RISCON '94: RETAIL INFO SYSTEMS EXECS HEADLINE AT THE SANDS A BROADER-THAN-USUAL SCHEDULE OF EDUCATIONAL SEMINARS FOCUSES THE SPOTLIGHT ON SOME OF RETAIL TECHNOLOGY'S CLASSIER ACTS
LAS VEGAS--The 1994 RISCON show promises to be one of the most interesting in years for retailers. The reason, according to show organizers, is that retailers planned the seminars themselves. "We've greatly increased the ratio of retailers to vendors speaking," said Sandy Kennedy, senior vice-president of conferences at show sponsor the National Retail Federation. "Retailers handled much of the planning. A lot of credit goes to Tom Rittenhouse, vice-president and controller at Strawbridge & Clothier, who headed the planning committee. Each retailer took a track and pulled it together. The retailers are great at persuading their peers to share how they're exploiting technology." RISCON, an acronym for Retail Information Systems Conference, will run from Oct. 9-12 at the Sands Convention Center here. Though the conference showcases a broad range of retail technology vendors in fields ranging from telecommunications to computer systems to transactions processing, its educational component remains a major draw. The keynote speaker will be John Shea, president and vice-chairman of Spiegel. His presentation, titled "Retail Innovation Through Technology," will address the impact of emerging technologies on the retail industry, employees and customers. The seminar schedule has been broken into six tracks to help retailers focus on topics they are tackling within their own companies. Rittenhouse explained the rationale behind the track structure. "Given all the challenges the CIO's team, including the technology development people, deal with, we knew we had to offer tracks that would address specific concerns of different people," he said. "These seminars will help my entire team, and they will all be there." "What projects people are working on will dictate what tracks they will attend," added Richard Nawrot, senior vice-president of information services at Payless Cashways and one of the retail executives involved in planning the sessions. He said keeping IS staffers abreast of what their peers at other retail organizations are doing is important, given the rapid turnover of technology. "People are our only appreciating asset in IS departments," he said. "The hardware and software start depreciating the minute you install them." The six tracks are Technology Infrastructure; Business Appli-cations; Applications Develop-ment; CIO Strategic and Operational Issues; Telecom-munications/Networks; and Payment Systems. Nawrot expects the Technology Infrastructure and Telecommuni-cations/Networks tracks to be among the best attended. "The hot issues for our industry are object-oriented computing and graphical user interfacing," he said. "And the telecommunications track will be a big draw with all the emphasis on the information superhighway now." IS officials from Mervyn's and J.C. Penney Co. will be among the presenters in the Technology Infrastructure track. Vince Bathea, manager of Penney's store systems hotline, will discuss how he and his staff support users in that retailer's clientserver environment. His practical discussion, called "Store Systems Hotline: Key to Store Service & Productivity," will also discuss how planned improvements will impact productivity. John Dratch, manager of data processing and technical support for the Plano, Texas-based retailer, will offer a seminar titled "Managing Nationwide Data Center Operations." He will review the tools utilized, go over disaster recovery provisions and discussed the benefits this system has wrought for Penney's. In a session titled "Architecting Decision Support Applications in the 100 Gigabyte Range," Mary McCormick, director of planning and technology at Mervyn's, will outline the decision support application used by that retailer's buyers and analysts. IS executives for Sears will address two of the four seminars in the telecommunications track. Ken DeWitt, senior director of system planning in the Sears Merchandise Group will moderate a seminar titled "Managing the Distributed Computing Environ-ment." The nuts-and-bolts session will attempt to guide attendees though the peaks and pitfalls of migrating to a distributed environment. Larry Finney, director of information systems for the Sears Merchandise Group, will moderate a discussion of wireless communications and wide-area networks. The seminar is titled "Mobile Computing: Wide-area Wireless Network Computing." Ken Scarborough, vice-president of information systems at Parisien, will moderate a seminar titled "The Information Super Highway: What Is It and How Will It Impact Retailing." Dennis Connors, senior vice-president of MIS at The Gap, David Carlson, senior vice-president of corporate information systems at Kmart and W. Andrew McKenna, senior vice-president of information systems at The Home Depot, will be among the panelists in a second seminar on that topic titled "A Strategic and Philosophical Journey Down the Information Super Highway." The CIO track will offer a bottom-line view of information technology. Craig Maghold, director of information systems for Kmart, Mexico, will discuss how technology helped the discount chain make a quick entry into the Mexican market. Maghold will share the podium with IBM consultant Matt Shocklee. Their seminar is titled "Globalization of Retailing: A Practical Approach to Entering Foreign Markets." Other seminars in the track include "Integrated Supply Chain: Re-Engineering the Pipeline" and "How to Meet the Information Needs of Top Management." Optical storage, a technology allowing users to save vast amounts of data while reducing tedious and often error-prone manual keying, is the lead topic on the Business Applications track. Bill Kavan, vice-president of MIS for Fredricks of Hollywood, will offer a seminar on the topic called "Helping Customers with Optical Storage." The retailer recently switched to optical storage media from microfiche. Also in that track, officials of Builders Square will offer a session on executive information and decision-support systems. Michael Smith, senior vice-president of MIS, and George Rutherford, director of store systems. Mervyn's officials will offer another seminar in the Business Applications track. Paul Zoerb, senior systems analyst, and Lisa Nedley, senior store systems analyst, will offer a seminar titled "How to Manage Store Messages Electronically and Painlessly." Nawrot, of Payless Cashways, will offer a seminar in the Application Development track. The seminar, which will discuss how to make IS departments more responsive to users, is titled "New Game, Different Rules: Retooling the IS Organization and Developing New Skills Sets." Nawrot said applications development is among the most pressing challenges facing retailer IS departments as other departments within their organizations often deluge IS staff with request for reports or direct access to usable data files. "Retail IS departments are really getting banged up on rapid applications development," he said. "We no longer have eight to 12 months to perfect an application. The key is to have the proper infrastructure in place. If you do, you can get some things done in seven to 14 days. Very often, you won't have to go in and set up a database. And if you give users access to data across departments, there are a lot less reports for IS to generate. IS officials want users to be able to sit in front of that PC and pull off data from different departments." Sandy Kennedy, vice-president for conferences at the NRF, said she expects the retailer-oriented seminar schedule to combine with the Las Vegas venue to draw record attendance. Kennedy expects about 6,000 attendees at the show, about two thirds of which will likely be retailers. The 1993 Chicago show drew just under 5,000 people, 67 percent of whom were retailer personnel. Roughly 1,000 were booth personnel and vendor sales representatives. One hundred ninety-seven vendors of technology-related goods and services exhibited at last year's RISCON. At press time, 223 had taken space at the Las Vegas show and Kennedy said, "A couple of stragglers will still be added."
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