The Home Depot draws crowds at tech event

San Diego -- The Teradata Partners User Group Conference drew its largest attendance this year, with more than 3,000 people gathering at the San Diego Convention Center to share best practices on business intelligence and data warehousing. Although not a conference centered on the home-improvement channel, the five-day gathering drew IT personnel from Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ace Hardware. Representatives from Home Depot gave three presentations, each time to full audiences. Retailers from other industries wanted to hear about the hot new thing -- “tactical reporting” -- which Home Depot has implemented in most of its stores over the last 15 months.

Claybourne Barrineau, Teradata architect for The Home Depot, could only show a photo of the handheld device now being used in 1,800 orange boxes. “It’s for legal reasons,” he explained. But the concept behind Store Walk Mobility (SWM) is easy to understand: Store managers and associates can scan a bar code on a particular item and receive back sales history, inventory turns and other data, a total of 30 metrics.  

What wasn’t so simple to pull off was the back-end support for so many requests for data. “It’s a CPU-intensive process,” Barrineau said. “We had to protect the rest of the system from this workload.”

Barrineau and his team eventually figured it out, and SWM now has 12,000 distinct users scattered throughout the company’s stores. By the end of November, Home Depot expects the devices to be in all its U.S. locations.

While Barrineau was talking about “parsing engines” and “partition nodes,” a panel in another room discussed how Customer Relationship Management has recently evolved. Craig Gard of Meredith Publishing, Debbie Doram of Electronics Arts, and Mary Smith of Ace Hardware all deal with very different customer bases, and the first two panelists have moved away from direct mail. But Smith, customer insights and analysts manager for Ace, said: “We don’t think direct mail is ever going to go away.” However, the Oak Brook, Ill., buying group is trying to “default [members] to e-mail campaigns,” which many retailers prefer anyway, Smith said.

Abird’s eye view of Home Depot’s IT evolution was provided by Cynthia Czabala, director of enterprise data warehouse for The Home Depot. A 12-year veteran of the company, Czabala talked about some of the retailer’s failed attempts at standardizing item data before it ultimately succeeded. “We now have 99% of stock product attributes” for both homedepot.com and also the retailer’s physical stores, Czabala said.

Home Depot is now attempting to do the same -- cleanse the data -- for its customer database. One major accomplishment so far: integrating customer accounts into its data warehouse. “For the first time, I can tell you how valuable you are to me based on how much business we’ve done,” Czabala said.