The proof of the pudding, as they say,                            is in the eating.

Item Management Architecture Review

The Client

One of the nation’s largest broadline retailers with several thousands of stores and tens of billions of dollars in annual revenues.

One of the nation’s largest retailers relies on Item Management technology to get new products into its catalogs and stores. When the company’s business and inventory grew rapidly through acquisitions, the Item Management application’s inability to scale to meet that growth became apparent, threatening top-line revenue.

Business Situation

The client had developed and launched a custom-built Item Management application. The Item Management application was a mission critical application used on a 24 X 7 basis by buyers in the company and global suppliers to specify critical information such as size, weight, package or assortment confi guration - about every single item. It maintained information on items throughout the inventory lifecycle, from point of source, to point of sale, to plan logistics, and to placement in stores. Simply put, if an item is not fully specifi ed and approved in the system, it can’t be sold.

The application initially appeared to meet the company’s goals and users’ expectations when the number of items and users were not very high. However, as the number of items in the application increased to several hundred thousand, and the number of users increased to several hundreds, limitations of the application started to be revealed.

The system experienced significant performance problems. Additionally, the custom-designed nature of the application had caused maintenance requirements to escalate unacceptably over time. Extensive amounts of time and IT labor were required to fulfill even simple business demands and changes, which in turn resulted in a huge backlog of unfulfilled business needs. And because the company intended to roll the Item Management application to its recent acquisitions, it decided that independent and objective perspectives were needed to make good decisions and remediate the situation.

Services Provided

  • Architecture Review
  • Performance and Scalability Optimization
  • Architecture Roadmap

Our Work

The company had attempted to solve the problem internally, but it could not identify the root causes of performance slowdowns. Further, the various groups and departments involved had their own viewpoint of what was wrong and what needed fixing. Therefore, the company engaged X by 2 for its systems knowledge and experience, architectural expertise, and objective viewpoint. X by 2 was asked to provide recommendations that would remediate the performance problems in the short term as well make the application viable over the long term.

X by 2 began with a breadth-first assessment that encompassed the application’s technical architecture and design. X by 2 architects collaborated with key personnel from both the retailer and the third-party development shop that had initially built the application, including IT leadership, business, architects, developers, data base administrators, operations, and others.

X by 2 architects gathered system performance data over a two-week period. They then analyzed this data in various ways - by application functions, number of users, and by usage patterns by day and by hour. The analyses helped identify problem areas within the application. X by 2 architects then honed in on these problem areas, examining the architecture and design of these areas and evaluating the system against industry-standard architecture, design patterns, and best practices along the key quality attributes of performance, scalability, flexibility, maintainability, and usability.

Based on this detailed assessment, X by 2 delivered a prioritized action plan to the retailer that identified ways to improve short-term system performance and longterm viability along a cost-impact scale.

Benefits Realized

Post-analysis, X by 2 engaged in a planning exercise with the client to take up immediate improvements to alleviate the application’s run-time performance and enhance end-user productivity.

However, X by 2’s analysis also uncovered critical architectural shortcomings of the solution that were more significant root causes of the performance problem. It also highlighted that the highly customized nature of the system, including a custom built rules engine and workflow management platform, would continue to exacerbate escalating maintenance requirements and costs.

Although actions the retailer took based on X by 2’s plan enhanced the system’s performance in the short term, the ability to make long-term improvements was ultimately constrained by these inherent limitations. Therefore, based on X by 2’s analysis, the retailer has planned to evaluate replacing the Item Management application in its entirety.

Critically evaluating the long-term viability of the application was a diffi cult decision that would not have been made without the X by 2 analysis and deliverables. Specifically, the retailer’s past efforts to assess the problem were often impeded by vested interests in the outcome. Both external vendors and internal constituencies had difficulty overcoming their natural biases.

X by 2’s work enabled the company to resolve a year-long log-jam between those constituencies around performance and scalability problems that had become a significant inhibitor to business performance. Additionally, it enabled both line and management staff to understand with confidence the limitations of the existing application to support its long-term business strategy and to chart a course of action based on objective, fact-based analysis.