Lamps Plus Goes Lights Out with IBM i Automation from Help/Systems
January 8, 2013 Alex Woodie
If you’ve ever walked into a Lamps Plus store, you may have found yourself donning sunglasses to help shield your eyes from the massive amount of light shining from lamps of every size and type imaginable. But if you were to find yourself in one of Lamps Plus’ server rooms, you may find yourself searching for the light switch, because the company has gone “lights out” during off hours thanks to IBM i automation software from Help/Systems.
Lamps Plus is the largest retailer of specialty lighting in the country. The privately held company sells about 40,000 products through 40 stores in the Western U.S. and an ecommerce website, and employs about 1,000 people. The 36-year-old company relies on two IBM Power Systems servers, located at its headquarters in Chatsworth, California, and a warehouse in nearby Redlands to automate its business processes. Core applications running on a pair of Model 525 servers in Chatsworth and Redlands include an IBM i-based warehouse management system from Manhattan Associates that streamlines the management of 1 million square feet of warehouse space, and an order management system running on AIX. Rounding out the mix is a Windows-based point of sale (POS) system.
Keeping everything running smoothly is the responsibility of John Dunn, Lamps Plus’ IT operations manager. Dunn oversees an IT staff that used to spend a considerable amount of time (and overtime) keeping the IBM i, AIX, and Windows systems in synch. The IBM i server is the company’s system of record, but getting the various files from the Windows and AIX environments into the IBM i servers required manual intervention by Lamps Plus’ IT staff. That meant working nights and weekends to ensure execution of batch processes.
This reliance on manual processes and separate, time-based schedulers for IBM i, AIX, and Windows started to change when Lamps Plus began implementing Help/Systems’ automation software. At the center of Lamps Plus’ new automated process is Robot/SCHEDULE Enterprise, which lives on the IBM i server, but has hooks into other systems used at Lamps Plus.
Dunn worked with Help/Systems to set up a batch scheduling system with Robot/SCHEDULE Enterprise that could run by itself, and overcome the little bumps in the road that would otherwise require human hand-holding. The use of Help/Systems’ scripting language, called OPAL (OPerator Assistance Language) and independent “check point” jobs were instrumental in achieving Lamps Plus’ goal of automating the movement of order data from the Windows POS system to the IBM i server during the evening shift, Dunn says.
“During the nightly process, five Robot/SCHEDULE Enterprise jobs react to each other and control about 100 other jobs,” Dunn says in the case study. “We use OPAL, date objects, and the Robot/SCHEDULE Enterprise built-in FTP process. Before, this was a manual process that took hours. Now, just one click in Robot/SCHEDULE Enterprise and the entire process runs.”
Lamps Plus reports a 27 percent drop in overtime six months after beginning the Help/Systems implementation. “With automation, Sunday actually becomes a day off, the night shift is unmanned, and the operators only have to work at night if there are errors,” Dunn says.
The use of checkpoint jobs–or jobs that live within other jobs within Robot/SCHEDULE–is critical in giving Dunn peace of mind in the darkness. “If a checkpoint job doesn’t run, an alert gets sent. So, I can see that one part ran, but the next part didn’t,” he says. “These checkpoint jobs are reactive, so if a job doesn’t start, I know about it immediately, not the next day when I walk in. That means we can get on the system and do something about it. It’s nice–if we’re running unattended, I want more things telling me what’s going on, not fewer.”
Lamps Plus is using two other Help/Systems products, including the Robot/ALERT message notification software, and the Robot/CONSOLE message manager and resource monitor. The company plans to incorporate AIX into its Robot/SCHEDULE job scheduling routine soon.