HUGHES MOVES TO SPEED FILE TRANSFERS, BUILD 'INTRANET'

IRWINDALE, Calif. -- Hughes Family Markets here is installing software to enhance file transfers and build a sophisticated internal communications network using Internet-developed technology.The retailer is now conducting store-to-corporate file transfers in five minutes, a dramatic improvement over the three hours previously required to upload information to the corporate mainframe, company officials

IRWINDALE, Calif. -- Hughes Family Markets here is installing software to enhance file transfers and build a sophisticated internal communications network using Internet-developed technology.

The retailer is now conducting store-to-corporate file transfers in five minutes, a dramatic improvement over the three hours previously required to upload information to the corporate mainframe, company officials said.

The software also provides the foundation for a companywide "intranet," which will use Internet-based communications protocol and programming language for an internal network.

"We're building a little intranet within our corporation," said Joey Valentine, systems analyst. The network will allow store officials, for example, to access real-time pricing information at the corporate level, thus eliminating the need for printing and distributing paper catalogs.

Stores linked to the new system will also gain the ability to electronically communicate with other stores for the first time, he said.

Valentine said the driving reason to upgrade communications is to enhance accuracy and speed of store-to-corporate file transfers.

"When we used to do a file transfer from the personal computers at the host level to upload to the mainframe, it would take up to three hours -- and that's if you got it right the first time," he said.

"Often in a three-hour file transfer you'll get errors and you've got to restart the

process," Valentine added. "It often took much longer."

The software, from OpenConnect Systems, Dallas, also runs a simultaneous check for system errors while uploading information, thus improving file transfer accuracy, he said. Hughes now uses the software to access the seven stores equipped with new point-of-sale technology. The retailer will roll out POS systems from Stores Automated Systems, Bristol, Pa., to 18 more stores by the end of this year and eventually plans to go chainwide.

Installing PC-based open systems on store front ends is necessary before the store can use its enhanced communications software, Valentine said.

"This layer of [communications] protocol was never available through our old point-of-sale system," Valentine said. "We knew going into [the new POS system] that we would be changing our file transfer method; this new software allows much greater throughput to the mainframe."

Hughes is also stepping up the ability of its stores to access information at the corporate level.

For example, the system "will give stores on-line inquiry [capabilities] for pricing," Valentine said. "That way we won't have to print the price book, which means a lot of paper and time" savings at the corporate level.

The retailer may eventually equip stores with network servers and may add greater bandwidth to its leased lines to further increase store communication abilities, he said.

"It's going to enable us to more accurately build a perpetual inventory and help us in our goals toward Efficient Consumer Response," Valentine added.