Toys “R” Us began in 1948 as a business dedicated to fulfilling the needs of children. Those needs included toys, clothing, furniture, accessories and more. Today Toys “R” Us is an $11 billion international chain with 1,450 stores nationwide. Not only does Toys “R” Us have physical locations, they also have a very strong Internet presence. To operate a business this size requires an immense staff with each individual bringing their knowledge and experiences to the company. With such a large number of stores and a diverse group of employees, the ability to communicate is essential.
Toys “R” Us recognized that as a company they could improve their communication processes. To make improvements would require identifying needs and solutions. Part of the solution would mean evaluating their technology and knowledge management practices. It also meant taking a hard look at the inefficiencies of the company’s current communication practices. Any solution, also meant making sure the employees felt comfortable using it.
The coursework task will look at the value of the Toys “R” Us solution including the following topics:
1. Analysis of Toys “R” Us Case Study
2. Case Study Investigation
3. Contrasting the solutions
4. Individual Reflections
1. Analysis of Toys “R” Us Case Study
Staying ahead of the competition is critical to any retail business. With Toys “R” Us it is key due to the large number of competitors that they have. To stay on top of the competition, they wanted to make sure that communication was flowing smoothly. Poor communication could lead to the repetition of the same tasks, resending of memos and e-mails, loss of marketing opportunities and unorganized meetings. All result in a loss of time and money.
The company headquarters requires that all stores execute business initiatives. In 1998, over 600 initiatives were carried out in the chain. Without a global communication solution, it becomes extremely difficult to stay on top of these initiatives. Toys “R” Us was not without technology solutions. They were using e-mail extensively to communicate. However, with several e-mails floating around on the same issue, not everyone was current on the latest initiatives. In addition, employees new to the issues were confused and had no way of reading previous messages.
Another communication problem creating large expenses was training. IT staff spent large amounts of time traveling to individual sites to train employees. When a process or application was updated, it meant traveling all over again to retrain. If someone were not able to attend a training, they would have to rely on someone who did attend. For employees with busy schedules, it became difficult to fit in multiple trainings.
Toys “R” Us decided to use a Microsoft(r) solution to enhance their communication practices. The solution combines Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft NetMeeting(r). The IT department decided to use a total Microsoft solution to avoid integration issues. Supporting an integrated system is also much less complicated and the IT department does not have to stay current on more than one platform or application suite. By providing a standardized set of applications, the employees felt very comfortable using the solution. As a result, the IT department has less training to perform and receives more acceptance from the employees.
The biggest communication advantage came through public folders. These folders are shared company wide. Now when an initiative is under discussion, all communications are filed under the appropriate folder. Employees can very quickly pick up the current message thread and contribute to the discussion. As a result, initiatives are not lost and excellent ideas are acted on much quicker.
NetMeeting takes care of the training issues through its conferencing options. Toys “R” Us uses this option to remotely train their employees. Now employees can sign up for classes that fit their schedules and IT professionals no longer spend long hours traveling for training purposes. Class sizes are smaller and employees have a better opportunity to work one-on-one with their trainer.
The IT department also uses the public folder system to track support issues. In addition, they keep track of hardware each executive uses and the costs to support it. With their system, they are able to document support information with a form. The IT department has also discovered that with an integrated solution, it becomes very easy to cerate new applications since the programming languages are the same across the system. That means time for creating a custom form or other application is significantly reduced.
Toys “R” Us seems to be very pleased with the results of their communication solution. They are now turning towards help desk and customer communication solutions. Once again they are looking for a solution that will provide “real-time” global control over customer issues.
2. Case Study Investigation
Toys “R” Us requirements for their communication system were to provide a low cost method to deliver training sessions, and a method to share information quickly and easily throughout the company regardless of the location. Since they were already using Microsoft products, they looked for a solution to integrate with the company’s current applications.
Microsoft has several business solutions available for companies of all sizes. These solutions range from off-the-shelf packages that individual IT departments implement to customized solutions that Microsoft implements. The ability to take full advantage of a knowledge management system was key in the Toys “R” Us case. Microsoft has recognized that providing knowledge management solutions is important for customers that need to maintain a competitive edge. Technology provides a method to collect knowledge and share it across a company. Formats for sharing that knowledge can include databases, electronic documents, e-mail, voice mail, video conferencing and CD-ROMs. With a knowledge management solution in place, companies are more likely to be ready when their market shifts and they need to come up with solutions quickly. Microsoft states that the critical issues companies like Toys “R” Us should consider are the following:
1. Users should not need to learn a new way of working with their software.
2. Technology should deliver only the relevant information users need from every available source.
3. The solution should take into account the mobility of employees so information can be gathered at any location.
4. The solution should support the wide variety of needs specific to the company.
The technology solution for Toys “R” Us included Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft NetMeeting. Microsoft Exchange Server provided the means to share information globally through shared public folders. As a result, all employees could view the necessary information. NetMeeting provided a low cost training solution through its conferencing abilities. The Toys “R” Us solution met Microsoft’s’ requirement for a useable knowledge management system through the following:
1. Toys “R” Us employed an integrated solution using Microsoft products that their employees were already familiar with using.
2. Users can access information relevant to the issues they are interested in through the shared public folders.
3. Employees can sign up for the training sessions they want during times that fit their schedules. Since the courses are done remotely, neither the students nor the trainers need to travel. The shared public folders can be accessed from any Toys “R” Us location.
4. The solution meets Toys “R” Us need to share business initiatives and other information globally, and provide a low cost distance training solution.
Both of the technology products chosen by Toys “R” Us offer real-time solutions to the company’s employees. In other words, the employees can instantly access information the instant it is available. In the case of the public shared folders, they can even add them to their favorites menu and be notified when something new is added to it. When a training is scheduled, the employee works in real-time with the trainer. Since traveling is no longer an issue, the IT department is able to offer several training times. Therefore the class sizes are smaller and the employees get to know the IT staff more intimately.
With a closer working relationship, both the IT staff and employees throughout the company have a better understanding of their job functions and develop respect for each other. Employees understand better what it takes to work on an IT project or repair a computer. In addition, the IT staff receives a better understanding of the concerns their end users have with their hardware and software. Toys “R” Us was still getting to know all the features of NetMeeting at the time of this case study. However, they already discovered that they could let end users test custom applications that they were building. By testing the applications, developers could learn what did or did not work for their end users and discover bugs much more quickly.
In the Toys “R” Us third quarter 2001 report, it appears that good communication is paying off. The business initiative to remodel 433 stores is ahead of schedule with 415 stores renovated in part to good communication. In addition, a new advertising initiative aimed at repositioning the Toys “R” Us brand is also off to an excellent start. Customer awareness to the Toys “R” Us advertising campaign jumped 20 points. Initiatives such as these are organized and communicated much more quickly with a knowledge management solution in place.
3. Contrasting the solutions
The Toys “R” Us communication solution was first primarily driven by the employees need for a better communication system. It was secondarily led by technology since technology was the best answer for their problem. The combination of a people and technology led solution worked well into their basic needs of a well defined knowledge management solution.
The need for a better communication solution came about due to the increased use of e-mail. With so many e-mails floating around on the same initiative, it became impossible to stay current. A paper or manual based system was not an option since employees were already used to the convenience and quick response that e-mail offered. Employees were already using Microsoft products and felt very comfortable using them. Therefore, to introduce a system that simply enhanced what they were already using was best for the IT department and for the end users. The IT department gets to support a system they already know and the end users are up and running with the solution quickly.
When it came to finding a low cost training solution, it was obvious that a distance learning option was best. The goal was to reduce traveling costs and down time from traveling IT staff training employees on new software and hardware. In addition, Toys “R” Us wanted to reduce down time from employees being away from their jobs due to training. Employees wanted a solution that would fit into their schedules better. NetMeeting offered a distance learning option with features such as chat and an online whiteboard. There is also the potential to offer video conferencing trainings through NetMeeting. This option will eventually enhance the training experience for the end users by giving a feeling that the instructor is physically there. In addition, the IT instructor will be able to observe the users as they work through the training. Therefore, the trainer is able to identify those that may need extra help or may be struggling to learn the concepts.
A combined people and technology led solution also works best for the IT department. With a combined solution, the end users’ needs are met and the IT department has the technology solution they prefer to support. In addition, since it is a system they are already familiar with, they can easily develop new custom applications to enhance the solution.
In this case study, the solution was a combined people and technology led solution that fit into a knowledge management solution. However, has Toys “R” Us continued to use a knowledge management approach when adding new solutions since then? In the case study, Toys “R” Us mentioned that they wanted to explore opportunities to increase their customer service communication such as with their help desk. However, since this case study, Toys “R” Us has purchased two new software systems from i2 Technologies, Inc and Siebel Systems. These systems will provide the means to stay on top of customer inquires for the Toysrus.com division. Buying these products will mean that IT staff will have to become familiar with new technologies to support them. In addition, it will mean training employees on unfamiliar products. Essentially it appears to be a complete break from the model they were following previously.
The Toysrus.com solution seems to be technology driven. The solution fits the technology need for an Internet customer service program rather than the need to have a solution than integrates well into the system the company already uses. At the same time this technology solution was adopted a new Vice President was hired to oversee the implementation. However, the new Vice President came to Toys “R” Us with a strong background in sales and customer service. He is able to apply his knowledge of how the end users (customers) will see the new solution. How the customer needed to use the system may have outweighed the choice for an integrated solution. The down side is that if the trend to by solutions that are not integrated continues, the IT staff will have the challenging and perhaps difficult job of supporting and training end users on multiple platforms and applications. In addition, it will be much more difficult to maintain a successful knowledge management solution throughout the company.
4. Individual Reflections
The individual reflections are broken down by each of the main tasks provided in the assignment: conceptual analysis, knowledge assimilation, research/investigative and team work. All areas were used to complete the report.
1. Analyzed how knowledge management techniques work with large corporations such as Toys “R” Us.
2. Analyzed the various IT roles needed to deploy a technology based communication solution.
3. Looked at how future decisions may affect the role of the IT department.
1. Evaluated the Toys “R” Us case study by breaking it down into the basic components of a knowledge management solution.
2. Evaluated the role of the IT department in the Toys “R” Us case study to comparable roles in other corporate IT departments.
3. Analyzed what the end users role and needs played in the IT department’s decision to choose that particular solution.
1. Researched other Toys “R” Us initiatives to determine if their IT decision making process has continued to follow the need for a knowledge management solution.
2. Since Toys “R” Us used an integrated Microsoft solution, researched the components that Microsoft feels make a good knowledge management solution. Compared how the Toys “R” Us solution fit the Microsoft knowledge management definition.
3. Looked at how other companies were using technology solutions to solve their communication problems.
1. Divided the task of researching background information on Toys “R” Us such as corporate history, press releases and annual reports. Also divided the task of researching Microsoft knowledge management practices.
2. Divided the task of analyzing the case study and the compounded research data.
3. Worked together to write the report based on the combined analysis and data discovery.
2000 Toys “R” Us Annual Report. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://www.shareholder.com/toy/toysrus00/index.html
About Toys “R” Us. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://inc.toysrus.com/index.cfm?sc=tru
Business Value=Business Success. (2001, June 22). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://www.microsoft.com/business/articles/value/valallchin.asp
Downey, Geoffrey. (2001, November 30). Role Of IT On The Rise In Retail: Additional investments will be spent on PDAs and kiosks. Computing Canada, pp. 1.
Fong, Kevin. (2001, November 19). Building the real-time company. Network World, pp. 41.
Measuring Business Value. (2001, June 14) Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://www.microsoft.com/business/solutions/value/valuehome.asp.
Office Productivity and Knowledge Management: What’s Possible? (2001, June 14). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://www.microsoft.com/business/productivity/prodpossible.asp
Overview of Knowledge Management: Turning Experience and Information into Results. (2001, July 14). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://www.microsoft.com/business/articles/productivity/kmoverview.asp
“R” History. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://inc.toysrus.com/index.cfm?sc=tru
Toys “R” Us Reports Third Quarter 2001 Results. (2001, November 19). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://inc.toysrus.com/index.cfm?sc=tru
Toys “R” Us: Keeping a Competitive Edge with Collaboration and Communication. (1999). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://www.microsoft.com/business/downloads/km/toysrus.doc
Toysrus.Com Announces Key Customer Service Initiatives. (2000, July 17). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://inc.toysrus.com/index.cfm?sc=tru
Toysrus.com Hires Four New Executives to Oversee Growth in Infrastructure and Fulfillment. (2000, June 19). Retrieved December 4, 2001, from http://inc.toysrus.com/index.cfm?sc=tru
Report: Analyzing Toys R Us Case Date: December 4, 2001