Retek: The Customizer's Always RightBy Joshua Weinberger | Posted 2003-06-01 Print
Retailers face an old dilemma: differentiating their wares from those of the company next door. Retek responds with a full menu of capabilities.
950 Nicollet Mall, 4th floor
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Before joining in March, he spent 23 years at Accenture, where he helped guide coverage of the retail industry.
Chief Strategy Officer
Another former Accenture staffer, he led the acquisition and new-product strategy that has remade Retek since 1997.
The Customizer's Always Right
Retailers face an old dilemma: differentiating their wares from those of the company next door. Software vendors, it turns out, are in much the same predicament. Retek's response—a more complete menu of retail-management products, from supply to demand—is only now, after years of acquisitions, nearing reality, with the recent addition of a "point-of-sale" module. While Retek was ramping up, however, many of its customers—including Eckerd (See Case Dissection, p. 38)—were forced to stitch together systems with whatever pieces they had available.
Just a few years ago, says Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) CIO Gary Davenport, the situation seemed bleak. "For large retailers, there wasn't any consolidated [enterprisewide system] you could go to—you either did it yourself, or you pieced together a bunch of best-of-breed systems." During HBC's 2000 installation, Retek was "learning how to go after large retailers; now they've kind of nailed that as a market space for themselves." HBC needed "a significant amount of customization to address performance issues and functionality. With thousands of [individual items], what would work for a smaller retailer didn't work as well for us."
A Retek deployment, Davenport says, becomes "the heart-and-lung transplant of any retailer—not just a technology change, but a process change and a cultural change as well." One major customer, in fact, is about to crack open its chest. "We're moving off Retek," says Indigo Books & Music CTO Doug Caldwell. Indigo now owns the Chapters chain, which has been running RMS 6 since 1996. To address functional shortcomings of the now-outdated software, Caldwell says, "the core code was over 60% customized," resulting in such a hybrid system that Chapters "actually called our implementation 'Chaptek.'" (Retek doesn't seem to mind re-branding: North West Company calls one food-distribution deployment "Retek Lite.") Indigo's customizations were so intensive that "we dropped maintenance in 2000, and we've been supporting ourselves," but Caldwell finds no fault with his soon-to-be-former vendor. "We don't blame Retek—we blame what we did 7 years ago."
At convenience-store chain Sheetz, Bob Scholl acknowledges that "with the amount of customization we had, things aren't always going to work the first time," but because the applications are written in accessible—and malleable—Oracle code, "we can troubleshoot it ourselves." (Gander Mountain's ArMand Nelson also found it pivotal that "Retek let us own the code.") The food-service customizations Sheetz and North West required paved the way for Retek 10 and the recent deployment at grocer A&P.
Even Retek's new Users' Group may not be enough to unruffle the feathers of its customized customers, wedded to specialized versions that are virtually impossible to upgrade.
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