B&Q is the UK's leading home improvements and garden centre retailer, offering over 40,000 home improvement and garden products for the occasional to serious DIY enthusiast, and trade professionals. As part of it's continuing drive to develop it's business and improve customers' shopping experience, B&Q is implementing an EPOS replacement project across it's entire store network.
The new EPOS solution will consist of a Java-J2EE POS software application provided by Triversity; touch screens and in-store thin client architecture. The project, which is in trial, is expected to roll out to B&Q's 320+ Supercentre and Warehouse stores by the end of 2004.
Paul Yates, Director of Systems Development, B&Q plc. states: "This investment in a state of the art EPOS system will radically improve both the service we offer our customers and the business information we retrieve.
"Adapting to speed of change in business is critical. When the business wants to make a change, the question always has to be: 'How quickly can it get to the store network?' With the current system, we experienced some issues in making timely and effective changes. There are capacity issues, it is difficult to update, limited in function and high risk, so we minimise change.
"The new system will enable us to move forward in areas such as new pricing models, new ranges, and products. This takes us to a more proactive and less reactive mode. That gives us the security and the ability to drive business change and importantly, significant business agility."
Programme management skills integral to success
An integral part of the project was the appointment of Paul Mason Consulting (PMC) Ltd., to programme manage the delivery of the total EPOS solution, including implementation services, software and hardware selection plus business related activities such as training, communication and business process re-engineering.
Steve Goodburn, Director of Operations Development, B&Q plc. states: "We selected PMC for their programme management skills and retail experience. In a project such as this, the programme manager is often an internal person. However, there was no single individual available in B&Q operations with the skill set, proven capability and necessary level of experience to run the project.
"We needed someone comfortable working in systems, particularly in the early stages of the project, because at least half of their time would be involved with running the systems side of the project, managing project managers and third party suppliers."
Extending the benefits across the store network
The new EPOS runs on the existing Wincor-Nixdorf till hardware, with the addition of touch screens to replace keyboards, plus a Chip & PIN reading facility. The move to touch screens will allow the flexible use of soft keys and enable B&Q to use a menu driven system without the physical restrictions imposed by a keyboard.
Goodburn continues: "The new EPOS will allow us to do things we cannot currently achieve. By-exception we sometimes ask customers for their postcodes to help with store selection. At present, that is a manual process, the new system will enable us to record the information electronically, directly at the till.
"Immediate benefits we expect to see will include faster problem resolution. For example, a bar code query at the till can take an unacceptable amount of time to resolve before we can get the customer on their way. Having a product look up facility on the system, which is easy and intuitive to use, possibly supported by pictures, will improve this dramatically."
When B&Q first considered the project and looked at the issues, it was obvious that to eliminate problems, ownership of the system should be shared between both the systems and operations sides of the business.
Yates explains: "Originally this project was conceived and driven by systems. Personally, I believe that to ensure success you must engage with the business. If a project is conceived by systems because technology is one of the drivers, that's fine, however, ultimately the project has to be driven by the business."
Goodburn agrees: "Currently, it's a partnership between systems and operations and I think we have achieved the right balance and that is unusual in my experience. In the initial stages, the bulk of the work was led by systems. However, as we get beyond trial to implementation and change management, the project will increasingly be owned by business operations. Very often projects such as this are under resourced on the business side. We have a crucial level of business engagement on this project."
B&Q expects the system to help them build for the future. Queue busting, mobile tills, an ability to handle customer orders and normal transactions from one till/service point, and updating special promotions are all part of their expectations.
Ready for the introduction of Chip & PIN
Yates says: "The new EPOS will mean we are ready for the introduction of Chip &PIN, which must be ready by 1st January 2005. It will also enable us to accelerate the speed of transaction at the till. Currently, transactions can be slow when we have unrecognised products. The new system will allow us to identify products more easily and improve interaction with the customer. It will also improve the quality of the till receipt giving better information and improving refund mechanics."
B&Q believes that the new EPOS system will be relatively simple to introduce. The hardware change is small and the system is intuitive and easy to use.
However, it will mean significant cultural change, as the current system is old with lengthy supporting business procedures, so there will be a comprehensive training programme.
The company is also using the opportunity to introduce some soft skills and attitudinal training into the roll out. Given that there are about ten thousand people to train, this will involve considerable coordination. This will include training people to interact more effectively with their customers to improve the shopping experience.
Goodburn concludes: "The project is working well because there is a good governance structure. We have good visibility of the project early on in the process. The PMC consultant operates as a B&Q team member, and is comfortable working with all the players involved from B&Q.
Yates sums up: "This is a significant project for B&Q. Our existing system was at least ten years old and at the end of it's lifespan, although system lifespan is not necessarily measured in years. I believe that the measurement criterion is it's fit with our business needs. If a system is fit for those needs then it has a lifespan – when there is no fit it's lifespan is over. The new system is young and the technology is robust. That's the entire purpose – we have something that has a lot of future in it."