Submitted by: two one communications
Date: July 2002
Londis, the convenience-store symbol group, has over 2000 independent, store-owning members in England, Wales and Scotland. By joining the group, retailers gain bulk-buying advantages and save time, as supplies are delivered to their premises. Additionally, the group has negotiated competitive terms with over 200 suppliers, who deliver direct to Londis stores. As part of its package, Londis also provides retailers with store development expertise, marketing and promotional support as well as an exclusive own-brand range.
For more than 10 years, Londis has operated internal systems for placing orders, but in the past year the group has opened connectivity to its supply chain to various accredited third-party IT suppliers and is in the process of appointing more.
As a result, the group needed to bring its selected EPOS providers into line with its current internal system, in order to allow the processing of orders electronically.
The transactions identified for electronic processing were:
1. Product management – each store needs a comprehensive product file that includes pricing information.
2. Order processing – each store needs to be able to place its own orders, using the current locally-held product details, from the Londis systems.
3. Order acknowledgement – the store needs to know that an order has been received by Londis head office.
4. Despatch note – once an order has been picked and is ready for shipping (or is en route), the store needs to be advised that the order has been fulfilled.
Because of the number of potential interfaces associated with the various software products used by the stores, it was decided that XML transactions would best provide the four key deliverables:
1. The Product Master File
2. Orders to be placed
3. Order Receipt Acknowledgement
4. Despatch Note
The system would refresh Master Files weekly and provide order tracking for those stores that were connected. When orders were identified they would be syntactically checked and, if correct, immediately acknowledged. If incorrect, an error response would be sent to the store.
When goods were ready for shipping, the store would be advised by the placement of a file, ready for collection next time it accessed the service.
The project was led by an internal team with support from Retail Answers Ltd.
Perwill eBiz-Manager from Perwill Plc was chosen for the HP-UX environment and the company itself was contracted to design the necessary XML transactions, and to assist with implementation and initial rollout. Trials began in late 2000 and were steadily refined until early 2001, then the rollout to stores began. By early August 2001, 53 stores were using FTP to transact business with Londis head office. Perwill continues to provide documentation, training and support to Londis head office.
Tony Nelder, Retail Systems Controller at Londis, commented: “Perwill’s involvement in LondisLink has been an essential element of the project. Their integration team worked hard to ensure that Perwill eBiz Manager was able to provide the essential communication layer between our head office systems and the disparate EPOS and back office systems in the group members’ premises. I’m happy to report that the system is performing to specification and within budget.”
Due to Londis’ interest in the garage forecourt market, a specialist EPOS supplier, Arciris, was selected as a pilot third party, because of its expertise in interfacing fuel pumps to in-store systems. Arciris wrote a communications program that allows its software to process the Londis-produced product file and send orders in a format that can be accepted by the Londis system. Each site’s stock file, containing retail prices and product descriptions, can also receive updates as files collected from the Londis server, which then update the store systems.
As Chris Cammack, Development Manager at Arciris commented: “Maintenance of the stock file prior to the implementation of LondisLink was extremely time consuming, being a manual process. Stock deliveries had to be entered onto the store’s system, or they would either not be valid at the till, or the wrong price could be charged, or the wrong department code could be assigned to the sale. LondisLink eliminated not only those manual errors, but also the tedious work of going through invoice sheets looking for new products.”
During 2000, Londis head office needed to upgrade or replace its existing HP-UX-based EDI software. Perwill’s solution for LondisLink was also able to meet Londis’ EDI needs and was implemented accordingly.
Although the concept of XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language) has been around since late 1998, it has evolved from SGML, a printer language, and HTML, the lingua franca of the Internet. Without established XML standards, the data structures designed for the Londis transactions not only had to meet the needs of Londis but also to be as ‘open’ as possible, to suit the EPOS suppliers.
The solution will continue to be rolled out to more and more stores, with the associated benefits and efficiencies that the process will bring. The expectation is that this improved efficiency will encourage retailers to increase their spend through Londis, thereby increasing the group’s buying power.