Building From Scratch: RadioShack Gets Ready For DirXML

Using DirXML to tie Netware Directory Services and PeopleSoft8 together, RadioShack takes a relatively uncharted road to human resources management over the network.

By Jacqueline Emigh | Posted Mar 27, 2002
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Paper-based HR forms are becoming a thing of the past, as more employers turn to online alternatives. In the third quarter of this year, for example, retail giant RadioShack Corp. will start working with Novell Consulting on a Web-based HR self-service system for use by employees at thousands of locations throughout the US.

RadioShack employees are still relying on pen and paper to fill out W-2 s and insurance forms, says Ron Cook, RadioShack's senior director for strategic architecture and technical operations. By the beginning of 2003, though, RadioShack and Novell Consulting plan to complete a secure Web-based environment that uses Novell's DirXML to synchronize eDirectory NDS (NetWare Directory Services) with PeopleSoft 8's built-in database.

Beyond provisioning PeopleSoft's self-service HR applications, the system will generate password ID access for workers at RadioShack's headquarters in Fort Worth, TX, and at more than 5,000 remote store locations.

"DirXML is based on Novell's metadirectory. It's used mostly to maintain consistency across systems about who has left or joined the company, and about employees' titles, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, for instance. Novell has also added a workflow engine," says Jonathan Penn, director, Giga Information Group.

"Provisioning goes further (than metadirectory services). It refers to the automated or workflow-assisted management of user accounts. Provisioning can be used to determine what kinds of application access users can get, based on their roles or identities," adds Penn.

Up to now, RadioShack branch stores have been mainly limited to POS (point-of-sale) batch dial-up applications. Store staff has also been using a couple of Internet-based applications, such as "Battery Finder" and "Store Locator," but these same applications are also available to the public from RadioShack's main Web site.

As Cook sees it, PeopleSoft's Web-based HR applications are particularly useful for large store chains, due to rapid employee turnover in the retail space. "We're currently using about 100,000 W-2 forms each year. So, we're going to be generating a lot of accounts. Using DirXML, we'll be able to autocreate and autodelete accounts across both PeopleSoft and NDS," he says.

Also in the third quarter of this year, Novell plans to release an employee provisioning toolkit. RadioShack, however, is opting instead to build a solution with Novell Consulting "from scratch" using DirXML instead of a synchronization tool available from PeopleSoft.

"PeopleSoft's tool is one-way only. What we need is two-way synchronization," according to Cook.

PeopleSoft applications are nothing new to Novell. Novell Consulting is now in the throes of integrating Cambridge Technology Partners (CTP), an outside consulting firm acquired by Novell last year. At the same time, Novell has inherited CTP's PeopleSoft practice.

Meanwhile, the consulting branch has been teaming with partner Deloitte & Touche on deploying PeopleSoft provisioning applications for other customers, including retail mortgage broker Freddie Mac.

Analysts caution, though, that at this point, DirXML requires specialized expertise. "DirXML is only available through Novell's services group. It hasn't been productized, and it doesn't have many connectors yet to outside applications," says Penn.

On its corporate network at headquarters serving 3,500 users, RadioShack has already deployed NDS, NetWare 4.X and 5.X, ZenWorks, BorderManager, and iChain. The retailer is now getting set for a NetWare 6.0 upgrade.

Although mainly a Novell shop, RadioShack also operates Windows 2000/NT and HP-UX systems. Retail terminals in the stores will access the Web-based applications over DSL lines via a VPN (virtual private network).

Aside from Novell's eDirectory NDS, RadioShack has also experimented along the way with Windows 2000's Active Directory, as well as with the iPlanet directory. "But we didn't get the same level of granularity as we did with NDS," Cook maintains.

"Novell's NDS is one of the most powerful, manageable, and scalable directories available today. Business people may not always understand these advantages, but Dilbert is very pleased," says Dan Kusnetsky, vice president of systems software research for IDC.

Also, at this point, Novell's directory is the only directory that works with DirXML., according to Penn. "Novell has been very focused on putting DirXML on top of eDirectory NDS," says the Giga's Penn.

In Europe, Novell has already used DirXML and eDirectory to build an employee provisioning system for another big retailer, Coop Switzerland. The system reportedly consolidates employee data from the merged cooperative's 15 different HR systems, as well as from disparate PBX phone directories and Microsoft Exchange address books. At Coop, however, Novell replaced existing employee identity and authorization systems with its own eDirectory-based corporate address book, eGuide.

For its part, RadioShack is also considering a company-wide employee portal for further down the road. "Our approach, though, is to build an identify infrastructure first. Then we'll start evolving from there," says RadioShack's Cook.


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