APPLICATION: Pharmacy Information Data Warehouse
-- One of the major business trends in recent years has seen small, local drug stores and pharmacies giving way
to larger, regional -- and soon, perhaps, national -- drug store chains. In just about every case this consolidation
of operations means consolidation of systems.
The need to connect diverse types of systems, even far-flung point-of-sale data terminals, to new central offices
has proved to be one of the most pressing tasks for many I/S operations.
Middleware can become a key part of implementing corporate strategy. Look at Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS, a drug
store chain that started in the Northeast and has quickly spread, often through acquisition, through the Mid-Atlantic,
South and Midwest.
At the end of 1997, CVS operated 3,888 stores in 24 states and the District of Columbia, with 1997 net revenues
set at $12.7 billion. CVS made a pointed bid to become the nation's largest chain drug in February of this year
when it bid to acquire Troy, Mich.-based Arbor Drugs for $1.48 billion.CVS has used middleware purchased from Momentum
Software, Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., to sew together its store networks.
The corporation's aggressive approach to acquisitions can only truly succeed if the company's IT teams follow through
with efficient execution. That's where Ken Mercier, CVS project manager, and Mike Nicolay, CVS applied technology
architect, came in.
The clear winner in the middleware category was the
RX-2000 project for CVS pharmacies. They needed to have centralized
access to all customer data and update the data warehouse. After a
merger and acquisition of Revco pharmacies, they also needed the flexibility
to be able to integrate those new stores into their online inventory
and prescription system. CVS has a 1500+ node VSAT wide area network.
The performance of the communications software was critical to the
success of their project.
They relied heavily on Momentum Software's XIPC message-oriented middleware to provide platform independence, protocol
abstraction, asynchronous operation and queuing/spooling support. Theirs was a full Unix solution which made it
the right fit for CVS's HP-UX, SCO-Unix and DG/OS environment.
This is a repeat for XIPC as they were the key to Canadian Pacific Railway receiving the application development
award in the middleware category for 1996.
Said Nicolay, "We've been dealing with middleware for a couple of years. We're using Momentum's XIPC as
a tool for converting stores and systems."
In brief, the CVS architecture requires centralization of customer data at the corporate headquarters to update
the data warehouse. The project covers the pharmacy part of the organization. At the store, a SCO Unix system is
put in place. It accumulates data from various pharmacist terminals. Information is transmitted to CVS headquarters
via a 1500 node VSAT wide-area network. There reside two high-end Pyramid computer systems attached via a bridge.
Project deliverables, said Gonen Ziv, vice president, product management, Momentum, included a load-balancing
scheme, a high-level API for SCO Unix applications, streaming to a C++ object message handler, and an XIPC-to-Tuxedo
transaction processor interface for HP/UX.
In the end, the benefit is that prescriptions can be filled at any store in the CVS network. The system enables
CVS to track inventory trends and anticipate customer spending patterns. The system also effectively integrates
new chains into the CVS fold.
Given that CVS is always growing, and its computing needs, in turn, are always growing, scalability is a crucial
factor in arriving at a middleware strategy. "We do a-half-a-million to one-million [prescription] transactions
a day," noted Nicolay. Of course, customers do not queue up for prescriptions in harmonious order. They drop
by first thing in the morning, at lunch, at the end of the workday. This activity could translate, for example,
into peak transaction rates surpassing 35 transactions/sec.
And this is not a scalability requirement that can always be estimated up front on paper. The acquisitions have
been rapid, and big. "No one can anticipate that kind of growth," said Nicolay. CVS management pursues
acquisition opportunities when and where they arise. They count on MIS to make the computer parts of the equation
- Jack Vaughan
|Systems integrator, middleware vendor, and MIS staff participated in project.
Successful scaling as network of stores is enlarged.
Pyramid systems/Momentum XIPC