Buying the perfect pair of shoes can be a satisfying experience. After searching high and low, finding and selecting a comfortable pair that exactly meets your expectations for style, color, and fit can seem like cashing in a winning lottery ticket.
It’s a victorious moment that The Rockport Group has been helping customers achieve since 1971, when the father and son team of Saul and Bruce Katz set up shop in Massachusetts. Soon thereafter, the company released its iconic namesake walking shoe, which introduced the concept of the comfort shoe to a populace eager to try on something other than an athletic or dress shoe for size.
Looking for the right fit was, in a figurative sense, what The Rockport Group set out to do in 2015 when it needed to stand up a new infrastructure as stipulated by a transition services agreement (TSA) after adidas Group sold the company to Berkshire Partners, a Boston private equity investment firm. Berkshire Partners set up The Rockport Group as an independent company, merging it with the Drydock Footwear Group affiliate of New Balance, and effectively putting the Dunham and Aravon brands under The Rockport Group control.
The sale was announced in January 2015, and the two-year TSA began on August 1, 2015. This gave The Rockport Group six months to decide which of its roughly 150 worldwide systems to decommission and which to find a new home for, as well as how to set up an independent infrastructure. “Before we signed the TSA, we had strategy discussions on how we wanted to run the new Rockport Group,” says Ram Reddy, The Rockport Group CIO. “Two of the major decisions we faced involved finding the ERP solution that best suited our needs and the best technical architecture to go along with it.”
When we do have to build an IT organization, it’s not because we love IT — it’s because we want to help the business do better worldwide. Partnering with IBM to put a real-time system with SAP Fashion Management in the cloud gives the business a good head start to accomplish that.
— Ram Reddy, CIO, The Rockport Group
Finding the Right Fit
Two months into the TSA, The Rockport Group decided to slip into SAP Fashion Management, which is an industry-specific solution for end-to-end manufacturing, wholesale, and retail operations that runs on the SAP HANA database. Also, the company selected IBM Cloud as its hosting partner.
Released in 2014, SAP Fashion Management brings fashion-specific processes onto a single, vertical platform on SAP HANA, providing customers with an accurate representation of global inventory levels. Greater inventory transparency is made possible because of the in-memory processing power, which optimizes allocation run (ARUN) and available-to-promise (ATP) rescheduling for more efficient omnichannel inventory management.
The name of the solution provides a hint as to why The Rockport Group decided to run its operational system in a managed cloud service with IBM Cloud rather than manage an on-premise installation. “When we set out as an independent company, the direction was clear because we are not in the business of building IT organizations,” says Tejaswi Rampure, The Rockport Group’s Director of IT. “Our mission is to design and sell great shoes, and this was a great opportunity for us to explore doing some cutting-edge things with SAP Fashion Management — without having to build a data center.”
Forging a New Path
The Rockport Group was familiar with SAP software before deciding to implement the relatively new SAP Fashion Management application. Previously, as part of adidas Group, the organization had been on two separate, industry-specific ERP solutions geared toward clothing and footwear retailers: the SAP Apparel and Footwear and SAP for Retail solutions. But because SAP Fashion Management brings retail and wholesale operations together, The Rockport Group could simplify this environment and consolidate its systems landscape down to one ERP solution.
“As a retail and wholesale business, having a combined system provides many benefits,” Reddy says. “Having two different systems can be inefficient, and to SAP’s credit they realized that. SAP Fashion Management solves that problem and was a very attractive option for us as a midmarket company.”
Because the application runs natively on SAP HANA, it is widely seen as a next-generation industry solution. Knowing that it didn’t want to duplicate its former parent company’s complex ERP environment helped persuade The Rockport Group to go with a new solution and become an early adopter of SAP Fashion Management. And by choosing not to replicate any systems from the previous landscape but rather electing to get up-and-running on a greenfield instance, the company would avoid facing an upgrade down the road.
The implementation involved migrating current and historical accounting data — such as open purchase and sales orders and other financial documents — and then converting that data into a format suitable for the new solution. “The data conversion effort entailed repurposing data to either fit into our architecture or to fit with SAP Fashion Management,” Reddy says. “It wasn’t just a physical or technical data migration; the implementation team had to run the data through a lot of algorithms to load it into SAP Fashion Management to make it usable.”
Once migrated into the new solution, this data would then be analyzed and reported on with SAP BusinessObjects solutions, which The Rockport Group implemented as the front-end reporting tools to replace the SAP Business Warehouse instance it previously used for running reports.
Our mission is to design and sell great shoes, and this was a great opportunity for us to really explore doing some cutting-edge things with SAP Fashion Management — without having to build a data center.
— Tejaswi Rampure, Director of IT, The Rockport Group
Walking in the Cloud
The Rockport Group’s initial contract with IBM Cloud was to host and manage SAP Fashion Management and SAP Customer Activity Repository — both applications running on SAP HANA. SAP Customer Activity Repository is a foundation that collects transactional data for the organization over multiple independent applications in diverse formats. “The repository provides a common foundation and a harmonized multichannel transaction data model,” says Reddy.
Several project change requests would soon double the size of the contract as The Rockport Group decided to move more of its SAP and non-SAP applications to a managed cloud so that it could more easily hit the ground running and meet the aggressive TSA deadlines.
IBM was one of three finalists for the business. “Our focus evolved to include not just SAP applications, but our entire enterprise application landscape, and that was a significant factor in leaning toward IBM Cloud,” Rampure says. “In addition to the service-level agreements, the 24/7 availability, and disaster recovery, we saw in IBM a partner we knew would be there for us in the long run and be nimble enough to support a changing landscape. We knew they would walk the extra mile with us.” (For more information about IBM’s role in the project, refer to the sidebar below.)
By going with IBM, Rampure says that The Rockport Group picked the best-of-both-worlds scenario, choosing a provider with equal experience and knowledge in both SAP and non-SAP applications rather than one with a narrower range of expertise. IBM’s greater breadth of experience decreased data center limitations and proved helpful in procuring hardware and setting up multiple systems well within the timeline stipulated by the TSA.
In early October 2016, The Rockport Group’s US and Canadian businesses went live on IBM Cloud. The company anticipates an April 2017 go-live for the rest of its global business. Its TSA expires July 31, 2017.
“Once we go live with the rest of the business and get off the TSA, we’ll start to experience the benefits of a completely new architecture and new system,” Reddy says. “But even just a few weeks after the initial go-live, we were running our entire SAP system with hardly any in-house technical support, so that really shows how we’re depending on IBM day-in and day-out to do everything you’d expect an infrastructure organization to do.”
This support allows The Rockport Group to focus on selling comfortable shoes. “When we do have to build an IT organization, it’s not because we love IT — it’s because we want to help the business do better worldwide,” Reddy says. “Partnering with IBM to put a real-time system with SAP Fashion Management in the cloud gives the business a good head start to accomplish that.”