Monsoon Accessorize Ltd. is a design-led retailer that operates two highly successful and well-recognised high street names - Monsoon and Accessorize. Monsoon sells a wide range of women's clothing, which encompasses both day and eveningwear. Accessorize is a specialist fashion accessories retail chain.
From it's beginnings in 1974, the company has expanded from it's original London base into more than 20 countries worldwide with imminent store openings planned in six more. Today in the UK and Eire alone, Monsoon Accessorize has over 260 stores with more openings planned throughout the coming year.
The company's continued expansion includes a project for the replacement of their EPoS across their entire UK and Eire retail estate, the objective being to provide their stores with new and enhanced EpoS functionality. At the outset, Monsoon Accessorize decided that the complexity of the project required external assistance to ensure the success of the project.
Dave Metcalfe, IT Director, Monsoon Accessorize Ltd., explains: "Monsoon Accessorize has a significant amount of experience working with consultants and third-party suppliers. When we first approached this project we knew that external project management was the best way to drive the process. I see two key reasons to use an external consultancy to manage a project. Firstly, we needed a single-mindedness of approach. With an external solution you gain someone whose only goal in life is to focus on the project and see it through to success. The second reason is to gain skills and expertise you do not have in-house, without the need to staff-up and then bear the resulting increase in head count and costs."
To meet their needs, Monsoon Accessorize selected retail IT specialists PMC.
"We were aware of PMC, but originally, we did not consider them for a project of this size, especially as this was their first outing with us. We reviewed a number of consultancies, and then we had an initial meeting with PMC. From that first meeting we liked their approach. They have an attitude and flexibility that matches with our company ethos. To my mind, a high level of flexibility is crucial for a consultancy service. The consultancy must match to the way you work and adapt to your processes – not the other way around."
Dave Metcalfe continues: "Once we decided to work with PMC, we contacted retailers that had used their services. Retailing is a very small world and good references, as well as horror stories circulate pretty quickly. We heard good things about their operating procedures, their people and their methodology."
"As a result of our investigations, their track record and approach, we commissioned PMC to be responsible for project initiation, mobilisation and project planning, plus, they also took on the project management of the total EPoS solution."
"PMC brought a significant amount of knowledge and expertise to the project including their considerable EPoS project management and roll out experience, plus the necessary technical skills to support the proof of concept."
Changing the technology to cope with the business
The drive to install the new EPoS was prompted because the old tills were technologically obsolete. There was limited EpoS functionality available, an increasing difficulty in sourcing the obsolete hardware, while replacement equipment and spares were becoming unobtainable. Additionally, the decision was influenced by the need for tills and EpoS systems to be chip & PIN compliant in 2005.
The new EPoS will provide benefits to both store staff and to business development. Store staff will be working with new, easy to use touch screens instead of old-fashioned devices and should the Monsoon Accessorize want to change it's retail operations it can do it without having to go through a major upheaval.
Dave Metcalfe once again: "This is the type of project that only comes up once every 7 years or so in retail. The sheer capital cost of replacing all the tills throughout the UK and Eire retail estate is the prime reason. With around 260 shops, that means that 550 tills need to be replaced. Hardware alone made quite a dent in our annual IT budget."
In addition to the new EPoS, the project is involving Monsoon Accessorize in the installation of wireless Local Area Networks (LANs) and a new Wide Area Network (WAN). Radio frequency tills will enable Monsoon Accessorize to improve long-term flexibility. Not least because radio networks make it much easier to refit stores without having to dig up floors or re-route ceiling mounted cabling.
Dave Metcalfe states: "We try not to drive the direction of the business through IT – but we implement an infrastructure that makes change possible. In addition to installing radio networks, we are also going the Java route. The underlying technology means that the company can bring new devices and technology into the stores quickly with a minimum of commissioning. The same Java applications could also be used to run a commercial web site or kiosks if the business decides this is appropriate."
"PMC brought the right business touch to the relationship," Dave Metcalfe emphasises. "The important point is to get people to buy-in to the project. Getting them to give their time and listen to what you have to say. PMC made selection and business case presentations for the project in a way that is acceptable to the business managers and the board."
"Corporate boards and steering groups like to see a major project positioned in relation to the rest of the world. The IT case has to be couched in business terms to give senior people a strong foundation for serious thought. PMC knows how to deliver the business case."
In addition to providing Monsoon Accessorize with their project management abilities, PMC were also instrumental in the set up and development of the company's IT laboratory. They assisted Monsoon Accessorize with architecture design, technical architecture roadmaps, interface definition, test procedures, configuration plus the planning and management of the proof of concept activities.
Dave Metcalfe states: "PMC provide us the advantages of their market knowledge and proven industry expertise, coupled with their ability to support the business case and the selection process."
"They have also been involved with both the hardware and the software selection process. PMC offer us a wide spectrum of support and are willing to go the extra mile to help. Anyone who is interested in their job and committed to what they do, will inevitably go one step further, clearly PMC are interested in Monsoon Accessorize and our business."
Dave Metcalfe sees another clear benefit of using a consultant. "We are not equipped to manage and control the number of sub-contracts involved in a project of this size and complexity. When you are implementing a new head office infrastructure, installing a WAN plus 300 new networks simultaneously – if you count each shop as a network – new till hardware, software and an operating system you have not used before, you must have someone controlling the project top-to-bottom."
"They need to give you the scale on how you break that project down into manageable tasks, review and select vendors plus identify which parts should be sub contracted. PMC carried out the project shaping and high-level initiation planning prior to Monson Accessorize issuing the Invitation to Tender (ITT). Additionally, PMC provided us with a critique of our ITT."
PMC also managed the vendor short list selection process and set the evaluation criteria. They reviewed the short listed products and presented Monsoon Accessorize with the advantages and disadvantages, highlighted the issues and risks and facilitated the decision making process.
Dave Metcalfe concludes: "PMC work with our internal project manager, tell us when we need to do something and illustrate the choices open to us. Then we work through the options together. They do not influence who is doing what but they offer advice and act us a check and measure on the decisions we make."
"The way we work can be high-pressured, PMC do not make decisions for us, they give us choices and highlight options that we may not have considered. They are an alarm clock and a sounding board at the same time. They are a valuable part of the Monsoon Accessorize team."