La Senza reveals firm support for developers

While selling lingerie may seem glamorous, the IT challenges that come with supporting La Senza’s global network of retail locations are anything but.

Based in Montreal, La Senza has over 300 stores across Canada and another 250 stores in 28 different countries around the world. To support that operation, La Senza works with a number of different external application vendors to supply different operational systems, from financials and sourcing to retail management and distribution.

Johanne Langelier, director of La Senza’s projects and management office, said to integrate those different systems and make sure they’re able to do what the retailer needs them to do, the company has an internal quality assurance (QA) team that tests new application versions and modules for production defects.

La Senza’s challenge, Langelier said, was managing that QA process. It had tried using an ad hoc system by creating defect files in Microsoft Word, filling out the information and saving it in a central directory, and e-mailing those files back and forth with the vendors as each defect moved through the resolution process.

“We would lose visibility on vendor resolutions (because) it wasn’t centralized,” said Langelier. “It was not well done. It was each person working with the vendor on each defect.”

To create a better system, La Senza turned to InCycle Software, a Laval, Que.-based Microsoft partner. InCycle president Claude Remillard said La Senza’s biggest challenge was that each time one piece of its application infrastructure was modified or upgraded there was a great deal of testing and integration work that had to happen on all the other systems as well.

“Since all the systems have been customized and they’re all different, there’s not a standard data dictionary, so there’s a lot of knowledge and tests and know-how that need to happen,” said Remillard.

With an eye to making that testing process more efficient, Remillard said InCycle was brought in to introduce more structure and best practices to the process. It began with a pilot project around one major upgrade and has been live since February.

Remillard said InCycle recommended a customized solution using Microsoft’s Visual Studio Team System, since the developers were already using Microsoft tools such as Visual Studio and SQL.

The system InCycle created for La Senza is essentially a workflow between La Senza’s internal QA team and its external vendors. Using Visual Studio Team System, Remillard said they have an instant list of defects, can see if the defects are accepted and their status, and if they’re considered to be added scope to the original contract or something that is required to be fixed by the vendor.

At La Senza, two desktop PCs have the application installed, and the vendors connect to the PCs via a remote VPN connection to update defect issues with a resolution note and let the QA team know when new code is ready to be installed and tested.

The application sends e-mail alerts to the responsible parties when defects are logged, when additional information is added or when the vendor requires more information.

“They were spending a lot of time creating lists between the parties, and there were a lot of cycles lost coordinating the work, as opposed to actually testing,” said Remillard. “With the Team System solution, that became fairly easy to do.”

La Senza’s Langelier said the biggest time savings has probably come on the management side. The company has a weekly management meeting to track and prioritize defects and resolutions, and Langelier said, thanks to the new defect tracking system, the QA team members no longer have to join the meeting to provide reports.

“It was hard to get the data centralized,” said Langelier. “We saved a lot of time just in reviewing the defects, having good information and being able to make good decisions on each of them.”

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