Home Depot and EnfoTrust

By Carmen Nobel.  |  Posted 2005-11-21 Print this article Print

launch a pilot"> The IT department did conduct an architectural review, which served the purpose of vetting the chosen company in a way that the merchandising organization couldnt.

"What the review board does is to really get in the weeds of the company," Potter said. "Tom [Armstrong] had narrowed it down to EnfoTrust, but not being a technologist by trade, he was feeling a little naked."

The review board required only minor tweaks to the plans that EnfoTrust submitted: that the Web interface adhere to HTTPS (HTTP Secure) rather than HTTP and that EnfoTrust host its data with SunGard Data Systems Inc., a disaster recovery center in Alpharetta, Ga.

Home Depot and EnfoTrust signed a contract in August 2003, launching a pilot program with the Electrical and Lighting Department that November. Within two years, every department was on board except for the one handling live goods, such as plants and garden supplies.

Built to run on handheld computers based on Microsoft Corp.s Windows Mobile, the new management system walks service representatives through specific steps to ensure that products are displayed the way Home Depot wants them. With a series of "yes" or "no" questions, plus room for comments, the PACE software covers a variety of tasks: replacing missing labels, building set displays, making sure related items are displayed together, returning defective merchandise to the vendors and so on. The task lists vary by store department but remain consistent companywide.

Service representatives are required to sign in and out of the stores via an infrared "beacon point," which notes the date, time and location of the store.

IBM develops scratch-off RFID tags. Click here to read more. At the end of each day, representatives synchronize their handhelds with the EnfoTrust server, usually via a dial-up connection. The service data is downloaded onto a Web site that tracks all store service activity. Home Depot and service agency executives can analyze the data in the form of monthly report cards, which lets them make educated changes to the process.

For example, in cases where there are too many "no" answers on the yes/no forms, "we can aggregate the information and figure out whats wrong," said Alan Mishkoff, vice president of sales at Black & Decker, also in Atlanta. "It helps us plan for the future."

Key to the process is a large service photo gallery. Service representatives are required to take and send pictures of their work, proving that they are doing their jobs.

"We look for before service pictures and after service pictures," Martin said. "That way, everyone can see whats going on with service in the store and answer a lot of questions."

A major task of the ISSI team was to winnow the number of service agencies serving Home Depot from 342 to 33. Black & Decker, Behr Process Corp. and a few other large manufacturers were allowed to keep their service contracts generally intact, but others had to form new contracts with third-party service agencies that Home Depot hired.

Armstrong sent out an RFP (request for proposal) that included several new requisites: service representatives would now serve Home Depot directly, they would be held accountable for all their in-store actions with the new technology, and they would be required to foot the bill for the PDAs and a software contract with EnfoTrust. While it behooved the agencies to keep better track of their employees, it was still a tough sell.

"Our biggest challenge was getting the factory reps to buy into the idea," Armstrong said.

"When they first proposed it, we were not in favor of going down that path," Mishkoff said. "Its not cheap."

Implementation bumps

Enfotrust charges a monthly licensing and service fee of $100 per handheld computer, Mishkoff said, not to mention the prices of the computers themselves. Wanting to keep costs palatable, Armstrong and the team initially eschewed rugged but expensive PDAs from Symbol Technologies Inc. and Intermec Technologies Corp.

"They saw some of the prices of the Symbols and the Intermecs of the world, and they started choking," Potter said. "They said, We cant ask these service agencies to pay $2,000 per device."

In September 2003, EnfoTrust and Home Depot chose Dell Inc.s Axim X5 handheld computers, deploying about 1,600 of them to the service agents. Axims dont have cameras, which were key to the merchandising process. So the team jury-rigged the Axims with Photo Traveler cameras from Veo International and modems from Socket Communications Inc., which fit into the Axims expansion slot. EnfoTrust wrote the drivers.

Next Page: Finding the right equipment wasnt easy.


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