AS/400 Out of Fashion at Liz Claiborne

Exercising its freedom to welcome the dawn of the new millenium and the challenges of e-business on a non-IBM platform, Liz Claiborne Inc. is transplanting Hewlett-Packard Company enterprise computing technology into the heart of an infrastructure that once was dominated by the AS/400.

Despite the resources IBM has poured into the AS/400 on both the technology and marketing ends, the North Bergen, N.J.-based designer of women’s and men’s apparel and accessories will migrate from its CISC-based OS/400 platform to a combination of HP servers and management software, Oracle data management solutions and services, EMC2 Corp. (Hopkinton, Mass.) disk drives, and Intrepid Systems (Alameda, Calif.) enterprise decision support software.

"Liz Claiborne is establishing information technology as a core competency of our company, as we implement our technology for the next millenium," says Ralph Fusco, director of technical services for Liz Claiborne. "We’re looking to get out on the Internet, to have our market come to [the Liz Claiborne site] and actually do their viewing and shopping on the Internet. We’re looking to take fullest advantage of the newest technology to give us that business advantage."

Liz Claiborne’s relationship with IBM midrange technology dates back nearly as far as the company’s own inception in 1976. In the late 1970s the fashion design company ran its business on System/38 technology, according to Fusco. AS/400s were introduced at Liz Claiborne as soon as they were available to the market and over the years Liz Claiborne has accumulated a variety of AS/400 models, including the D70, F80 and 320. None of Liz Claiborne’s AS/400 servers, however, runs on RISC-based technology and the latest version of OS/400 to be found at the company’s facilities is V3R2.

Plans to migrate from AS/400 to HP enterprise servers were initiated in 1997, in order to provide a smooth transition into the new millenium, according to Fusco. Last year, Liz Claiborne had the option of moving forward with IBM, but decided instead to conduct "an extensive survey" to compare IBM’s offerings with those of HP (Palo Alto, Calif.) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.), he says.

Liz Claiborne decided HP would make the best strategic partner, according to Fusco. "We felt [back in 1997], based on the comparisons we did and the effort that was put forth by all the vendors, that Hewlett-Packard had as good as or better technology," he says. "We wanted to position ourselves with someone like HP moving forward."

HP’s ability to "mitigate risk" was another reason Liz Claiborne selected the company as a strategic technology partner, according to Fusco. "We need their significant resources and their technology, and they’re excellent at understanding change management," he says. "Price was a consideration, but not as heavy a factor as overall performance, direction of the technology and aligning ourselves with a strategic business partner."

Over the next couple of years, Liz Claiborne’s remaining AS/400s will continue to perform human resources, payroll and finance functions for the enterprise. These functions will remain on AS/400 technology as a matter of priority, according to Fusco. "The first functions to be migrated to HP include retail, core business systems, EDI, traffic and warehouse management," he says.

Year 2000 has been a great concern for Liz Claiborne’s IT staff. "In positioning ourselves for the Y2K deadline, we felt it was time to move forward and revamp the portfolio," Fusco says.

The Liz Claiborne IT department’s hardware now features a total of 23 HP 9000 servers – including 18 K-Class, 3 D-Class and 2 V-Class enterprise servers. Packaged client/server applications run on HP 9000 K- and V-Class servers and feed a centralized data warehouse with a decision support system.

The goal when implementing software on the new system is to select "packaged, best of breed" solutions whenever possible, according to Fusco. These solutions include HP’s OpenView and Platinum Technology Inc.’s (Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.) DBVision, a tool designed to monitor and manage the performance of Oracle, Informix, Sybase and DB2 databases in distributed Unix and Windows NT environments. For the company’s actual retail applications, Fusco says Liz Claiborne plans to primarily enlist the solutions, services and support of third-party vendors who specialize in the retail industry.

The scheduled departure of Liz Claiborne from IBM’s ranks after the year 2000 means more to IBM than the loss a client with 7,500 employees and 1996 revenues totaling $2.2 billion. It also represents the closing of a business relationship 20 years in the making.