Case Study: NEC MultiSync LCD400V flat panel display

Tasked with finding a solution to an “alternative” point of sale virtual terminal, Clarks Shoes opted for NEC MultiSync flat...

Tasked with finding a solution to an “alternative” point of sale virtual terminal, Clarks Shoes opted for NEC MultiSync flat panel technology

In March 1998, Clarks Shoes, the UK's leading quality branded footwear retailer, signed a landmark £750 million technology deal with NEC for the implementation of point of sale (POS) virtual terminals with the introduction of NEC's flat panel technology. This was believed to be the first major contract signed by a retail company and signalled a move towards flat panel displays being used as standard in this sector.

Clarks Shoes uses IT as one of the cornerstones of its success, developing a future-proof, robust and cost-effective point of sale terminal to support its face-to-face selling activities. The move enabled the company to develop a new generation of business and selling strategy.

Throughout the programme of change, NEC worked closely with Clarks providing design, installation and support expertise for a national roll out of LCD panels in over 650 sites across the UK and Ireland, one of the first POS systems using open architecture.

Clarks store systems project manager, Alistair Smith, and his team, were tasked with finding a solution to "alternative" POS technology for the retail outlets, a technology that would maintain Clark's leading retail reputation and increase competitive advantage. Smith considered the usual suspects, ICL and IBM, and opted for NEC's MultiSync flat panel technology. Why? So Clarks could embrace the 21st century and beyond with open arms and open systems. The main priority was to implement virtual retail hardware that could cope with the transaction throughput of up to 19.5 million pairs of shoes per annum in the UK, while still maintaining a pleasant atmosphere in which to work and for customers to shop.

NEC started work early January, with a six month long pilot in Somerset, with a full rollout of hardware by October 1999.

Clarks were already aware of NEC technology as they were using NEC's award winning E500 and E700 monitors in their head office in Somerset. To address the challenge, Clarks IT team focused on three issues: rationalising existing technology, developing a new point of sale strategy and looking at the future with regards to open systems. The latter would mean resilience and flexibility with the capacity to integrate seamlessly with future applications.

The quest for a virtual interface was put out to tender in late 1997. Of those tenders looked at, only four were approached. After much debate, Clarks selected the 14in, NEC MultiSync LCD400V flat panel display.

Smith comments: "We assumed we'd have to choose a standard solution until NEC showed us how easy it would be to integrate and access software applications through the LCD400V. When I joined Clarks, I found that in the past retail hardware had always limited the applications that could be deployed for reasons such as physical screen size, number of colours available and resolution. I was determined that we would remove this limitation and install hardware that would support any future applications that might be developed.

"Also, the LCD400V has a footprint of 7.25in by 6.5in and is only 4cm deep. By downsizing the virtual till area we could create a more streamlined and efficient retail terminal allowing more space for the 'cash and wrap' area."

The LCD400V utilises active matrix TFT (Thin Film Transistor) technology with a viewing angle of 100 degrees, utilising an analogue interface, ensuring that up to 16.7 million colours can be displayed ( a limitation of some other screens.

Smith confirms that cost was a significant issue in the justification for moving away from traditional closed architecture. "Flat panel technology is ideal for high density display applications and we became aware of the benefit of adapting flat panel technology into desktop terminals where space and weight greatly influence the final decision," he says. "We were also tempted by the fact that the LCD400V comes from a family of energy-efficient LCD monitors with no harmful electromagnetic radiation emissions, meeting the TCO 95 and Energy Star compliant standard."

The benefits that Clarks see from flat panel technology include:

( Flexibility to meet the changing requirements of the organisation

( Scalability to handle growth in information requirements that would result from continued company growth

( Enabling the development of suitable business applications regardless of underlying technical implementation

The choice of flat panel technology was a bold decision because, at the time, using flat panel technology/open systems had not been widely deployed. However, NEC and Clarks were confident that the technology was mature enough for mission-critical applications and would provide the required service standards.

NEC's ability to deliver this large scale virtual terminal project successfully, and to a tight time-scale, convinced Clarks that they were the right choice for a range of additional hardware projects. Although this was remarkable in such a relatively short time-span, NEC has had a long track record of being able to take on huge, complex hardware projects and deliver them on time and to budget. The company was able to do this by employing highly experienced project managers and by creating a broad skill base among the Somerset-based team.

"We set ourselves an ambitious programme to create a future-proof POS infrastructure, capable of delivering the applications and business requirements necessary for the millennium," explains Smith. "One of the key success factors was the level of implementation support received from NEC and the way they worked with our people. They demonstrated total commitment to completing the project on time and to budget. It was vital we formed strong partnerships with key suppliers and took a 'we will make it work together' approach," said Smith. "We are a demanding customer and had a very strong vision of what we wanted to achieve. By sharing that vision with NEC, they were able to fully understand our needs and work with us over a sustained period of time to deliver an unusual method of POS effectively."

Competitive pressures, changing industry and customer requirements were major influences on the development of POS terminals. In response, Clarks has remodelled itself through organic growth, technology and staff training as they lead the market with a view to global implementation.

Roger Gann

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