FDI PRODUCTIVITY

ST. LOUIS -- Furr's Supermarkets, Albuquerque, N.M., is already reaping the rewards of moving many of its applications to a client-server environment, and the retailer is aiming to completely shut down its mainframe in December."When I joined in 1997, we were a big mainframe shop," said John Granger, vice president of MIS and chief information officer for the chain. Granger spoke at the Food Industry

ST. LOUIS -- Furr's Supermarkets, Albuquerque, N.M., is already reaping the rewards of moving many of its applications to a client-server environment, and the retailer is aiming to completely shut down its mainframe in December.

"When I joined in 1997, we were a big mainframe shop," said John Granger, vice president of MIS and chief information officer for the chain. Granger spoke at the Food Industry Productivity Convention and Exposition held here Oct.31 through Nov. 3. The show was sponsored by Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va. "But the costs of maintaining these applications were apparent. And if we lost someone in the MIS department, the application they were responsible for could be in jeopardy," he said. "We saw this as an excellent opportunity for conversion to client-server. With Y2K, remediation would be costly, and it became apparent that we couldn't stay afloat."

As part of the move toward a total client-server environment, Furr's embarked on a six-month project that encompassed the installation of a warehouse-management system as well as billing, purchasing and invoice-matching applications. Granger said Furr's was taking over the operation of a warehouse from a wholesaler, so the project had to move quickly.

"The goal was to be business as usual for the stores, which is a lofty goal but something we feel is important in any project," said Granger. "We aimed for transparent, and it ended up being opaque." He said there were very few glitches, but it was important to cause as little disruption as possible to store operations.

He said managing the project on a tight schedule required commitment from top management. "We had the backing of the CEO, president and senior officers. Nothing could get in the way of this project. We defined the scope and made it clear that we could not add functions after the start. We had to ensure that the project was on time and there was simply no room."

The move to a client-server environment has provided Furr's with a number of opportunities, including more flexibility in serving the stores and getting involved in an Internet-based home-shopping program. "We couldn't have done these things without this work. One of our objectives was to improve our service levels to the stores. Now we can do that."

The retailer is now looking at opportunities for vendor-managed inventory to further improve service levels to the stores, Granger said.