At Kwik Trip, Inc., an IBM iSeries Model 810 with a browser-based intranet is used to make sure that loyal customers can count on bakery-fresh bread, ample quantities of several grades of gasoline, and a well-trained associate to graciously accept their Kwik Card.
Kwik Trip operates a chain of 360 convenience and tobacco stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa and has garnered lots of recognition in its industry for brand building. To ensure that each store can satisfy customer demand and that management gets the data it needs to keep these modern, clean, and well-lit facilities running, Kwik Trip relies on a Web-based extranet built by its own RPG developers with WebSmart, a leading Web application development tool from Business Computer Design (BCD).
Founded in 1965, Kwik Trip bases its success on vertical integration of supply chain functions and advanced technology. Fresher merchandise, better inventory control, and proprietary credit cards that offer repeat users a discount on gas all make Kwik Trip a pervasive competitive force. All of the company's core application software systems that support these business objectives, including billing, inventory, and order tracking, have been developed in-house by a team of nine programmers and analysts.
For five years, Kwik Trip used a Lotus Notes/Domino-based front-end and a frame relay-based network to bridge the stores with the La Crosse, Wisconsin, support center that houses activities such as accounting, credit, purchasing, commercial accounts, Information Technology, retail operations, store engineering, and human resources. But then, explains Kerri Bednarchuk, senior programmer analyst, a project came along involving a new Web-based application that needed to access DB2/400 database files in real-time. Kwik Trip wanted a way to make current fuel load information available to stores and replace an informal email procedure that was making its users weary. "Since Domino is not a relational database, I found it difficult to retrieve information from database files on the iSeries."
Kwik Trip's search for a new Web-based application development platform was short. According to Ed Strahs, director of Information Technology, "It really came down to a choice between WebSphere and WebSmart. Figuring out what parts of WebSphere that we needed was complicated. With so many components and the potential for additional hardware and training, you can really drive the price up. WebSmart complete was around $16,000. WebSphere could have run upwards of $100,000. With WebSmart, everything we needed was all there."
Since then, Kwik Trip has logged "lots of miles" with BCD's Web development vehicle. Says Bednarchuk, "We are touching every system with WebSmart, but primarily the billing and warehouse ordering systems. We created Kwik Net, a site that lets employees access information pertinent to their store and their district." Kwik Net's order entry functionality is the most heavily used application. ILE modules called by the WebSmart-based application handle the majority of the processing. These modules allow green-screen apps and Web apps to share the same business logic.
Figure 1: Here's an example of Kwik Net's warehouse ordering application. (Click images to enlarge.)
Kwik Net also allows store leaders to access employment information, register subordinates for training classes, and then perform assessments after training has been completed. To support Kwik Trip's recent forays into the food service business, Bednarchuk has also added functionality that lets customers with a user ID and password track orders over the Web.
Besides improving order entry, human resources, and customer order tracking, big strides have been made in the area of report distribution. The time needed to put together period-ending statements has dramatically decreased. Previously, operators had to print reports and mail them, which took lots of time, paper, and postage. By distributing reports over the Internet, supervisors and management receive them five days sooner.
Figure 2: Here's a sample page from the Forms and Policies library.
Automated report distribution has saved time in other ways. District leaders once copied information from reports and keyed it into Excel spreadsheets for their supervisors. Now they enter information pertinent to their account into a Web page, and the report is automatically generated for that district leader. "This means they only have to key the information in once. All this information is then available on the Web. That streamlines this process and standardizes the report," says Bednarchuk. A WebSmart-based maintenance application has also been created that makes it easy for intranet content managers to keep the portal fresh.
When the first Web-based program, an employment assessment system, rolled out of the shop, IT managers weren't sure how the employees would accept it. Says Bednarchuk, "Once it went live, people realized how the Internet could be used to make things easier, and they started coming to us with ideas. Now, when I sit it in meetings, the people who were previously skeptical about the Internet are the ones who are asking why more applications aren't available on the Web."
Figure 3: Human resources uses Kwik Net, too.
As Kwik Trip places an increasing number of applications on the Web, uptime is becoming more important. Some of Kwik Trip's stores operate around the clock, and managers of these facilities need to be able to access the system at all times. According to Bednarchuk, the applications built with WebSmart have been very reliable. "We haven't experienced any unplanned downtime for over four years with WebSmart. Nothing has failed."
One expects to hit a few bumps on the road using new technology. Initially, when WebSmart's search index option was used for the ordering application, it got the attention of developers because it needed to be rebuilt every night. While the index was rebuilding, store managers couldn't use it. "Since then, BCD's support people showed us how to incorporate SQL into our searches, and the problem has been resolved. Overall, the level of support we received from BCD was above that of any other vendor that we've used," says Bednarchuk.
Recently, the WebSmart-built intranet went live company-wide. Software maintenance has been terminated on several Domino clients. "We still have a couple of Domino-based applications left; however, I would like to convert those as well. WebSmart was definitely a good choice," says Strahs. "It cuts down on our development time and lets us get new applications rolled out more quickly. It's good to see the technology we chose has made such a positive impact.''
Business Computer Design, Int'l, Inc. (BCD)
Contact: Eric Figura, Director, Sales and Marketing
950 N. York Rd.
Hinsdale, IL 60521-2950