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Systems integration on all levels is the hot buzzword among many information systems executives.Retailers and wholesalers interviewed by SN cited open-systems architecture as a key strategic area in the year ahead, whether in just starting down the path or in expanding applications aggressively.Executives are investigating a wide range of software programs to help integrate applications -- from the

Systems integration on all levels is the hot buzzword among many information systems executives.

Retailers and wholesalers interviewed by SN cited open-systems architecture as a key strategic area in the year ahead, whether in just starting down the path or in expanding applications aggressively.

Executives are investigating a wide range of software programs to help integrate applications -- from the front end of the store to the receiving dock to company headquarters -- and create a common platform to boost efficiency and accuracy.

The technology usually is not the problem, executives agreed; it is readily available. What is important is making the commitment to move forward.

Here is a sampling of retailer and wholesaler plans to streamline and improve operations in the year ahead:

Bill Rulla MIS director Homeland Stores Oklahoma City

For us right now, No. 1 is back-door delivery. We want an automated back-door delivery system to capture all the data that is coming in the back door so we can feed a perpetual inventory system.

I also am looking at putting a new data base on the hardware we have in the stores to facilitate that. I am going to use [point-of-sale scan] data to reduce that inventory, and I'm going to use back-door receiving to capture everything coming in the back door. And the difference between the two, when you're taking inventory, is shrink, so you get to identify your shrink as well.

Paul Gannon VP, information technology systems Shaw's Supermarkets East Bridgewater, Mass.

Replenishment systems will be important. We are also moving at the corporate level to finalize some moves to open systems. We already have personal computers at the registers. It is now more a matter of deciding what sort of display we want to show the customer. We have PCs, but the customer doesn't know it because it's a 2x20 display. So the issue is, do you put in a large size monitor? We will be looking at that in the next year.

Industrywide, I think the whole point-of-sale area is going to change dramatically over the next 18 to 24 months, including things like frequent shopper programs, customer interface systems and electronic payment systems.

John Granger VP, MIS Roundy's Pewaukee, Wis.

Most important will be the continuing of a massive effort to implement open architecture in our purchasing and warehousing systems. We're looking to finish that next year.

We're probably three-quarters done on purchasing and approaching halfway done on warehousing. It's very important to us.

We've dramatically improved our invoice matching rate with our vendors and improved the throughput of our payment systems as a result of [electronic data interchange]. There's much less manual intervention, and that's one of the ECR efforts -- to improve payment to vendors.

We believe we can now develop applications and implement applications faster than our users can absorb them and learn them. So now we are focusing on application training and application ownership.

Dennis Wisdom MIS director Furr's Supermarkets Albuquerque, N.M.

We want to try to move away from our mainframe system and move toward client-server. To do that -- it's not something you can do overnight -- we have to take it a step at a time. We have to make it transparent to our users so we can move them over to the client-server platform but still share the data with our older systems.

Brian Moore MIS applications service manager Spartan Stores Grand Rapids, Mich.

Our year is pretty well laid out in the support of business process re-engineering. From an MIS standpoint, that's going to be the selection of architectures and languages to support our re-engineered company. We feel we have to turn this business around and help the independent retailer. Open systems will very definitely be a part of the plan.

Robert Duritza Jr. general manager Duritza Enterprises Washington, Pa.

I'd like to have all the stores networked so that we could tap into any one of the locations and be able to pull up sales figures, movement reports, productivity reports -- in other words, there should be a universal data base.

Kevin Mullen manager of retail technology Supervalu's Pittsburgh division Pittsburgh

We're looking more toward integration of the entire store. We're working at trying to eliminate multiple data bases at the store level and trying to link everything together to a local area network.

Right now, most of the stores have two LANs; what we're going to try to do is join those two LANs together -- one big system. And that's not easy, especially if you're dealing with 46 different front ends. A lot of them aren't open. The open systems are much easier to deal with.

We're trying to get one total network solution at the store level.

Paul Roesener systems automation management manager Clemens Markets Kulpsville, Pa.

We'll be looking at imaging for the back office. We'll be taking in and scanning our invoices electronically.

Electronic data interchange will be growing, along with frequent shopper loyalty programs, because of the saturation point of supermarkets. There's so many supermarkets today that you have to have a customer base that's somewhat loyal.

Michael Faber network analyst G&R Felpausch Co. Hastings, Mich.

I think the biggest change for us is going to be between us and our stores -- increasing communications. We'll be increasing the amount of information that comes into the corporate office and what goes back to the stores -- and also the way we use the information.

We've got a couple of other decisions to make: whether we're going to manage our own information, such as, for example, the data we now receive from a frequent shopper program we're testing in four stores.

Mike Bollman Jr. information systems manager Super S Foods San Antonio

I see price management as a big area. We're going to develop some sort of a price system that will help us to note the impact of a price change prior to making it.

We do not now have a corporate-wide electronic mail system, but I see us doing that in the very near future.

We just recently installed a network here at headquarters to consolidate our corporate office. I see us taking a lot of automation-type steps to streamline things that were not streamlined before.

The momentum's just started on our information systems. As a company, we've begun to realize that it's important now and there's a real emphasis on information systems.

Charlie Sanyour MIS director Affiliated Foods Amarillo, Texas

I n our particular atmosphere, EDI is the first step for us on ECR. We're going live with EDI soon and will eventually do about 75% of our vendors with EDI.

EDI is an integral part of what we do in order to get product here on time. It also gives us the ability not only to do our purchase orders and confirmations, but we can do our invoice checking electronically. We can also do our item maintenance and new item information electronically instead of doing a (manual) data entry operation.

We're also looking at some other things. About 70% of our [650-store] customer base is small mom-and-pop stores that aren't doing any scanning. What we're looking at for them is developing an economical, PC-based register system for about $3,500 that will get them into scanning.

Once we get them into scanning, we can help them produce electronic orders. So we can take the orders right out of the register and also capture that movement and start preparing that movement back here at the warehouse, and then transmit our movement to the vendors.