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Smyths Toys: Driving growth for one of Europe’s most successful stores with SAP on Google Cloud

About Smyths Toys

Smyths Toys aims to offer the widest possible range of childrens’ entertainment products conveniently and at competitive prices. Founded in 1987 by four brothers in Galway, the group is now one of the most successful Irish retailers abroad.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: United Kingdom

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Smyths Toys migrates its SAP systems from on-premises to a scalable cloud infrastructure to continue growing and bringing a wide variety of toys to Ireland, the UK, Europe, and online shoppers.

Google Cloud results

  • Frees up IT teams from management tasks and allows them to innovate and experiment with a pay-as-you-use model
  • Puts customers’ needs first, instantly accommodating surges in online traffic by running “Hybris autoscaling” systems on virtual machines
  • Decreases infrastructure expansion time from three months to minutes with scalable virtual machines on Compute Engine
  • Keeps decision-makers informed by ingesting and analyzing more data for running business intelligence reports

75% more time to focus on innovation, not IT management

30 years of scientific research have taught us that the most important period of human development is from birth to eight years old, when cognitive skills, emotional well-being, social competence, as well as physical and mental health all develop to build the foundation of what kinds of adults children become. In this equation, play is a central element to quality learning, and toys are important educational tools. It’s no wonder then that all parents strive to provide their children with toys that match their personalities and needs and that toys themselves evolve to reflect the world around us. Smyths Toys, the Irish toy retailer group founded by four brothers, aims to make this easier for parents by providing the widest possible range of toys for all ages in one place and at competitive prices. Usually, that means aiming to keep 10,000 active items on file at any given time. As you can imagine, that makes it one of the busiest toy stores in Europe.

The group’s operating model is tailored toward convenience, with large car parks near its brick and mortar stores, which are open seven days a week all year, and the option of shopping online by browsing through categories such as arts, puzzles, electronics, baby room, and outdoor activities to ensure customers can easily find what they need. Back at headquarters, a dedicated buying department overlooks the stock of all stores and makes purchasing decisions to include a wide range of toys in its portfolio, from video games, books, and partyware, to bikes and scooters.

To bring its offering to life in 200 shops across the UK, Ireland, Europe, and online, the multichannel retailer relies on a number of technology systems that inform business decisions and support sales and distribution logistics. Maintaining and running these systems is anything but child’s play, as Derek Garvey, SAP BASIS Administrator at Smyths Toys, would know. His team ensures that the group’s 47 SAP systems, which all departments across development, quality assurance, and production landscapes rely on to perform their daily tasks, are running properly. These include SAP BW on HANA, used to perform data management tasks and generate business insights reports needed for purchasing decisions, and SAP Hybris, the ecommerce platform supporting Smyths Toys’ website, which enables customers to shop online. The company also relies on systems such as SAP Business Objects for its analytics, SAP Fiori for a design language to build its user experience on, and SAP PI and PO to automate and optimize its business processes. But the company’s largest dependency is on SAP HANA instances that support its ERP (EHP7 on HANA) and SAP BW applications.

“The cloud was relatively new for us and we wanted to ensure a successful migration of our main SAP systems during such a productive period for the business. The Google Cloud team was extremely supportive, and the pay-as-you-use model allowed us to progress at our own pace.”

Derek Garvey, SAP BASIS Administrator, Smyths Toys

In 2016, Smyths Toys’ international expansion began to accelerate. The company acquired Toys“R”Us in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and was in the midst of an ambitious 15 to 20-year growth project. Internally, however, the hardware used for running its SAP systems alongside this growth wasn’t keeping the same pace.

Until that point, these systems had been hosted and managed on-premises in a dedicated room in Smyths Toys’ headquarters in Galway. Now, the group had decided it was time for an update. “We were limited to the number of storage racks that we could fit in our data center room, and we were starting to sweat the assets that we had running,“ Derek explains. To handle expansion using the same kind of infrastructure, the retailer would need to invest significantly in expanding its space and buying new hardware. Smyths Toys was also conscious about its storage room becoming a central point of failure in case of a power outage, which could impact all departments that rely on its SAP systems to work. Upon evaluation, Smyths Toys decided that a migration to the cloud was a more cost-effective and practical solution to support its ongoing growth and longer-term plans. That’s when the company decided to migrate to SAP HANA on Google Cloud.

“We evaluated several cloud providers and our research pointed at Google Cloud as the most cost-effective partner for us,” says Derek of the decision. “The cloud was relatively new for us, and we wanted to ensure a successful migration of our main SAP systems during such a productive period for the business. The Google Cloud team was extremely supportive, and the pay-as-you-use model allowed us to progress at our own pace,” he adds.

“Buying hardware to run SAP BW on HANA on would have been costly, and the whole procurement, shipping, and installation process can take up to three months. On Google Cloud, it’s immediate: we select a larger instance type and instantly have the ability to ingest and analyze more data.”

Derek Garvey, SAP BASIS Administrator, Smyths Toys

Supporting business growth with a scalable infrastructure

Smyths Toys’ decision to migrate its on-premises SAP systems to Google Cloud was reached in late 2016, following an evaluation of cloud providers.

In early 2017, the IT team undertook Google Cloud training to familiarize themselves with the look and feel of the console and learn its core features. Happy with the intuitive layout and its ease of use, Smyths Toys was able to initiate a proof of concept environment (PoC) in just a few days to run a sandboxed environment of its on-premises SAP systems.

This PoC environment allowed the team to test a number of areas, including the migration process, network layer configuration, and Google Cloud support of Smyths Toys’ on-premises SAP systems on Google Cloud. It enabled the team to benchmark those systems, stress test them, and review sizing options of those instances. Google Cloud proved able to support all of Smyths Toys’ existing SAP systems, the company’s future growth plans and growing SAP portfolio, and performance of those systems remained high. After a few weeks of testing to ensure systems were operating successfully, the Smyths Toys IT team became confident with the new environment.

First, the team migrated all of Smyths Toys’ development SAP landscape, using Compute Engine to run the systems on virtual machines instead of on-premises. The landscape included Smyths Toys’ main ERP system EHP7 on DB2 (later upgraded to HANA), SAP middleware environments, the reporting and analytics software BusinessObjects, SAP Fiori, and crucially, SAP BW on HANA, the data management platform supporting Smyths Toys’ business intelligence capabilities. After a successful deployment, Smyths Toys moved their quality assurance landscape from on-premises to Google Cloud for some further testing, before choosing their production migration date.

“SAP BW on HANA is our powerhouse from a business perspective,” says Derek of the in-memory database which enables business intelligence reports to be produced faster than a relational database system, so that decision-makers can access the information they need quickly. The buying team, for example, relies on these insights to determine when and what products to order according to how well they are selling and how much is left in stock. “In addition, one of our core disciplines is focused on enabling sales-driven replenishment, and after moving to Google Cloud, we’re able to do this in minutes, instead of several hours.”

As the company grows, so does its customer base, along with its staff, logistics operations, and product portfolio, resulting in more data to be taken into account to inform up-to-date business intelligence reports. Therefore, switching to a scalable platform was also important. “Buying hardware to run SAP BW on HANA on would have been costly, and the whole procurement, shipping, and installation process can take up to three months. On Google Cloud, it’s immediate: we select a larger instance type and instantly have the ability to ingest and analyze more data,” Derek explains. “Our scalable data center on Google Cloud automatically grows with us, allowing the business to run quite large reports about all its data during business hours,” he adds.

“With Google Cloud, we can scale up our online environment to accommodate high surges in online shopping. In response to high demand during COVID-19, we easily scaled up our Hybis system within minutes to handle the traffic levels, and we’ve been sustaining that for months.”

Derek Garvey, SAP BASIS Administrator, Smyths Toys

Switching focus from infrastructure management to customers

With a fully functioning SAP environment running on Google Cloud, Derek and his team at Smyths Toys found themselves better prepared to handle the ebbs and flows of customer behavior trends. “We find ourselves in strange times and COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on customer behavior. It’s more important than ever that we are able to support our customers online, for example, to protect them from any risks associated with leaving their homes,” he reflects. “With Google Cloud, we can scale up our online environment to accommodate high surges in online shopping. In response to high demand during COVID-19, we easily scaled up our Hybis system within minutes to handle the traffic levels, and we’ve been sustaining that for months.”

As an added bonus, the migration eased IT operational efforts with managed services such as Google Cloud Deployment Manager, used to automate the deployment of the new infrastructure, and saved time from maintaining hardware. “The minute we were on Google Cloud, we could stop managing on-premises infrastructure, freeing up at least 75% of our time from management tasks to think about new technology projects in the pipeline,” Derek says.

“Moving forward, Google Cloud can support us in meeting the real-time needs of our customers with diagnostic and analytic solutions that keep up with fast-changing trends and customer behavior.”

Derek Garvey, SAP BASIS Administrator, Smyths Toys

Keeping innovation up and customers happy

Next, Smyths Toys is looking for ways to continue providing maximum convenience for its customers, which entails being able to understand what they want and need and being able to offer it to them promptly.

To that end, the group is exploring the possibility of incorporating BigQuery in its environment to run new reporting applications around trend data, a need that Derek illustrates well: “A few years ago, there was a Chewbacca head mask in our portfolio which was an OK seller, nothing special. Until a woman recorded herself with the mask, posted it, and the video went viral. Very quickly, no one could get their hands on a Chewbacca mask, not even us. They were all sold out. Today, we are exploring technologies that will help us foresee these spikes in demand, based on content that is directly related to our range of products,” he explains.

“Moving forward, Google Cloud will support us in meeting the real-time needs of our customers with diagnostic and analytic solutions that keep up with fast-changing trends and customer behavior.”

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About Smyths Toys

Smyths Toys aims to offer the widest possible range of childrens’ entertainment products conveniently and at competitive prices. Founded in 1987 by four brothers in Galway, the group is now one of the most successful Irish retailers abroad.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: United Kingdom