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Lumbered with a legacy estate running old versions of Oracle software, department store company House of Fraser turned to Rimini Street rather than Oracle itself to keep the lights on.

Rimini Street is a company that specialises in providing third-party support for enterprise software. A central selling point is that it can provide levels of support more affordably than the vendors themselves, and doing so has attracted the ire of both Oracle and SAP

House of Fraser was bought by Chinese investment firm Sanpower in 2014. Reports of delays, internal strife and other problems plagued the department store group since – but now, the company is getting up to scratch with its digital transformation, and it says Rimini Street's third-party support is crucial in helping it invest the required capital in the rehaul.

House of Fraser is expanding its relationship with Rimini Street as a result of considerable cost savings and a successful partnership so far.

"It's a real simple story," says Neal Johnson, director of IT and operations at House of Fraser, speaking with Computerworld UK. "The arrangement with Rimini Street was initially a cost-based decision. Rimini Street provide us a support service for our Oracle estate for significantly less cost than, say, Oracle offer for that service."

Johnson inherited the contract from the last person in his role, but says that it's been beneficial because the support is "not a little bit cheaper, but a lot cheaper".

"Not only that, but the level and quality of support you get from Oracle is OK but probably not quite as good as Rimini," he says. "In a lot of cases Oracle will not be willing to offer human support for a product that isn't on the absolute latest version. Their answer would be typically, ‘well, when you have upgraded to the latest version and you still have that problem, please call us back'."

That's not a realistic option for House of Fraser at the moment: it's in the process of going digital across its entire state, including equipping staff with mobility options like smartphones or tablets and updating its point of sale system. But it runs a lot of legacy equipment that simply can't be upgraded to the latest version just yet.

"It's essentially a no-brainer," Johnson says of the partnership with Rimini Street. "We have quite a lot of legacy products in our estate and they're kind of frozen at that version – and in that scenario Oracle doesn't really offer a lot. Rimini do, and they help us to run our business effectively."

House of Fraser has just signed off on expanding the scope of Rimini Street support for Oracle software. It has switched support for its Oracle Database licences from Oracle to Rimini Street following a couple of years of using Rimini Street for Oracle E-Business Suite.

But it's not just cost where Rimini Street gets a glowing review from Johnson. He remembers a near-disaster around the Christmas peak trading period – the company's systems "do a whole load of overnight processing", including the transactions and the purchases that happen during the day, as well as updating the banks, loading up new prices, and promotions. But something went wrong.

"It wasn't doing what it was supposed to do and we all got a bit nervous," Johnson says. "Long story short, we contacted Rimini and raised it as a top priority incident." Rimini Street provided support all the way through the night and into the early hours of the morning, the "follow the sun" approach of transferring support to different regions depending on time zone, and eventually helped to resolve the issue, including with very senior level engagement.

In the end, Johnson says, the issue wasn't really in Rimini's domain.

"In the end it wasn't something that would have fallen in their remit," he says. "But even afterwards we had a lot of followup calls and checkups at the senior level to make sure we were okay. They were brilliant – we put out the cry for help and they were top notch all the way through that."

Digital transformation

The company's wider digital transformation strategy will see it experimenting with beacon technology to understand where customers are in the store, as well as reviewing its loyalty programme, and a new website went live just last week. According to Johnson, it will be about creating more of an experience for its customers, with digital at the front and centre.

"There's also an awful lot of investment going on to improve the experience of our employees in the corporate office and in the stores," he explains. "A lot of that is around communications infrastructure to allow us to do things like have true hotdesk environments, four desks for every ten people, that kind of thing – allowing a lot more home working and mobility.

"I'd love to tell you we're doing something no one's ever thought of, but it's a lot of stuff that's being talked about in the industry. The lucky position we're in is that we have an old estate, and we have backers that are investing money to allow us to re-platform everything – so we get the benefit of starting fresh and actually doing these things the industry is talking about."

Having helped House of Fraser cut down on capital costs for its transformation, where does Rimini Street fit into the company's plans for the future?

It's hard to say exactly just yet, but Johnson concedes that there aren't many outfits that don't operate SAP or Oracle environments at some level.

"I'd say the value they've provided to us now, and the senior engagement and personal relationship, gets their hat in the ring, going forward," Johnson says. "My relationship with Rimini is they provide support for our Oracle products, and I don't know what else they get in to or are able to offer – but as a partner they will be welcome to discuss future engagement, and in our future with our new platforms we'd be happy to have a partner like Rimini if there's a place they can play.

"They're helping us keep the lights on in a very positive way, they engage with us well and provide fantastic value – so if there is a way they would fit into our strategy going forward that would be fantastic and the door would almost certainly be open to them."