Esprit updates on the IT front

Fashion retailer Esprit Australia is undertaking an extensive overhaul of existing infrastructure, which is earmarked to generate savings of more than $100,000 a year over the next five years.

The three-part project includes the installation of one of Australia's first retail-specific virtual private networks (VPN), an operating system upgrade from Windows 95 to 2000 and the implementation of a new point of sale (PoS) system to allow Eftpos to run over the Internet to a central bank connection, and merging them all into the new network.

Esprit has more than 150 stores with high daily turnovers; the previous DOS-based POS system required store managers to dial-up a switch access box twice a day to receive new product prices and upload sales data.

Esprit IT manager Roger Spraggon said it was a time-consuming system unable to cope with large amounts of data.

The impetus to upgrade to the new POS system came from head office in Hong Kong, which began the process. Project integration was awarded to Rosser Communications.

Eight IT staff have been working on the project which covers 280 PC/registers.

Spraggon said the VPN runs through a WatchGuard firewall at the Sydney head office using dedicated Internet modem links from the stores.

He said a secure 'tunnel' through the Internet allows data to be sent and received securely.

Eftpos payments are also channelled back to head office where Esprit has Transend lines running back to its bank where transactions are processed.

"With such a large network of stores and important interconnections to banks and other facilities, we cannot afford to have a single point failure; as a result, it has a second VPN gateway in Melbourne with the same hardware in place to act as backup in the event the Sydney office experiences operational difficulties," Spraggon said.

The greatest benefit of the VPN is the enormous cost savings. Before the VPN, Spraggon said stores in South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia were making STD calls twice a day. New Zealand also has to make two international calls a day to the Sydney head office.

"The telecommunications and banking costs to Esprit were significant; by cutting over to a VPN and paying a flat fee for the ISP service, we are making big savings in banking and call costs; we expect to recoup our infrastructure investment in less than two years," he said.

"We are also in a position to provide better helpdesk support to individual interstate stores. Previously, IT had to remotely support the PC/register at stores, talking the user through the problem over the phone, which was difficult.

"There is a high staff turnover in retail so the helpdesk was busy; now we can identify problems remotely on the network."

Extensive user training was undertaken in each state as the project was rolled out and Spraggon said there was little user resistance because staff were happy with the upgrade admitting the previous DOS system was limited.

The project is set for completion next month with plans to begin the New Zealand roll out in early 2003.

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