February 14, 2003, 12:00 AM

Retail chains employ web services to cut costs of growth and technology

As retailers integrate their software applications and keep a lid on the costs of expanding infrastructure to accommodate growth, some are finding that web services create the most effective integration at the lowest cost and in the shortest time.


As retailers strive to better integrate their software applications while stemming the costs of expanding their infrastructure to accommodate growth, some are finding web services to be the way to get the most effective integration at the lowest cost and in the shortest time. Without the flexibility of web services, integrating applications would require additional program code-writing and hardware, says Don Beaver, CIO of H-E-B Grocery Co.

H-E-B, a Texas-based chain with 55,000 employees and 300 stores in Texas, Louisiana and Mexico, is developing a web services infrastructure to better integrate applications that contain information related to employees, customers and suppliers. Beaver says he`s deploying web services technology in Sun Microsystems Inc.`s Open Net Environment platform to provide application integration with the flexibility to accommodate his company`s expected growth. Web services technology incorporates Internet protocol standards that enable disparate applications and platforms to automatically share data, so that a retailer like H-E-B can, for example, enable its inventory management system to receive automated updates from its POS system for sales activity and from its vendors for scheduled product deliveries.

At London Drugs Ltd., a Vancouver, B.C.-based chain of 56 retail pharmacies, web services are expected to ease an expansion that will nearly double its number of stores over the next few years. The company is using web services development technology from Microsoft Corp., including the BizTalk Server as part of the .Net platform. "Our goal is to grow to 100 stores over the next nine years, and the web services environment we`ve set up will allow us to do that without adding significantly to our infrastructure," says Nick Curalli, general manager of information technology for London Drugs.

In addition to extending real-time visibility into its supply chain processes, London Drugs is using web services technology to tie several in-store business applications from multiple vendors, such as payroll and human resources programs, to a central server in each store, and from the store server to headquarters. Without web services standards, this kind of in-store and corporatewide integration would require additional coding and network connections as well as a larger IT staff to maintain a more complicated system, Curalli says.


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