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John Lewis unzips mega Oracle ERP package

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Exclusive Flagship British retailer John Lewis is starting a massive ERP rollout on Oracle as part of an ongoing business transformation project.

John Lewis has picked Oracle over SAP and unnamed “other” candidates in a four-year project to modernise its inventory and customer systems, The Reg has learned.

Oracle will replace 50 legacy systems used in different aspects of the John Lewis business such as retail and website as well as verticals, such as fashion, that have grown over time.

The price of the Oracle system has not been revealed.

John Lewis told The Reg it’s currently in the design phase of the Oracle project and has yet to select the servers that its new system will run on.

John Lewis CIO Paul Coby exclusively told The Register a single system would help the retailer compete with rivals on the high street and online.

Oracle will help give John Lewis a “single view” of its customer across store, web, mobile and call centre, he said.

“Being absolutely in control of your inventory and flexibility across all channels is something you need,” Coby said.

“In terms of the scale of our ambition and growing the business and in terms of being able to move more quickly, now is the time you want to modernise those core systems,” Coby told The Reg.

“You can get so far with legacy: in many respects legacy is a great thing – you have paid for it and the bugs have been removed – but the business is changing.”

The Oracle ERP update is part of what Coby told The Reg has been a "substantial infrastructure investment".

That includes a new website commerce engine last year – ATG, bought by Oracle in November 2010. Also, John Lewis in the last two years replaced an ageing 1990s EPOS system at its 40 stores across the country.

The news of the ERP project came after John Lewis was named one of British retail’s Christmas 2013 success stories, with growth in online business second only to that of Next.

Next made so much money from Christmas shoppers both online and in its stores that it declared a one-off £0.50 dividend for shareholders.

John Lewis’ Oracle project is a bold bet: ERP rollouts have proved difficult to get right in the past, with projects going late, over budget or getting cancelled.

When they’ve gone wrong, they have hurt actually hurt the business they were supposed to help.

Also, John Lewis is going counter to the advice from Gartner, whose analysts recently declared the era of big-bang ERP rollouts and systems was over.

Rather, Gartner believes the near future of ERP is a mix of point-based cloud systems and a small core of on-premises ERP functions, such as a financial system. ®

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