Big 5 Sporting Goods stays up to date and compliance-ready

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Big 5 Sporting Goods, based in El Segundo, Calif., sells athletic shoes and apparel, fishing rods, bicycles — just about anything needed to enjoy sports and the outdoors — from nearly 450 stores in the western United States. Nothing spurs the need for updated systems faster than rapid growth, something Big 5 knows well: The company opened 85 stores in five years and filed for an initial public offering in 2002.

Faced with constant changes to its primary business software and in-store computer updates, as well as new regulatory compliance needs, the company realized it needed to examine all software aspects of its business in depth, from store operations to IT constructions.

Retailers know that shopping technology innovations must move quickly, or they risk being left in a pile of receipts. Most have worked to optimize their websites for shopping and created a mobile version. If these innovations are not monitored carefully or created by a company that can monitor every change, the new forms of shopping may not achieve the level of service customers expect. Just as bad, the door can be left open to hackers who are constantly on the lookout for missing patches or newly created software without needed security.

Big 5 had been relying on its own manual documentation process, which kept IT developers constantly busy and opened the door to errors due to lack of time. The company had no effective process for controlling and documenting software updates and patches; the need for auditing all processes and transactions on such a large scale convinced Big 5 to seek an outside solution.

Automated operations

Big 5 had two main areas of concern when it began working with Rocket Software. Auditing was at the forefront, due to its then-upcoming IPO. With Rocket’s Lifecycle Manager, a history of every action performed on any given device is available with one keystroke, which makes satisfying government regulations less daunting.

“The Rocket Software solution not only solved our [compliance]requirements, it improved and automated IT processes from A to Z,” says Glen Thompson, a senior manager with Big 5.

Rocket Software and IBM began a licensing partnership in 1994, which today consists of over 150 software products. Rocket’s Lifecycle Manager allows Big 5 to deploy its applications into multiplatform production environments faster, with fewer software defects and deployment glitches, while meeting compliance regulations. Lifecycle Manager automates the entire software development and delivery process, from requests to deployment, and provides visibility of software development.

Rocket’s Lifecycle Manager allows Big 5 to deploy its applications into multiplatform production environments faster, with fewer software defects and deployment glitches.

Big 5’s rapid store growth put some strain on software for operations, so this area received major attention with Lifecycle Manager, down to store level. The IBM version of the software created an easier path for Big 5 to develop, deploy and manage its corporate applications.

Areas such as billing and payments, order processing, inventory management and pricing were streamlined and put under better, more cognizant control with the solution.

“Rocket has gone well beyond our expectations,” Thompson says. “When the [compliance]auditors heard we had Rocket Aldon Lifecycle Manager in place, they checked off the first 10 boxes, knowing we were already in accordance. I think that says it all.”

Keystroke-level tracking

“Retail is increasingly regulated today,” says Daniel Magid, vice president of applications and development and chief technologist for Rocket Software. “Everything in a retailer’s technology must be tracked carefully.”

Rocket’s Lifecycle Manager tracks everything, so when an auditor comes in, the retailer has a record of all changes — who did what, when and on which computer. Rocket takes existing applications and generates secure modern user interfaces for web browsers or mobile development that can be easily tracked.

Rocket is also working with retailers with tablet solutions for employees to use on the sales floor to check inventory and handle other customer wants.

Magid says Big 5’s fast growth required immediate changes to software. The retailer was managing the changes manually but did not have the resources to keep up with growth.

“It needed to deploy application code software to new stores and all stores had to have the latest version of software. To satisfy regulations, it needed a system that would record ‘when, who, what’ for compliance,” he says.

“Big 5 needed to track what version was running on every computer. If there was something that should not be on a computer, some code, an old patch or out of date software, hackers could enter the system easily. Hackers know the latest versions of software and will exploit companies who haven’t updated or installed the latest patches.”

Creating efficiencies

Avoiding hackers and ensuring compliance with government regulations are not the only benefits of a solution like Lifecycle Manager. The software frees up retailers’ IT departments to build new capabilities to support the business. Developers have a clear view of what others have done, helping to keep everything in sync. There are savings in labor costs, developer time and opportunity costs with Lifecycle Manager, Magid says.

“In the past, application developers had to take great care in moving code around, which took a great deal of their time. Due to lack of time, opportunities were lost,” he says. “Lifecycle Manager reduces the risk of making inadvertent changes to software, freeing developers to build new capabilities to move their business forward.

“One of the biggest needs in retail and other sectors today is to make business work in a timely and efficient way. The retail market is moving so fast. If they don’t keep up, Amazon will jump in.

“Using homegrown technology to handle these issues is a good way to be left in the dust as retail continues to evolve,” Magid says. “The user experience is so important. Customers must have an immediately positive experience or they will go somewhere else. Demand today is that everything must move very fast.”

Virginia-based D. Gail Fleenor has written hundreds of articles about retail, technology and consumer research following nearly two decades as a supermarket research manager.

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