Hillarys improves customer experience, speeds data upload and boosts reliability

UK leader in made-to-measure blinds realises host of benefits with SUSE to stay ahead of competition.

Hillarys, the UK’s leading provider of made-to-measure window coverings, has enhanced customer experience, enabling timely reporting and improved robustness and reliability of business-critical systems with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications.


Headquartered in Nottingham, Hillarys is the UK’s leading retailer, manufacturer and distributor of made-to-measure window coverings, with a market share of 26 per­cent and annual turnover of £200 million. The company employs 1,350 people and manufactures 32,000 bespoke products per week, which it sells through its nation­wide network of 1,000 sales advisors, as well as online and through selected stores.


Hillarys is committed to providing consum­ers with a superior customer experience, and has led the way in using enterprise mobility to help achieve this goal. However, after a decade or so of growth and ongoing service innovation, the com­pany’s IT systems were starting to struggle to keep up. Mobile devices are key to Hillarys’ business, generating around 80 percent of its turn­over, so the company needed capable back-end sys­tems to support them.


Hillarys had been using HP-UX and HP hardware to run its SAP systems, but ECC5 was coming to the end of its support and lim­ited system performance was impairing the capability of its mobile apps, not to mention impeding key functions such as customer service.


“Our CRM system was far too slow so staff were finding workarounds,” explains Julian Bond, head of ICT, Hillarys. “So instead of the CRM system aiding us in providing a great customer experi­ence, it was more of a hindrance. We were also struggling to fit the data warehouse nightly upload into the available time window, which was slowing down the business. We needed to move from batch to real-time processing to keep the business competitive.”


To accelerate customer service and give employees a more streamlined digi­tal experience, Hillarys decided to upgrade from SAP ECC5 to SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA (SAP S/4HANA), a set of fully integrated applications run­ning on the SAP HANA in-memory, real-time data platform. SAP S/4HANA offers enhanced speed and performance, enabling Hillarys to enhance its enterprise mobility and take full advantage of technology like SAP Fiori apps.

“Moving to SAP S/4HANA meant that we needed to upgrade the rest of our IT infra­structure and move to an operating system certified for the SAP HANA in-memory platform. We wanted a more modern platform that would also give us more flexibility around hardware platform choice—without sacrificing the bullet-proof reliability that we’d been used to,” says Bond.

Open Source – but which open source?

Hillarys decided to move to a flexible, open-source operating system to support SAP S/4HANA, and after evaluating options from another open source vendor, selected SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications, the leading operating environment for SAP environments. “We felt that SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications of­fered clear strategic advantages in terms of the strong relationship between SUSE and SAP,” explained Bond. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications is performance-optimised and configured to provide the best possible support for SAP applications, and is regu­larly updated with new optimisations as SAP releases new versions of its prod­ucts, providing flexibility, manageability, and cost-effectiveness.


When considering the architecture of its new SAP HANA landscape, Hillarys had considered a software-as-a-service approach: running the solution in SAP’s own cloud. After weighing the relative merits of the private and public cloud, the company decided to keep its SAP solu­tions in its own data centre. “We have exten­sive SAP NetWeaver Process Integration integrations in place on-premise, and at­tempting to migrate these to SAP HANA Cloud Integration [HCI] would have added significant risk to the project. Plus the bulk of our employees are based in Nottingham on a local area network, so moving to the public cloud doesn’t offer us the same benefits it might to a more global, distributed organisation. We didn’t want to have the additional la­tency associated with running on the pub­lic cloud,” said Julian Bond.


Hillarys has hugely accelerated its CRM system – reengaging user commitment, stopping staff from working around it, and improv­ing the customer experience. Previous delays of a few minutes when trying to bring up a customer’s details on screen were embarrassing for Hillarys’ agents, and inconvenient and frustrating for customers – but those delays are no more: “The combination of SUSE Linux Enterprise Servers for SAP Applications and SAP HANA has completely revitalised our CRM system, delivering phenomenal performance improvements,” said Bond. “Now that we have migrated from Oracle Database to SAP HANA, accessing all of a customer’s details and history is almost in­stantaneous.”


The new IT infrastructure has significantly sped up Hillarys’ overnight data upload processes, getting new sales data into the data warehouse faster so that business analysts can report, analyse and act on information more quickly. Previously, Hillarys was struggling to fit the SAP Business Warehouse nightly upload into the available time window, but with SAP HANA the overnight upload takes between a third to half of the time. This acceleration has enabled Hillarys to feed some of our reports to external agencies, and make faster marketing decisions, resulting in greater customer engagement.


“In the digital age downtime isn’t an option, whether predicted or unpredicted and companies need to supply a 24x7x365 zero-downtime environment in the data center to stay competitive and meet customer demands. Hillarys’ business has already benefited from highly available and consistently fast systems since migrating its SAP environ­ment to SAP HANA, thanks in part to the high level of robustness and reliability pro­vided by SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications,” said Danny Rowark, Regional Director EMEA West, SUSE.

Julian Bond said: “Our business depends completely on the SAP environment, so having an OS that is always up is funda­mental. To be honest, we hadn’t expected SUSE Linux Enterprise Server to offer the same high level of reliability that we’d en­joyed with HP-UX, but it has absolutely delivered.

“It is SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications that provides the fast, reliable and scalable environment that is essential for our business-critical SAP S/4HANA systems—ensuring that we’re able to con­sistently run our business and serve our customers, without any IT issues getting in the way.”


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