This financial year saw Adairs Retail Group finalise ‘Project Lightyear’ a technology project to replace disparate financial, inventory management and retail solutions with an end-to-end, customised implementation of Microsoft Dynamics AX. It also included a data warehouse and middleware platform for standardising integrations.“We needed to simplify and consolidate the platforms that the business was running which served our 150 stores,” says head of technology, Rohan Penman. “We also wanted a full integrated solution that would enable us to do real-time statistical analysis of and retail environment and offer other reporting capabilities with industry standard tools.”Innovations around data analysis have begun with an intelligent traffic counter rollout and updated to Microsoft SQL 2016 platform, which has enabled Penman and his team to deploy a full business intelligence dashboard suite for its mobile users and stores.These intelligent traffic counters – which detect the WiFi signal in retail customers’ smartphones – have been rolled out in 30 stores so far and will be deployed in 70 stores soon. They provide information about traffic flows and the time customers spend in each store after promotional activities have been rolled out by the marketing department.“We can check the timing of marketing campaigns so if our marketing department pushes a promotion, ‘do we see an influx of walk-ins?'”In addition, store managers can use the information to plan how many staff they need at certain times of the day and directly compare – also using data from the point-of-sale system – when a sale was made to the number of people that were in a store at a particular point in time, he says.In addition, the project has enabled Adairs to introduce new payment types and integrate website transactions with its POS system. In the near future, store staff will be able to view Adairs’ online transactions, which provides a consolidated view of customers’ spending history.“This improves efficiency because they don’t have to be calling different people to get information about returns or the age of an invoice,” he says. “It enables us to analyses the sales history of customers to better target marketing campaigns.”Structurally, this project created a huge demand on resources, says Penman.“We started by recruiting internal resources in the business to become department SMEs. These people were effectively taking on a technology-focused business analyst roles and leaving their normal everyday duties behind.“Making this choice was ultimately the best decision possible – these team members were excellent conduits for change as they had working relationships with our existing team.Operationally, Project Lightyear was staged over many deployments.“We began with the warehousing, product planning teams to separate out the impact on all areas of the business. This allowed us to then migrate to finance, stabilise the system and ensure it was working for the team at the office and then make a smooth transition plan for the operation and retail team, which also required some significant customisations to allow us to take significant steps forward.”Plan for the worst, hope for the bestDuring the project, Penman ensured that the retail group had a commitment from Microsoft to be involved in its steering committee meetings. The company also got a commitment from its implementation partner that it would be part of an early adopter program for organisations that were using new functionality.”The new functionality we had was the AX WAX/TRAX module for transport. This had not been used by a large-scale business before and we were effectively testing the solution,” he says.”When launched, the solution underperformed once it was placed under certain circumstances. Luckily, due to our close working relationship with Microsoft, we could call on resources to fix our issues in a reasonable timeframe.”The relationship and buy-in was effectively an insurance policy for this project and the whole business. Without this timely help, we would have either required a rollback or hamstrung the business for a significant period of time,” says Penman.