Building From Scratch: RadioShack Gets Ready For DirXML

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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Jacqueline Emigh

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