When Toronto-based Rogers Communications Inc. was looking to provide better and consistent customer experience across its 93 mall stores, it realized that a complete business transformation was in order.

But there was a catch. The overhaul needed to occur simultaneously across the Rogers Plus locations during a six-hour window, in nine provinces, five time zones, and in the thick of Canadian winter. Only with a simultaneous rollout would customer experience remain consistent.

After just four months of planning a $1-million project, the rollout in late January resulted in 500 newly-trained employees, an intranet for resources and policies, a new “direct to store” supply chain model, integrated point-of-sale and merchandise management systems, and a foundation for good customer service.

Teamwork and a common vision were primary reasons behind the success of this feat of transformation, given the size of the support team assembled to prepare and launch the project, says Francois Chevallier, vice-president of retail systems for Rogers Retail.

Rogers partnered with Mississauga-based Connections Canada Inc. (CCI), to create a virtual store and pilot hardware and software prior to rollout.

In addition, one technician was hired and trained for each store to install the new IT equipment on rollout day.

Further adding to the mix, were experts from nine different fields, providing support in the areas of IT, human resources, operations, finance, supply chain, real estate, marketing, inventory management, and internal communications.

Just as a disjointed team was out of the question – so was transforming the stores in multiple phases, says Chevallier. “If we took a long time, we would have had inconsistent customer experience – that was really the driver for this.” The quick transition also meant reduced strain on support teams, he added.

Rogers took over the mall stores across Canada with the intention of streamlining store processes. Previously, Rogers Plus locations were managed by a third-party company. “When you have different stores with different systems and management structures, the experience cannot be consistent. Our goal was to achieve that consistency and raise the bar,” says Chevallier.

Rogers also wanted to standardize its IT infrastructure with JDA point-of-sale and merchandise management software to link back to Rogers’ back-end system.

The entire project entertained a focus that was broader than just overhauling IT – the stores’ business approach needed to change as well. “IT had to be a business enabler, as opposed to a bunch of techs who would change machines.

The Methodology: Conquering stage fright

Rogers’ partner in its IT transformation, Connections Canada Inc. (CCI), created a virtual store – or staging facility – to mimic a Rogers store. At CCI’s headquarters, all hardware and software were pre-configured and tested over several weeks, to be delivered to each location as a “store-in-a-box.”

“All the work was done at the staging facility whereby risk is completely minimized during install,” says Greg Woods, president of CCI. The methodology entailed establishing, in the staging facility, the process around equipment and software setup. Once this process was deemed complete and documented, the pilot phase began.

Four stores – two in Toronto and two in Vancouver – were used to test run the pre-configured system two weeks prior to rollout, so issues could be ironed out, and necessary changes made.

The process was incremental, whereby problems found in the first pilot store would be ironed out, ready for testing at the next. “The project manager would document changes such that the third pilot would be virtually perfect, and the fourth would be completely flawless,” says Woods.

The resulting “store-in-a-box” included site-specific pre-programmed routers, computers, cash-registers and PIN readers. Although the system had identical configuration across sites, some details needed to be personalized for each location. “That ranged from naming processes, through to Internet protocol (IP) addresses, to communications issues and setup of point-of-sale software,” says Woods.

Also part of the support team, was IT expertise, which worked with CCI to prep and plan for rollout night. The biggest hurdle that faced the IT group was the short timeline, says John Verrier, director of retail systems for Rogers Retail. “Getting off the ground from a zero starting point to the actual transition night in four months was a challenge,” he says.

Among IT’s tasks were to select point-of-sales hardware, PIN pads and receipt printers, and configure the JDA system, point-of-sale software, payroll and commission systems.

One unknown factor throughout the planning was the winter weather, which in some cases turned out to be -27 degrees Celcius with wind storms, says Francois Chevallier, Rogers VP of retail systems. The “store-in-a-box” had to be packaged to withstand severe cold weather conditions.

Having a common vision helped with team building, says Syed Jafri, controller for Rogers Retail, who headed the finance and supply chain areas of the project.

“Whether it was internal process or issues that had to be resolved, we had to maintain our focus on providing consistent customer service,” says Jafri.

Members of the support group communicated via a Sharepoint intranet, which served as a centralized repository for sharing information and ideas, raising issues, and maintaining transparency. “That was one of the best things from a project point of view. I knew exactly what I was assigned to, and could see what everybody else was doing,” says Jafri.

The finance group was responsible for setting up the banking environment for each store. For instance, opening credit and debit card bank accounts for customer transactions, and ensuring that the IT group had the necessary financial information to configure the point-of-sale equipment.

The supply chain responsibilities centred on designing the supply chain model to adapt to the smaller-sized mall stores. Prior to the acquisition, the supply chain process serviced larger stores with ample space to store merchandise, says Jafri.

The existing Rogers Video stores, according to Chevallier, were approximately 5,000 square feet, whereas the mall stores were a mere 200 to 1,000 square feet. “We had to scale up our IT system to deal with scaled-down stores. We built a supply chain system that allowed delivery straight from the manufacturer to the stores,” says Chevallier.

Previously, larger stores were able to rely on weekly deliveries from a distribution centre, but Rogers realized that this model would have to be altered. “We asked ourselves, ‘how can we deliver daily if needed, given limited storage, so we can dedicate more space to product display which will increase the customer experience?’”

Countdown begins

The day that would transform Rogers’ IT system across all of its stores had finally arrived. CCI hired and trained one technician per store to perform the installation. Backup technicians were on standby in case the main technicians become unavailable.

Most of the technicians had worked with CCI before and were familiar with company processes, says Greg Woods, CCI president.

To track each store’s progress on rollout day, technicians were in constant communication with a control room located at CCI’s headquarters. There, 10 project coordinators, each assigned a group of stores, monitored the completion of milestones on a checklist.

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