Many supply chain and IT professionals know quite well that one of the most complex and business-sensitive software systems resides within order management, fulfillment and electronic commerce support areas. The reasons are obvious, they are by mission and purpose connected and integrated with so many other supporting applications. These systems are always characterized as mission-critical for the business, and any project directed at changing elements of the system come with high requirements in project planning, performance and scalability testing.
With that in mind, when attending technology conferences, I always seek out customer presentations directed at changing order fulfillment and commerce platforms. This afternoon, a standing room only session at Impact 2011 highlighted retailer Target Stores recent efforts to change its online commerce platform. Meredith Jordan, Senior Group Manager for Target and her co-presenters did not disappoint in their comprehensive and well delivered presentation.
Target itself includes 1750 retail outlets in North America supported by 37 distribution centers and 355,000 team employees. The Target.com retail site, supported by 4 fulfillment centers, is the fourth most visited retail web site, and was hosted by a large-scale commerce provider. Target decided last year that it wanted more intimate control of the online customer buying experience and launched a program to host its own commerce platform. The most significant and profound aspect of this decision was a short timeframe for implementation, involving a mission-critical and important aspect of Target’s evolving business model. More significant, the timeframe from idea creation to initial implementation was a mere 8 months, which is somewhat profound in this area.
The project itself was pulled off by a joint implementation team consisting of Target, IBM Services, Sterling Commerce and Infosys Technologies team members. Today’s presentation spoke to a number of technical, business process and other challenges that were overcome in this implementation effort. Noted as key success criteria were centralized program management, close cooperation among Infosys and IBM technical teams in identifying and addressing unique technology and testing challenges, and the consistent commitment of Target functional and IT teams to move through each of the key milestones. The actual cutover to the new commerce platform occurred over a weekend, with the system ready to take orders on a Monday morning.
A key component of commerce platform implementations involves the integration of real-time inventory status, and in the case of Target, that involved a few million inventory transactions flowing each day from direct ship vendors, fulfillment centers and corresponding order transactions. Another key success criterion noted by the Target team was an initial focus on implementing the required basics of order management process and data management needs before moving to the eCommerce phase. Early involvement of the technical support teams helped to overcome technical challenges uncovered in certifying unique needs for required electronic messaging certifications (MQ6/MQ7). As is often the case in online commerce and fulfillment systems, volume benchmark requirements are specific to the individual business model and not typically out-of-box.
As is typical for these specific applications, there was certain learning as to what could have been done better. One area specifically noted by the Target team was the need to include data testing and add “second-ring” periphery systems in the end-to-end testing. Also noted was the importance of team communications in commonly understood terms. An example cited was the term ‘network’, which had completely different meanings among supply chain operations and IT technical teams in project meetings. The IT team context of networks was nodes for all systems while supply chain operations context of network was suppliers, distribution and fulfillment centers.
In the end, Target.com will be prepared to fully support upcoming needs for the 2011 holiday buying season offering customers some exciting new features. Teamwork and competency played a rather important role in this overall effort and hats-off to the entire implementation team.
Disclosure: Infosys Technologies is one of other sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters blog, and was one of other named Gold Sponsors of Impact 2011.