BrightHouse is the leading UK rent-to-own retailer, providing quality branded household goods on affordable weekly payments. The proposition allows customers access to the goods they need to furnish their homes – with no deposit, no credit checks and with peace of mind, through complete servicing and right of return. With 190 retail stores, serving over 155,000 customers across the UK, the company is on a rapid expansion path and as such is undergoing significant business change. This expansion is underpinned by the development of a new centralised POS system.
Simon Mouncer, Head of Business Change and IT at BrightHouse, states: “BrightHouse is on an accelerated growth path – we opened 20 stores in 2008, 20 more in 2009, and plan to step up the number of openings over the next few years. We are geared towards one single strategic objective - to accelerate business growth through increasing our store estate and customer base. We intend to double the size of the store estate within 5 years."
Growth plans based on IT
Mouncer realised that the scale of change in BrightHouse required a formal governance-orientated approach to change management. “ But the first requirement was to transform the organization’s IT function,” he said.
“From a strategic review it was clear that IT was going to be at the centre of our expansion plans. The first target was our POS system. Known as IRIS, it is a ten-year-old system built on a near obsolete technology, with an outdated user interface and operates on a non-scalable infrastructure – a clear constraint on growth. However, once we decided to replace it we could not find any off-the-shelf systems in the UK or abroad to adequately match our rent-to-own model.”
“We decided to build a replacement system from scratch and partnered with an Indian software specialist to handle the development. The objective was to develop a scalable system that utilised a centralised database, which stores could access via a browser from a store terminal.”
“Early on in the project it became clear that we were short of certain skill sets, primarily a focused testing resource. Rather than employ contractors or add additional in-house resources, we decided to find a specialist third-party. We had heard good reports about PMC and knew about their testing services, so we asked them to handle both integration and performance testing."
Performance testing is a critical activity that ensures a system performs properly under all operating conditions. PMC tested the BrightHouse system to ensure that as stores come on line system performance would remain within acceptable parameters.
“The test began with one store and moved to 14 stores (to match the size of our pilot region). We then tested the scalability to ensure the system could work across 200 stores, and ultimately over 400. Our objective was to future-proof our IT investment,” Mouncer continues.
IRIS2 is a key customer-facing system for BrightHouse. When customers enter into an agreement, as a responsible lender BrightHouse takes them through a defined introductory process. Once that is complete, the entire transaction is booked on the IRIS system, including customer details, bank account, postcode, address, products on order, pricing structure and delivery details.
Mouncer confirms: “Our model is localised and personal. Customers visit stores weekly and pay cash. The nature of our customer base means they don’t generally have credit cards. So we develop a close relationship with our customers. From a debt management perspective that face-to-face contact is very important – and the system handling that must be faultless particularly from a compliance and regulation perspective.”
Communication is crucial to success
The integration testing ensured that IRIS2 could still ‘talk’ to other BrightHouse systems. With the original IRIS system BrightHouse took a decentralised approach with a local server in each store. IRIS2 uses a centralised system, but the need to interact with other BrightHouse systems remains.
Mouncer explains: “We need to ensure total integration between individual stores and the centre. The central system must then ‘talk’ to downstream systems such as stock ordering. As we are not changing any of those downstream systems one could argue that nothing (in the downstream systems) needs testing as nothing will go wrong – but disaster lies in that complacency.”
“PMC’s specialist database management knowledge enables them to carry out thorough and rigorous integration testing. PMC are ‘end-to-end’ testing - from the front-end as it communicates with the centre to downstream communications with other systems. With new software and a new central infrastructure much has changed. It’s more than a change to a POS system and there’s too much risk to hope that everything will work as expected without testing every element.”
Closing, Mouncer states: “With a project of this scale to be delivered within such an aggressive timescale, getting the right skills and expertise on board quickly was essential. We mobilised a team around a large number of BrightHouse personnel and then went outside the organization to find the skills we lacked. PMC provided a crucial skill we needed – they are experts, and gave us a real focus on testing – and they played a key role in helping us achieve our goals.”