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Bandwidth on demand saves Penneys: ISDN cuts cost of merchandiser's product selection process.

Making a solid business case for ISDN has proved difficult for corporate MIS managers. The Integrated Services Digital Network is a catch-all phrase which is too complex for many end users to understand and even harder for them to visualize as a solution to real problems. With one or two exceptions, the four-year carrier-sponsored field trial program has done little to improve the situation.

Now some major telecomm system users are moving into the driver's seat. Instead of buying new technology first and using it to find solutions to business problems second, they study day-to-day network related corporate activity and then come up with a business case for a new system. Over the long haul, this is better for everyone--users, vendors, and the industry.

An example of this new approach was with the announcement that JCPenny is field trialing ISDN in Dallas, Texas, with the object of eventually connecting it to all its metropolitan retail outlets.

Making ISDN pay

Network Manager Bob Valliere explains how the idea of the trial got started: "Initially, ISDN had something to offer which we needed and that was bandwith on demand. Our stores have 19 lines coming in, one for 9.6 kb/s data, 14 CO trunks, and four PIN Net long distance lines. The traffic on these lines varied widely throughout the business day and we needed to find a way of using them more cost effectively.

"The projected cost of a PRI connection was about the same as these existing lines but with the benefit of more bandwidth thrown in, and we could manage this bandwidth as well," observes Valliere.

"The system reads the D-channel and changes the required bandwidth throughout the day. Each application tells the network how much bandwidth its needs and we pay only for that. This was a proof of concept and it encouraged us to take a look at whether the transactions we were doing on the network could also be made more cost effective using ISDN."

MIS application

David Evans, vice president of information systems for JCPenny, describes how the merchandise on display at the individual stores is selected and ordered.

"A one-way VSAT system sends high quality pictures of products to our retail outlets three times a week. The store merchandiers spend between four and eight hours in a viewing room three times a week.

"Each broadcast starts with a product color and style overview and concludes with an interactive voice session over a dial-up line.

"Afterwards, the merchandisers go to another area and place their orders on their own PCs which are connected via token ring LANs to our central host here in Dallas.

"Our communications and merchandising groups got together to discuss this. We talked about the way we handled data. We talked about image handling, about data compression."

As a result, the company decided to look at the idea of combining the viewing and ordering activity on the local area networks and connecting these via ISDN.

Valliere describes how the decision was implemented: "We downloaded the video from the satellite and stored it on a file server.

"Using special image handling and data compression techniques, we were able to let the merchandisers view products on the PC and order them at the same time over our inter-LAN lines. That meant there was no longer any need to tie these people up in separate rooms for four to eight hours."


JCPenny is an IBM shop. Its host computer and central file server is currently networked over separate 9.6 kb/s data lines to the cash register-based token rings at its metropolitan stores. These LANs support PCs and are connected to cluster controllers and in-store processors.

Using a Teleos IAP 6000 PRI access server, image and data is handled on the same ISDN network. At the same time, voice lines are routed to the store's Northern Telecom Meridian PBX equipped with a PRI interface.

The local telephone company in the Dallas region is Southwestern Bell and MCI is the long distance carrier.

"The merchandiser uses separate windows on the PC screen to coordinate the images and the product data," notes Evans. "Viewing, selection, and ordering information goes on simultaneously. Staff time is used more productively and so is the store's telecommunications.

"The technology allows you to set up several tasks simultaneously, throw open the communications pipe you need, and pay for the bandwidth when and how you need it," Evans says.

The future

Evans looks on this as just a beginning. He believes the dialog that has been stimulated by the present ISDN trial will lead to many other applications.

"Southwestern Bell has offered us tariffed PRI lines and it is our intention to start putting them in our metropolitan stores in Texas as soon as we have confirmed the potential cost savings. Then we'll ask for ISDN connections all over the country.

"I firmly believe that with the anticipated cost of PRI lines, every business with seven or eight telephones and a couple of PCs can make ISDN pay for them," he concludes.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:ISDN User Strategies; J.C. Penney; integrated services digital network
Author:Stewart, Alan
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:19th century museum uses 21st century technology.
Next Article:More users are putting ISDN to work and fitting it into their planning.

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