Microsoft Windows Embedded
Customer Solution Case Study
/ Dutch Retailer Raises Stock Availability and Customer Services withMobile Solution
Country or Region:Netherlands
Retailing giant HEMA has more than 280 stores in the Netherlands, with further stores in Belgium and Germany. Employing 10,000 people, the organisation sells a range of goods including food and clothing.
The organisation wanted a mobile stock control solution that meant staff could immediately re-order stock once they saw a shelf low on items without leaving the shop floor.
HEMA rolled out a personal digital assistant device that ran on Microsoft®Windows® CE and connected to an in-store re-ordering solution that included a point of sale system powered by Microsoft Windows XP Embedded.
Better stock management
Increased customer service levels
Minimal training required among staff
Advanced reliability of software environment
Peace of mind over software maintenance by vendor / “With Microsoft Windows CE, we now have a reliable mobile stock control solution that helps ensure shelves are never empty and contain at least the minimum of stock."
Marinus Kuite, Information Manager, HEMA
Retailer HEMA, based in the Netherlands and running more than 280 stores, wanted a mobile stock control solution. With such a system staff could re-order stock at the moment they saw a shelf low on items, and remain on the shop floor to help customers. HEMA rolled out a personal digital assistant device, running Microsoft® Windows® CE as the operating system, across all stores. The devices connect to an in-store server solution that automates the re-ordering process and includes a point-of-sale system that runs on Microsoft Windows XP Embedded. Using Windows CE, the devices have helped HEMA ensure that shelves consistently achieve the company’s target of holding at least 20 of each item. As staff can manage stock without leaving the shop floor, customers gain assistance quicker. In addition, the familiarity of the interface means HEMA avoids expensive training in using the devices.
Increasingly, IT solutions raise staff productivity by freeing people to complete tasks away from their desks. This mobility is attractive to retailers, who want systems that mean staff can efficiently complete business tasks and be available to answer customer enquiries.
Dutch retailing giant HEMA employs around 10,000 people and runs more than 280 stores in the Netherlands. It sells a wide range of products under its own brand name and is well known for selling pastries and cakes, as well as clothing. The organisation wanted a mobile solution that improved stock management and kept sales staff on the shop floor to support customers.
Marinus Kuite, Information Manager, HEMA says: “Our key challenge is to maximise the number of people walking the shop floor to support shoppers. Customers’ expectations are now higher than ever before, and they want someone immediately on hand to deal with enquiries and stock items to be constantly available.”
Historically, HEMA’s IT infrastructure delivered a PC-based stock management control solution that selected from 12,000 available items. This had a direct impact on the number of staff available at the front of the store at any one time. For example, if an employee saw a shelf that was low in stock, they needed to go to a back office and order replacement items using a workstation.
However, with recent developments in stock management solutions, the organisation saw the opportunity to establish a more flexible and mobile method for keeping shelves full. In 2004, HEMA introduced a point-of-sale (POS) system throughout its stores that helped automate the re-ordering processes with its distribution centres. With the POS implementation, which ran on the Microsoft® Windows® XP Embedded operating system, HEMA had an IT solution that improved the effectiveness of stock control and helped ensure that items on shelves never fell below a set minimum.
The retail organisation now wanted to deploy a handheld device that meant staff could support the POS solution ensuring shelves were constantly stocked, but without the need to use the back-office workstations.
Kuite says: “This represented a large development in our internal processes that potentially delivered major business value. It was vital, therefore, that we found the right device and, importantly, the right software environment. If the software lacked reliability or was difficult for employees to use, then the effects could be damaging to stock control and our sales.”
After evaluating the marketplace for devices and software environments, HEMA chose the Symbol PPT 8846 enterprise personal digital assistant (PDA) with Windows CE as the operating system. For HEMA, the advantages of selecting Windows CE were clear. Microsoft solutions already cost-effectively supported increased productivity across the whole organisation.
Apart from Windows XPe supporting the POS system, the in-store software infrastructure ran the Microsoft Windows Server™ 2003 operating system, part of Microsoft Windows Server System™ integrated server software, with Microsoft SQL Server™ 2000 providing database services. For administrators, Active Directory® directory service delivered a low-cost solution for managing network user groups.
Kuite says: “The stability and cost-effectiveness of Microsoft solutions were clear to us. In addition, the vendor’s technology is trusted by our staff, who are familiar with the user-friendly interfaces and would require minimal training to be using the new devices with confidence.”
To develop the interface for the PDAs, HEMA worked with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Anker Systems. The partner, which had a long-standing relationship with HEMA, used the rapid out-of-the-box development tools within Windows CE, such as Microsoft Platform Builder, to create the devices’ image and implemented Microsoft Internet Explorer version 4.0 as the core application.
HEMA rolled out the handheld devices across stores between March and June 2005. The programme was a complete success and staff incorporated them into their daily work without any disruption. Using the browser technology, the PDAs connect to the in-store server stack, running on Windows Server 2003 with Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) version 6.0 and SQL Server 2000. From this point, the network feeds back the information to the retailer’s centralised systems and the distribution centres.
For staff, it means that if they walk past an empty shelf or one that is under stocked, they can enter the good’s barcode into the PDA and access the stock records on the database. From there, they can place an order and adjust the established parameters for re-ordering, conveniently increasing the minimum stocking level if need be.
Improved Stocking Levels, Greater Customer Satisfaction
By using Windows CE as the operating system on its PDAs, HEMA has gained a value-adding software solution that makes stock control more responsive to day-to-day purchases. If a staff member sees a shelf displaying a level of stock below the advised minimum level of 20 items, they can feed back the information to the in-store servers and re-order additional items.
Put simply, the result of the new solution is that shoppers see shelves that are better stocked when they enter HEMA stores. Kuite says: “With Microsoft Windows CE, we now have a reliable mobile stock control solution that helps ensure shelves are never empty and contain at least the minimum of stock. This not only helps us as a business, but increases shopper convenience, because it reduces the probability of an item on their shopping lists not being on the shelf.”
Greater Mobility Keeps Staff on the Shop Floor
A key driver for implementing the new mobile technology at HEMA was to increase the number of shop floor staff at any one time. By doing so, customers would gain a better shopping experience, with more employees available to answer enquiries. With the reliability of the new mobile solution using Windows CE, staff no longer need to leave the shop floor to re-order more stock.
Kuite comments: “I now see more staff in the front of the store among customers, which was a main objective. Their presence supports our goal of giving customers total support and making their shopping experience at HEMA as convenient as possible.”
Using the handheld devices, staff are less likely to make errors when attempting to re-order. In the time it took to walk to the back office after seeing a shelf low on items, employees could be sidetracked by customer enquiries or simply forget one of the complete barcode numbers for the stock item.
Adds Kuite: “Having the mobile solution takes the pressure off of sales assistants to recall all the necessary information. Plus, it avoids lost time from them going back to the shelf to check the barcode number if they forget any of the digits.”
Ease of Use Avoiding Any Disruption to Staff
The retailer avoided expensive training in how to use the interface. Sales assistants were familiar with Windows-based operating systems, with Windows XP Professional the preferred desktop environment across the company. It meant that staff adapted easily to using the devices in their daily work and HEMA prevented any disruption to employees’ working lives.
Kuite says: “The amount of training needed for any new IT solution is a cost factor that needs to be considered before any implementation. With Windows CE, employee training was minimal and staff were aware of the user-friendliness of Windows software.”
Superior Stability Delivering a Cost-Effective IT Solution
HEMA has gained a stable software operating system for the PDAs that reflects years of experience at Microsoft in developing solutions with increased business value. The organisation already had good experience of Microsoft embedded technology delivering cost-effective support for the POS.
Kuite comments: “Microsoft embedded technology delivers clear business value. Before selecting Windows CE for the PDAs, we had seen the benefits of Windows XP Embedded on the POS. It showed us that embedded technology delivered the same reliability as desktop operating systems from Microsoft, with the same level of user experience that makes Microsoft Windows software trusted worldwide.”
A Value-Adding Environment with Advanced Integration
For HEMA, the Windows CE deployment signifies an increasing commitment to Microsoft technology that results from the efficiency gains that the software delivers.
Today, the in-store server stack is powered by Microsoft solutions engineered to deliver increasing business benefits over time. The infrastructure, for example, now runs Windows Server 2003 with Active Directory, which gives administrators an efficient system for managing network users. In addition, the stack also includes SQL Server 2000, a database solution that introduces business intelligence into data management.
Kuite says: “Our experience of Microsoft technology and Microsoft as an organisation has been good. Not only is the technology robust and reliable, the vendor has shown a commitment to maintenance that ensures the solutions will develop with the changes in your business needs.”
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