CLIENT-SERVER: ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

While most retailers recognize the inherent advantages of client-server computing, from increased flexibility to long-term cost savings, not everyone is ready to embrace the innovative technology.The key factor in determining whether to switch to a client-server platform is whether the system fits current business needs, retailers and industry observers interviewed by SN said."I don't doubt for a

While most retailers recognize the inherent advantages of client-server computing, from increased flexibility to long-term cost savings, not everyone is ready to embrace the innovative technology.

The key factor in determining whether to switch to a client-server platform is whether the system fits current business needs, retailers and industry observers interviewed by SN said.

"I don't doubt for a moment there are evangelists who think client-server is the ultimate solution, and there are classes of applications where it is a great way to go, but it's not for us now," said Dave Thompson, executive director of information systems at Kansas City, Kan.-based Associated Wholesale Grocers.

"We're certainly watching with great interest the experience of Associated and Spartan Stores [Grand Rapids, Mich.], both of whom are embarking on some pretty aggressive directions in client-server," he said. "However, we are very much a transaction-driven company and, as such, the scope of our applications is particularly well-suited to mainframe-class solutions."

Because client-server computing represents a dramatic shift from traditional batch-oriented processing, it is critical to take a pragmatic approach to implementing the system. Introducing a new architecture must produce a "good fit" with the business strategy, according to champions of client-server.

"To say that going to client-server is a mission or an objective, to me, makes no sense at all," said one retailer whose company is now implementing four major client-server applications, with plans to proceed even more aggressively in the future.

"It's a way to facilitate a business objective. You are doing the right thing if you're sure your focus is on the objectives of the business and the benefit of the business as opposed to pursuing something for technology's sake," the retailer added.

For Fiesta Mart, Houston, a lack of client-server-based applications is one reason to postpone migration off a mainframe. But the chain's reluctance to jump on the bandwagon goes deeper than that.

"I'm the chief information officer and it's my responsibility to stay ahead of the curve, to provide computing technology that is economically sound for our company," said Gil Russell.

Although client-server computing is a likely future move for the 30-store chain, he said, other ambitious technology programs take precedence today.

This week, for instance, Fiesta Mart will bring one of its stores on-line with a new wireless electronic shelf-label system, the first full installation in the supermarket industry. Next month, the chain will introduce category management software at the corporate level, and in June, in-store processors will be rolled out chainwide, he said.

"Client-server is almost like Efficient Consumer Response: Almost everywhere you turn, people are talking about it," Russell said. "I get a lot of inquiries from people within our company asking, 'When are we going to have client-server? How come we're getting behind? Why aren't we doing anything?' In other words, 'C'mon Russell, get with it.' "

Indeed, Russell said, "Our president, in his vision statement, has indicated that we will be a leader in technology. It's not like I don't have the backing to do client-server. It's that I don't have the need.

"I don't see, near term, a need for client-server. No. 1, the software for our financial packages -- fixed assets, general ledger, that kind of thing -- isn't available now. But if tomorrow I got the software capability, I'm not sure I have a business need for it. Is there going to be a need sometime in the future? Sure.

"To get on our 'to-do' list, it has to be pretty important and client-server doesn't pass that test," he added.