”They click on a drop-down that shows them all the different report types, so they can choose the date range and what store they’d like to look at.””

Lynas says the stores love it because they can track how their sales are occurring within a day. The stores receive their bonus based on how well they do against their plan, and the Crystal solution lets them track real-time how they’re doing against that plan so they can make adjustments and motivate their staff.

“”It’s about getting more information and timely information to the end user in a format they can understand,”” says Lynas.

Donald MacCormick, director of product communications for Crystal Decisions, says the products they’re licensing to Mark’s are designed to gather information, and get the right information to the right people within the organization to allow them to do their jobs better.

“”Now they’ll be able to see in real time what’s happening in the business, what stock is moving where and what promotions are working,”” says MacCormick. “”It allows them to make better decisions to drive the business forward.””

MacCormick says Crystal’s tools are very horizontal in application — they’re not vertical specific. The idea of gathering data and getting it to the right people is as applicable to a manufacturing company delivering warehouse information throughout their business as it is to a retail or finance company.

“”We believe the broad dissemination of information is the way that people can get value out of tools like ours,”” says MacCormick.

These sorts of business intelligence tools are being used in the retail space but Alister Sutherland, director of software research for IDC Canada Ltd., says you need to be a larger size retailer like a Mark’s Work Wearhouse to really reap the benefits.

“”There really aren’t a lot of business intelligence products out there for smaller companies,”” says Sutherland.

As far as retailing goes, Sutherland says American retail giant Wal-Mart is really the poster child for using business intelligence and supply chain management operations.

“”They’ve done incredible work in that area, which is one of the reasons they’ve been able to drive their operating costs down so much,”” says Sutherland. “”It’s not just buying power, it’s also selling power.””

For Mark’s, Sutherland says the Crystal solution will enable the company to right-size its sales targets and right-size its inventory as much as is possible. The more historical data you have available to show you patterns and trends, he says, the more valuable that information becomes.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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