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Issue of May 2005 

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A boost for retail

Pantaloon Retail (India) has ambitious plans to grow its business and is using IT as a strategic tool to achieve its goals. by Soutiman Das Gupta

Pantaloon Retail (India) [PRIL] is a successful retailing company and plans to grow its business in a big way this year, with the help of new outlets and business ventures.

IT will play a critical role in the organisation’s productivity, and the company has crafted a roadmap to ensure that its information infrastructure will scale as required to support business growth.

Going by its IT strategy roadmap, as a key effort, PRIL plans to deploy secure nationwide connectivity links. It has also built a sizeable server infrastructure, created a security architecture from scratch, and deployed a financial management software.

The company also plans to deploy an ERP, set up a B2B portal, put up a Disaster Recovery (DR) site, use Business Intelligence (BI) tools, implement VoIP, and install CCTVs at all locations that can be monitored from a central console and location.

Business along the way

We had to design the network so that the geographically dispersed workforce would have uninterrupted access to the enterprise applications from any corner of the country
Jitendra Sarode,
Senior Manager, IT infrastructure, PRIL

The company began as a textile and fabrics manufacturer in 1987 and its foray into the retail business was kicked off with the first Pantaloon retail store in Kolkata in 1997.

It ventured into other retail business lines and now has 13 Pantaloon stores, nine hypermarket discount stores (Big Bazaars), 13 Food Bazaars, and one Central mall in various nationwide locations. The Central mall has restaurants, shopping arcades, toys, books, and lifecycle products all under one roof. As we read, the actual number of the outlets is rising at a good pace.

The company owns brands like John Miller and Anabelle, and has also purchased a few companies such as Indigo Nation and Scullers to add to its business portfolio. It plans to build 20-odd outlets more in the next few months as a part of its business expansion plans.

Technology Game Plan

The IT strategy has been framed keeping in mind its ambitious growth plans. The highlights are:

  • Create a robust and reliable information infrastructure.
  • Keep the large base of customer and financial information secure with no scope of unauthorised access.
  • Network all offices and outlets of the company to exchange information in real-time.
  • Use tools to simplify operations and accounting processes across the entire organisation.
  • Build the IT infrastructure with special emphasis on scalability to allow growth on a large scale.
  • Keep looking at ways in which the business can reduce costs.

In line with the IT strategy the company has made a number of deployments, and has plans to introduce large scale deployments in areas like connectivity, security, server infrastructure, networked storage, and enterprise applications.

Key to the strategy

The key to the success of the IT strategy lies in the ability to network all nationwide company locations in a secure and organised manner.

PRIL has a head office (HO) in Mumbai, has regional offices in Kolkata and Bangalore, a manufacturing unit and central warehouse in Tarapur (Thane district), zonal offices, and retail outlets in various nationwide locations.

Due to the company’s geographical spread and critical nature of business, the most significant need laid out in the IT strategy was that of connectivity. Jitendra Sarode, Senior Manager, IT infrastructure, PRIL has taken up the responsibility of creating a nationwide secure connectivity.

Connecting the business

Earlier all locations including retail outlets and warehouses were not connected directly to the HO. A group of three or four outlets in a particular vicinity were connected to the nearest regional or zonal office, which, in turn was connected to the HO.

“We had to design the network so that the geographically dispersed workforce would have uninterrupted access to the enterprise applications from any corner of the country. As we grow, it is necessary that information from locations is constantly updated to the central servers,” explained Sarode.

Keeping in mind the need for scalability and complexity that may arise from an organisation that’s growing at a fast pace, Sarode created the blueprint of a VPN architecture to link all the company’s offices to the HO. (see diagram)

The VPN network will link all company locations including retail outlets and the manufacturing unit in phases. “In the first phase, we have connected around 24 locations. In the second phase, we plan to connect 25 more, depending on the growth pattern. The last mile connectivity will be on Radio Frequency (RF),” explained Sarode.

Keeping it secure

Information security is a very important consideration in the IT strategy because the network has to handle a large amount of company and customer information.

After careful consideration, the company decided to use multi-function device (MFD)-based security rather than point solutions. Following the evaluation of products from companies such as Fortinet CheckPoint, NetScreen, and CyberGuard, PRIL chose to deploy a solution from Fortinet called FG500A. “The device allows unified capabilities and is easy to manage and monitor. It is used at the perimeter,” said Vishak Raman, Country Manager India, Fortinet.

Proposed VPN infrastructure

Corporate data centre

The corporate data centre is situated at the Mumbai head office and houses around 12 servers for the various enterprise applications, networked storage boxes, backup tape libraries, security devices, and other networking devices like routers, and switches. The data centre backbone is based on optic fibre.

The nationwide network is monitored and managed from this setup and a separate IT team monitors the network regarding aspects such as connectivity, uptime, continuity of service, quality of service, and utilisation.

The apps do the work

The company developed Point of Sales (PoS) application in-house and evolved them over time across all retail outlets including the malls and food markets. The company is now evaluating an ERP system so that it can standardise its retail applications.

It has evaluated demos of solutions such as SAP Retail and will soon make the buying decision. It will use other applications like a B2B portal, and a BI and data warehouse tool for which it has evaluated Cognos.

PRIL is testing VoIP applications and also plans to introduce video conferencing facilities. It also plans to deploy a network of CCTV cameras at all locations. This network will be managed from a central location in Mumbai. As far as business continuity measures were concerned, PRIL uses a backup server and tape libraries for archiving and retrieval. It plans to set up a remote DR site very soon.

Information architecture setup

Business boosters

The company expects a number of business benefits from the enhanced network.

  • There will be a free flow of information between the head office and various nationwide locations.
  • It will be easier to create sales and analysis reports.
  • Customer profiles can be stored and the use of BI can help predict behaviour and create targeted ad campaigns.

“In any store if a particular shirt has a high demand, I can make a requisition from a central location to ensure that the particular item is available in the store. Functionalities like this matter a lot since it saves cost and provides transparency in the supply chain,” explained Sarode.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at:

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