Maplin Electronics Speeds up Executive Decision-Making With £250,000 IT Optimisation Programme from Centiq

Nottingham - 31 July 2008

Management teams gains real time operations insight and reporting with virtualisation and fine tuning of IT infrastructure; avoids new investment

Fast growing high street retailer Maplin Electronics has empowered its management teams’ insight into operations and speed of decision-making through a £250,000 IT infrastructure optimisation programme from Centiq, an IT consulting and services provider focused on the data centre.

Completed in May, the programme is already ensuring that senior managers have a real time insight into their expanding high street and online retail operations, all based on vastly improved performance from the company’s existing IT systems and accounting software platform. The breakthrough has been made without large scale investment in new technology infrastructure.

Centiq’s infrastructure practice team, supported by consultants G7 Business Solutions, has transformed the performance of Maplin’s existing Lawson Financials accounting software. This was achieved by ensuring faster data processing by boosting utilisation of existing servers and organising more efficient data storage systems. The retailer has now cut typical batch processing times for daily sales and operational reports from ten to only two hours.

To realise its target of opening 250 stores nation-wide Maplin’s management team needed much quicker responses into operations from different reports consolidated across the group, particularly daily sales performance. This demanded faster reporting and associated data processing than the existing financial reporting and IT infrastructure seemed able to deliver.

Centiq replaced the previous clustered pair of IBM 630 servers running UNIX and Fast-t storage array with a cluster of two IBM p550 servers running AIX with fibre-based storage area network. The upgraded infrastructure now runs multiple environments, boosting system capability, with operations supported by fully tolerant failover storage area network (SAN).

Centiq completed the optimization by carrying out a phased migration of core applications to the new platform with minimal disruption to daily operations. The phased implementation took seven months from the start in October.

The new faster platform has transformed the Lawson Financial modules’ performance and avoided the need for Maplin to authorise a complete IT infrastructure upgrade.

On Centiq’s express recommendation, Maplin’s IT team made use of virtualisation principles to partition each of the servers, enabling multiple business applications to be run on each machine. This innovation boosts processing capacity and will permit Maplin to accommodate new applications as the business continues to grow.

Maplin Electronics’ Head of IT Mark Smith said: “We needed greater processing capability to provide financial performance reports more rapidly to our management teams. The accounting software’s basic capabilities were fine, but the batch runs were taking up to ten hours. They were overlapping with other IT tasks. Worse, the set-up was also holding back our finance department’s ability to consolidate different group reports. Now we’ve migrated to a new platform, we’re getting more done with essentially the same infrastructure, without having to ‘rip and replace’ a perfectly good system.”

The Centiq infrastructure practice team carried out extensive server performance and utilisation assessments before they mapped out a phased approach to the Maplin IT system improvements. The optimisation programme then comprised project definition, migration to new platform, infrastructure optimisation, implementation and system testing and feedback.

Centiq practice manager Craig Wilson said: “Many companies struggle to fine tune their computing infrastructure to their business’ overall needs. The programme took particular trouble to identify the system’s pinch points and clarify practical measures to resolve them. Maplin’s IT team then accepted the principle of partitioning the servers, to increase utilisation levels.

“Because they bit the bullet of configuring their IT systems in a new way, they have been able to optimise their IT infrastructure and reporting capability for the next few years, without having to look at large scale capital investment in new infrastructure and software licences.”

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