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Iron Age Shoes boots out Microsoft and SAP

Iron Age Shoes execs chose Oracle E-Business Suite over competing products from Microsoft and SAP. Iron Age wanted to gain more insights into business processes.

When the executives of the 188-year-old footwear retailer Iron Age Shoes decided the time had come to revamp their outdated systems in order to gain better insight into the business, they started down a path that led away from Microsoft, past SAP AG and straight to Oracle E-Business Suite.

The project, which was completed when Oracle E-Business Suite went live in October of last year after nine months of planning, was part of an overall turnaround initiative designed to help the formerly floundering retailer streamline costs, improve performance and ultimately gain a bigger share of the market for safety and work shoes.

Today the firm is making use of Oracle E-Business Suite applications including Financials, Advanced Procurement and Inventory, Warehouse Management and Order Management to make choices about financial management, inventory allocation, merchandising operations and customer relationships, said Drew Farris, CIO of Iron Age Shoes.

Farris said his company is now having an easier time advising commercial customers on buying patterns, safety compliance and costs at its Massachusetts headquarters, a call center in Pennsylvania, a second headquarters in Canada and over 100 store locations.

"We had some incredible challenges trying to just make heads or tails of what was out there for data," said Farris, referring to how the company's IT structure looked before the turnaround project. "It was kind of amazing that it was running at all."

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Microsoft, SAP get the boot

Farris and his team evaluated deals from Microsoft Great Plains, their incumbent vendor, which they had been using for general ledger and accounts payable functionality, as well as offerings from German ERP giant SAP before choosing Oracle E-Business Suite.

The CIO said his company passed over Microsoft because that its offering would require that Iron Age place servers and tech support at every location -- a possibility that didn't bode well for the company's goal of centralized management.

"Great Plains just presented so many problems associated with the deployment," Farris said. "And to be perfectly honest, their pricing just wasn't as good as what we thought it should be."

Iron Age ruled out SAP because of high cost and "a lack of focus" of their applications, Farris said.

"[SAP] didn't necessarily have the pieces of functionality or core operational functionality that we had hoped to have and that would have made it worthwhile for us to partner for as much money as their implementation teams were really looking for," Farris said.

Farris said that another problem he had with SAP ERP was how well it "played" with software from third-party vendors and consultants.

"We used offshore resources, we used Canadian resources and we used U.S. resources from a number of different players, and they all played in the same sandbox very well, and that was not something that we were going to be able to have work for us with SAP," he said.

Farris said Iron Age ultimately chose Oracle because it had a lower total cost and was easier to manage. The company now uses E-Business Suite for core operations, Oracle iStore for the firm's Web presence and Oracle Mobile Supply Chain technology.

The biggest challenge

One of the biggest challenges Farris's team encountered during the massive turnaround project concerned the company's decision to move its headquarters from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts.

Farris said the last thing he wanted to do during that phase of the project -- which included moving the firm's server room and reconfiguring and reinstalling the firm's core applications -- was shut down the firm's entire technological infrastructure.

"We were able to use Oracle E-Studio to host our development [and] implementation instances for a period of six months, while we moved our server room and got an infrastructure of our own, and then they simply ported it over," he said.

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