Goal: Avoid Data Overload

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 2001-12-10 Print this article Print

When Chuck Conaway took over as the chief executive of Kmart, he gave himself two years to resuscitate the discount retailer, get the right products on its shelves and make it competitive again with the new kings of general merchandising, Wal-Mart and Tar

Goal: Avoid Data Overload

Implementations of i2 software tend to stumble for reasons that have nothing to do with the software itself. "If the data's not right, it's not that it doesn't work in i2—it's just that you won't get the answer you want," says another user group member. "They've got a great product. Where they are weak is they've got to interface with every system that ever existed."

Like many of the major supply chain software vendors, i2 cut its teeth in manufacturing and is still learning the retail industry. Retail has proven particularly challenging for many enterprise software vendors, not just for i2, Peterson says.

The number of products produced by even the largest manufacturers tends to be dwarfed by the number of different products, known as stock-keeping units or SKUs, that a mass market retailer must track.

To give some idea, if Kmart is carrying about 70,000 SKUs on average in 2,100 stores, that's 147 million item-location pairs for starters. That doesn't even count distribution centers or the number of time periods that have to get tracked.

A weak point of i2's software, users say, is that it can choke on very large data sets because it tries to load the entire supply chain model into memory. I2 says the latest release has a more modular architecture that minimizes the amount of data that needs to be loaded into memory. But users say it's still an issue.

I2 can point to retail customers such as Home Depot and Barnes & Noble that have had success with its software. Yet one member of the i2 User Group's retail special interest group reports a mood of simmering discontent among his colleagues. "I think we all have the same fear of telling people what's going on, which is that i2 has done a poor job of promising something that will actually work for retail and not delivering," he says. I2 customers in industries such as aerospace or computer manufacturing have better luck overcoming the difficulties that crop up during an implementation, he contends, "but those people have really, really deep pockets and high margins—and retail doesn't have that."

When asked what the company was doing to ensure it has happy customers in retail, Bernard Goor, i2's vice president of retail product marketing, disputes the very idea that there might be unhappy customers. And he says i2 continues to have a good relationship with Kmart.

"There is so much misinformation out there about our relationship with Kmart that it's scary," says Goor. "We have an excellent relationship with Kmart."

Senior Writer and author of the Know It All blog

Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.

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