Tech trio to helps retailer

In an unusual move, Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Co. has announced it has partnered with not one — but three — of the biggest names in computer technology for help in developing and implementing the retailer’s e-business strategy.

Microsoft Canada, IBM Canada, and Oracle Corp. will all participate over the next two and-a-half years in enabling Canada’s oldest corporation to ramp up its Internet capabilities.

“It’s a little unusual to announce a partnership with three distinct companies,” Mark Quigley, an analyst with Brockville, Ont.’s Yankee Group in Canada, said of the deal. “But this is not necessarily a bad thing. All three companies certainly do bring a considerable reputation to the table.”

Quigley warned that HBC will need to maintain a firm stance on which members of the alliance will do what.

“The one thing you do risk is there’s a possibility that you will end up with three disparate pieces pulling at you with different suggestions and different visions of where you should go,” he explained.

HBC said it plans to get around this possible conflict by designing a “technology footprint” that identifies the solutions to be provided by each alliance member.

According to the company, the technology applications developed by Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle will “impact HBC throughout its organization, including operations, communications, associate productivity, customer relationship management, merchandising, marketing and e-commerce.”

The alliance will launch its first big initiative, a revamped e-commerce site called this October.

Analysts recently have criticized HBC for allowing its Zellers and The Bay chains to fall behind its main competitor, Sears Canada, in the area of e-commerce.

While Sears expects to hit $170 million in e-sales this year, HBC estimates will only take in between $8 million and $12 million in its first quarter of operation.

Quigley noted Sears Canada even shut down its Halifax call centre in May after getting so much pull-through on its Web site in terms of customer service.

For HBC, the announcement of the technology alliance comes hot on the heels of the new retail management system it launched in its 300 Zellers stores in April. The supply-chain solution was provided by Minneapolis, Minn.-based Retek, a retail business software company, and went along with Oracle Corp.’s 8I database and software tools. The Zellers chain was totally converted to a Unix/Oracle-based environment. At the time, HBC told Network WorldCanada the company’s 200 locations of The Bay across Canada would implement Retek’s solution sometime next year.

It is unclear what, if any, changes HBC intends to now make to the solution. The company was not available to comment.