Live from NRF: Tween’s IT Evolution

New York—Although Tween Brands has 730 Limited Too and Justice stores nationwide, vice president of IT solutions Roy Deegan refers to it as a “small company.” And until recently, the multichannel merchant of apparel for tween girls did in some ways operate as a small company. As Deegan said during a Monday session at the National Retail Federation “Big Show,” “I’ve never seen an organization so tied to spreadsheets and what they do.”

During the past few years, though, Deegan and his team have been working to wean the company off its dependence on Excel spreadsheets. In 2004, shortly after Tween Brands was spun off from Limited Brands, the company decided to radically upgrade its information technology systems.

At that time, Deegan explains, Tween Brands had “functional silos of data.” The real estate department’s store count, for instance, which consisted of stores that were currently open, differed from that of the merchandising team, which included stores that were to open and that it therefore had to buy inventory for in its count.

“We had six different reporting tools,” Deegan continued. “Why did we need six different reporting tools?”

Deegan’s staff embarked on a five-year, seven-stage plan to upgrade its IT systems. Step one was to migrate from the mainframe inherited from Limited Brand to a “midrange” environment. This entailed new networking, a new database, and new hardware, Deegan said—in short, “all the plumbing that has to happen before you can do anything else.”

Step two was implementing an enterprise data warehouse and data model and business intelligence tools. Deegan used the NRF’s Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) data model and that of Oracle Retail to determine the data model that would work best for Tween Brands.

To populate the data warehouse, Tween Brands relied primarily on its point-of-sale data, though it did buy some third-party data as well. The goal, said Deegan, was to have “one version of the truth, not 15 versions of the truth.”

The data warehouse and associated tools were rolled out in spring 2006, as was step three: the additional of financial and assortment planning tools, performance analysis capabilities, and markdown optimization. The system was built on Oracle technology and uses solutions from SAS’s Merchandising Intelligence Suite. Tween Brands decided to use existing software packages rather than create inhouse solutions and to avoid modifications whenever possible, Deegan said, so as not to take itself “out of the upgrade path.”

Tween Brands has just started step four of its plan: the introduction of additional financial and merchandising suites. The remaining stages will involve introducing even more sophisticated merchandising and planning capabilities. In creating the action plan, Deegan said, the company started by working to eliminate manual processes, then proceeding to add ad hoc capabilities, with the additional of strategic capabilities to be built upon that foundation.