Byline: Denise Zimmerman

NEW YORK — When Wilsons The Leather Experts unplugged its mainframe computer for good two weeks ago, it bid farewell to homegrown applications that had become increasingly inflexible. Then it fully embraced client-server technology.
The new client-server computing platform allows for distributed computing — across numerous desktops in the organization — and facilitates the free flow of data over a wide-area network.
The 700-store chain, based in Brooklyn Park, Minn., had already implemented client-server-based merchandising and financial systems and in August installed client-server systems for payroll and human resources. The merchandising system is provided by JDA Software, Phoenix, Ariz., and financial, payroll and human resources systems are from Lawson Software, Minneapolis.
The next move, according to David Tidmarsh, Wilsons chief information officer and vice president of logistics, is to take advantage of Web-enabled decision support technology. Such business applications could be accessed by any on-line computer using a variety of Internet browsers.
The need for Wilsons’ decisio-nmakers to easily access data at any time from any location is particularly important when the leather outerwear and accessories retailer gears up for its peak selling season. The company generates 70 percent of annual sales from September to November.
“We are highly seasonal in our business. We have a lot of holiday stores and kiosks, and for our field organization to be able to readily access data to make location decisions is pretty critical,” he said. Tidmarsh said Wilsons hopes to introduce that capability next year.
Tidmarsh is not the only retailer intrigued with the potential of Internet technology for business applications. More than 71 percent of retailers polled recently on technology initiatives cited Internet/World Wide Web technologies as critical to remaining competitive over the next five years. The report, “1997 10th Annual Survey of Information Systems Management Issues,” released by Computer Sciences Corp., El Segundo, Calif., surveyed 613 information systems executives from various companies. One-third of all respondents represented companies generating annual sales of more than $1 billion.
At Wilsons, this new computing capability would not have been possible if the company remained shackled to its mainframe computer. Tidmarsh said the system served the company well for many years. But over time, the system could not accommodate changes in the business.
“The mainframe applications were coded, developed and implemented with a certain business format and mind-set that just didn’t suit our needs as we went forward,” Tidmarsh said. “Legacy systems have a tendency to have business rules embedded throughout the code, and that’s what creates the inflexibility. It was the right technology at the time it was built, 10 years ago.”
Retiring the legacy computer system, a foundation of business computing for so many years, was a sober affair at Wilsons. The migration to client-server technology took place over about two years.
“We let it be a quiet passing,” said Tidmarsh, who noted the company is now searching for a home for the mainframe. It’s seeking a company that can still make use of the mainframe’s limited computing power, or at least someone who will haul the beast off the premises without charging a fee.

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