Convenience store chain SPAR has spent the first three months of
2006 finalising its requirements for a step change in how it delivers EPoS upgrades. It aims to move to an application service provision model for its bespoke SPARPoS system to slash the time and cost of manual upgrades.

SPAR IT controller Roy Ford says: “We are looking at our requirements for 2007 to 2012.” It costs its regional IT teams between £150 and £200 to perform software upgrades manually in each
store. When multiplied by SPAR’s 2,700 stores, the cost of a major software release soars to about £400,000.

“It is a huge cost for us to upgrade software,” says Ford. By centralising its delivery of data and software over the internet, SPAR hopes to remove large swathes of this spend. It aims to choose a supplier by the end of the year.

The retailer is also expanding its use of handheld devices in its stores in a bid to automate paper-intensive processes. SPAR uses handhelds for routine stock taking, price checking and monitoring wastage, but Ford says the pilot is the first time store managers have used the devices to “help them run their business”. Using the devices, employees will be able to check sell-by and best-before dates and ensure that promotions are actually on the shop floor.

“We have a number of paper-based, instore standards and due diligence processes, such as monitoring sell-by and best-before dates. We intend to develop a PDA-type terminal, from supplier Nordic ID, linked to the backoffice store system to gather and record the information,” he says. The trial was scheduled to start in six stores this spring.

Another goal is gaining a deeper understanding of what the business wants from IT. Because SPAR is run by six independent regional wholesalers, it has enlisted an IT services firm to help it achieve this goal.
“We have started a six-month project to understand better
the needs of our business requirements from IT. We are using the services of an independent consultancy, which will meet a wide cross-section of our business and draw what it is they
want from IT,” says Ford.