Wholesalers' technology priorities for 1994 fall into two broad areas -- revamping their own systems with the focus on Efficient Consumer Response and helping their retail clients upgrade their operations.
Most of the information technology executives surveyed by SN put ECR-related improvements at the top of their lists.
Some wholesalers are just beginning to plan for the systems they expect to need. Others are well into a conversion from mainframe-based systems to more open, personal computer-based systems.
The wholesalers are looking to improve both supplier and customer sides of their business. Richfood, Mechanicsville, Va., for example, is developing electronic data interchange with suppliers to improve inventory control and delivery scheduling.
The Milwaukee division of Fleming Cos., supplying Waukesha, Wis.-based Sentry Markets and Super Saver stores, is working with its retailers to convert all front-end scanning systems to a single type to take advantage of new electronic marketing opportunities down the road.
Here's what a number of wholesaler information technology executives see as their top technology priorities this year.
Bill Hoag director, MIS
Fleming Cos. Milwaukee division
Our No. 1 priority is to reinstall front-end scanning in a number of our Sentry and Super Saver stores to make use of electronic marketing.
We'll have 13 stores completed by spring and may do as many as 30 this year. We're installing IBM 4680 scanning equipment to replace five different technologies now in the stores. All of those technologies have electronic marketing programs, but it is impossible to come out with a unified program without having a single system in the stores.
As one of the Fleming divisions, we are part of the whole organization's re-engineering process. Fleming is taking very aggressive moves to streamline the organization and put power at the division level. We are consolidating data centers, taking 37 centers down to nine, and that will be done by mid-year.
Chuck Losey president
United Wholesale Grocers subsidiary of Spartan Stores Grand Rapids, Mich.
We are putting front-end scanning into our 12 cash-and-carry warehouse branches. Three are installed now and we will probably have three-fourths done by the end of the calendar year.
For the small business owners that are our customers, this will give them a much cleaner invoice than just a cash register receipt. They will have more information so they can run their business better. The receipt will be more in line with a delivery invoice, even though the customers are picking up the merchandise. It should be especially useful in enabling these small operators to redeem manufacturers' coupons they accept (by providing proof of purchase). It may even give us a little boost over the warehouse club competition.
Don Dickson director, MIS
Associated Grocers of New England Manchester, N.H.
There are two major projects we're in the process of implementing right now.
We are installing an RF (radio-frequency) system through the mainframe in our warehouse. All forklifts will have terminals giving operators complete access to product location information, both when they are picking product and when they put it away.
We are also implementing a laptop system for our food service sales force. It should give them much more accurate information without carrying around a whole lot of paper.
We may consider laptops for our retail sales people as well after we see how it works out for the food service accounts. The retail sales people have a somewhat different job, because most of the retailers just order on their own, not through the sales staff.
Ron Frost director, corporate communications
Fleming Cos. Oklahoma City
1994 is a year in which we will be developing strategic architecture to support a re-engineering and set the stage for ECR as we redesign our business.
Jim Long manager, technology services
United Grocers Portland, Ore.
We are moving from a proprietary, mainframe system to an open, client-server-based system. The ball has started rolling, but it will be a process of evolution. There's no magic day in the near future to pull the plug on our mainframe. It's a process of re-engineering the company. We expect this to position us for implementation of the ECR process.
James Crouch director, information technologies
Topco Associates Skokie, Ill.
Our biggest technology task is the migration from mainframe systems to midrange and PC local-area-network systems. We need to do this rather than continue to build on the older design, which has less flexibility and is getting expensive.
These new systems should give us a lot more flexibility and get rid of legacy systems that are something of an albatross. They will also help us raise our customer satisfaction levels.
Susan Eckenberger manager, systems and programming
Richfood Mechanicsville, Va.
We are in the process of implementing EDI and discussing other 1994 projects. We are now installing the translation software to let us communicate with our suppliers. Our first partner should be up within a month or two, starting with purchase orders, then invoices and electronic funds transfer.
Rich Lange director, MIS
Certified Grocers Midwest Hodgkins, Ill.
Our priority is to try to get into ECR. We're spending a lot of energy looking into it, formulating a plan and determining how to support our members. We're an independent cooperative. Our retailers do a lot on their own and we try to guide them.