Agile methods speed IT merger at Alliance Boots

Agile development techniques have allowed Alliance Pharmacy to roll out an integrated electronic point of sale system within six months of its merger with Boots the Chemist.

Agile development techniques have allowed Alliance Pharmacy to roll out an integrated electronic point of sale system within six months of its merger with Boots the Chemist.

Agile programming enables end-users to work closely with software developers throughout a project to improve the functionality and usability of the final application.

The speed with which Alliance was able to combine the flexibility of its in-house-developed Epos system with the engine that drives Boots' Advantage loyalty card system helped to consolidate the merger, said Sandy Byfield, IT project manager at Alliance Boots.

The Epos system has been rolled out to 1,000 of the combined group's 5,500 retail and wholesale pharmacies since shareholders approved the merger in mid 2006.

The key aim of the project was to combine the strength of the Boots brand, based largely on the 15 million people who have an Advantage card, with the flexibility of the Alliance Epos system, said Byfield.

Alliance hired software house K3 to develop the Epos system from scratch before the merger, based on Microsoft's Dynamics package. It took 12 weeks to develop and roll out the pilot Epos system, complete with the product file and interfaces to head office and branch financial systems.

"However, the merger meant the equivalent of open heart surgery on the new Epos system, so we called K3 back," Byfield said.

"It was not straightforward. We were not going to run the Advantage and Epos systems separately, and it was not an option to replace them." This meant replicating the functionality of the Advantage system in the same engine that drives the Epos system.

Byfield solved the problem by splitting the work into two main teams. One looked after the interface between the Advantage and Epos systems for product file and financial information flows. The other added the "deal engine", which drives the loyalty card's ­offers, to the Epos system.

"The system was delivered two days early. It went live in 12 pilot sites in November 2006. More than 1,000 sites are now using it in various formats, depending on their business mix," said Byfield.

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