Enterprises across the country are rethinking how much office space they need post-pandemic, as knowledge workers and admin staff show no signs of wanting to let go of the conferencing and collaboration tools that enable them to log in from home.\n\nGary Desai, CIO at Discount Tire, has another real-estate question on his mind, though: How can IT help reduce the footprint of the company\u2019s typical tire shop so that it can open new locations in more densely populated markets?\n\nDiscount Tire has around 1,100 stores employing 22,000 people across the US, and adds another 50 outlets each year. A typical shop will have a glass storefront that houses a display of tires and wheel rims, as well as a seating area and desks where sales staff can check in customers on computers and help them pick out the services they need. Out back, there\u2019ll be three or four bays where the cars are serviced.\n\n\u201cToday we are mostly in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, where you\u2019ve got big parking lots,\u201d says Desai, who joined the 60-year-old family-owned business in January 2020.\n\nThe situation in New York or Boston, however, is very different. \u201cLand there is at a premium. If you want to enter those markets, you want to enter it with half the footprint of your competition,\u201d he says.\n\nShrinking the footprint\n\nFuture stores, though, will dispense with the glass storefront and part of the workshop space currently given over to tire storage. \u201cWith the glass gone,\u201d says Desai, \u201cif you can work on the inventory and not get in too much stock, you look at the orders for the next day and get the tires delivered the day before, you can cut this footprint easily by half.\u201d\n\nA pilot store built on that model is set to open in December. Customers should be able to just drive up and get out of their car, with a mobile app alerting the shop of the customer\u2019s approach. \u201cWe\u2019ll direct you right to the bay, in and out in 20 minutes,\u201d he says.\n\nThe pandemic has already prepared the company for such low-contact ways of working. Declared an essential service, Discount Tires had to quickly figure out how to keep shops open while following safety guidelines.\n\nUsually, says Desai, \u201cif I\u2019m selling you a tire, I\u2019m going to be only one foot away from you because you and I are going to look at a common screen.\u201d The company shipped 4,000 extra monitors to stores so staff and customers could stand six feet apart and still see the same information.\n\nIt became clear, however, that customers were reluctant to enter stores, so the company moved to curbside check-in, with customers picking out tires online before turning up.\n\n\u201cWe put in digital signage outside the shops for QR codes and check-ins, and then further refinements to the payment system where it\u2019s touchless payment. You don\u2019t have to give your credit card; you just validate without a signature \u2014 but you have to modify all the software to do that.\u201d\n\nThat mix of online and onsite commerce is being made easier by another project Desai has been working on: consolidating the customer databases used by the web store, in-store sales, and contact center applications so that customers\u2019 purchase history is accessible from all three.\n\n\u201cWe have purchasing through the web. We have purchasing through our customer contact centers. And obviously the third, the biggest channel is the in-store channel. And each of these application systems is different,\u201d says Desai. \u201cOur point-of-sale system is 15, 20 years old. Our web is newer, but each one has its own customer database and there is no centralization.\u201d\n\nDesai knew there were duplicates among the 70 million customer records the company held, so he turned to Informatica\u2019s Customer 360 master data management product for help with deduplication and data cleansing. The result was a reduction in the number of customer records to 35 million.\n\nDiscount Tire handed the contract for end-to-end integration of the MDM system to Informatica partner Infoverity.\n\n\u201cInfoverity did a lot of data architecture, and there\u2019s a lot of MuleSoft integration that happened,\u201d says Desai. \u201cWe had a team of at least four or five full-time people of ours in there doing data cleansing and architecture and making sure that they\u2019re following our standards.\u201d\n\nThe value of relationships\n\nWhen a key person on Discount Tire\u2019s side fell ill midproject, Infoverity took up the slack. \u201cWe\u2019ve got good partners. That\u2019s how you protect yourself: You make top-notch relationships \u2026 ideally at the CEO level,\u201d he says.\n\nNow that his colleague is back at work, says Desai, he\u2019s going to slow things down a little \u2014 but slowing down is difficult: \u201cData management is the stepping stone to digital transformation, right? Data, data integrity, data management. And if you go slow there, your digital transformation is going to slow down.\u201d\n\nNow, the web, in-store, and contact center systems automatically validate customers against the same database in Informatica\u2019s cloud, he says. \u201cAll that stuff is now instantly available in all three places in the same fashion.\u201d\n\nWith the customer data validation completed for all but a few of the company\u2019s hundreds of systems, Desai is cleaning up the product databases, also using Informatica software. That might seem overkill for a company that only sells tires and wheels but Discount Tire also recently began selling wiper blades and plans to add other accessories too, so the number of SKUs will grow. Next year, he plans to tackle the supplier databases.\n\nInformatica has helped tie together the databases for the different sales channels, but the applications remain separate: \u201cIt\u2019s going to take us four or five years to unify them,\u201d Desai says.\n\nHe\u2019s just asked the board for the funding for the next step in that process, a two-and-a-half year project to move the point-of-sale application to the cloud and keep enough edge computing capacity in each store to maintain operations.\n\nThe edge servers alone will cost millions but, \u201cIf things go bad, I\u2019ve got to be able to run it locally, in the shop,\u201d he says.\n\nThere\u2019s safety in depth \u2014 just like with tire tread.