Taming the integration beast

Last year, Petsmart Inc. took on what it thought would be a simple Y2K remediation project.
Written by Lee Pender, Contributor on

Last year, Petsmart Inc. took on what it thought would be a simple Y2K remediation project. But while upgrading its financial applications, the company ran up against a unique system integration conflict that left the IT department holding a tiger by the tail.

By mid-1999, the Phoenix-based pet supply chain had installed a new ERP (enterprise resource planning) application and new POS (point-of-sale) terminals. With that, Y2K was solved. But when the retail-specific R/3 application from SAP AG and the POS systems from NCR Corp. couldn't communicate properly to complete sales transactions, company officials were suddenly facing an unruly animal that was much more threatening than Y2K.

With about 480 stores scattered across North America and the holiday season around the corner, Pet smart needed to be fully operational. So as not to waste time, Ed Remington, the company's vice president of IS, and Michael Jordan, Pet smart's manager of IS applications, decided to partner with an enterprise application integration vendor to get back on track quickly.

They knew they needed help because of the complexity of the system. When Pet smart invested in SAP technology, it undertook one of the world's largest retail-specific SAP implementations.

"I don't think anyone has as many modules running in SAP retail," Remington said.

As part of the upgrade, the company tied its ERP and NCR POS applications into Oracle Corp.'s Oracle8 database and replaced an old Digital Equipment Corp. VAX with Compaq Computer Corp. servers.

But even with the common database and hardware, there were still two powerful systems in place that were not talking to each other. That's where Software Technologies Corp., of Redwood Shores, Calif., stepped in. Petsmart turned to STC for its eGate programming language tool, which can alter the APIs of disparate applications, enabling them to work together.

The Petsmart IT staff and STC used eGate to develop a common interface through which employees could enter transactions at the POS terminal that would pass automatically into R/3. But even with the integration tool, it wasn't easy.

The POS system required continual tuning to allow data to be converted into information understood by R/3. "We have a lot of rule-based messaging and a lot of [data conversion]," Jordan said. "Some of the messages with that [are] pretty complex."

Nevertheless, by the time the holiday season began in December, the company had linked POS systems in all of its North American stores to R/3 and brought in 38 internal and partner business systems.

Petsmart then began to reap rewards.

First, the integrated system allowed programmers to work in a single development environment. Second, the time it took to process sales data was significantly reduced: In the legacy ERP system, it took Petsmart's IT staff 12 hours to process daily store transactions and updates into the ERP system. Now it takes 2 hours to handle 600,000 daily ERP updates and 5 million sales transactions.

Between reduced system maintenance costs and the lower cost of processing transactions, Petsmart officials forecast their five-year savings will total $3.5 million.

All this—significant savings, plus completion of the integration project in time for the holiday crunch and the change in the calendar year—Remington credits to STC's implementation experts and his own staff's expertise for taming what could have been an undomesticated IT animal.

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