About Railway Furnishers
Railway Furnishers consists of two main businesses: one is a furniture and appliance retail outlet, operating through 30 stores and supported by 450 employees, while the other is a branded clothing business, with 13 stores and 100 employees. Railway Furnishers is the only furniture and appliance retailer in South Africa to offer customers the opportunity to pay off their purchase over a period of time without additional charges.
Railway Furnishers Grinds to a Halt When COVID-19 Hits
Railway Furnishers heavily relies on COBOL to run its business. Each month over 550,000 transactions are processed through COBOL backend systems, all driven by in-store purchases. Annette Viljoen, Group Chief Technology Officer for Railway Furnishers, already knew that the future would lie in improving digital capabilities, alongside the successful store model. However, when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, those ideas had to be put into practice immediately, as she explains: “All 43 Railway Furnishings stores closed, and our employees were on ‘stay at home’ orders. Our customers could not pay their accounts in any other way. We had to be smart, and we had to be fast.”
In accelerated fashion, the team identified the gaps between the task at hand and the capabilities of the current systems. They considered the software’s real-time capabilities, processing speed, and the ability to support different platforms such as mobile, as well as application integration. Railway Furnishers was founded over 60 years ago: when systems are introduced over such a long-time span, there are often issues with lack of documentation, inconsistent coding, and applications depending on outdated frameworks, libraries, or technologies. It can be tempting to rebuild the system altogether. However, this requires a huge upfront investment and a major resource commitment. It is not an undertaking that can be done quickly.
Instant UI Modernization with AcuToWeb
“We didn’t want to start from scratch,” says Annette. “We have so much intellectual property built into our existing systems, and because we based it all on COBOL, we had the option to use the Micro Focus extend portfolio. This enables businesses to reuse their core application investments built on ACUCOBOL technology, exactly like ours are.”
Agile Decision Making and a Bright Digital Future
Next, Annette and her team fully integrated an in-house COBOL stock system, the point of sale (POS) system to generate receipts and invoices at the backend, and the internal accounting module to ensure continuity of transactions while all stores were closed. A big success according to Annette: