A few weeks ago, R12 breathed its last breath after 30+ years of service to hundreds of retailers. The last known client running a full R12 suite had implemented it 32 years ago, and has milked every last CPU instruction from its aging systems. As RIBA-AYDEPT has done many times before, we played a major role, facilitating this client in a smooth, non-disruptive transition to a modern software platform.
This milestone led to us to reflect on the remarkable staying power of a great legacy merchandising system. R12 holds a special place in the heart of many of us here at RIBA-AYDEPT, who also worked at STS in the 80’s and 90’s when R12 was being implemented at least 20 times a year. This includes Rick Boretsky, Mia Gaventa, Maurizio Marzilli, and Michael Holland, as well as advisors Diane Randolph and myself, Bill Robinson.
So, I reached out to a few folks who played major roles at STS asking them to share their thoughts on this accomplishment and explain the R12 staying power. Keep in mind that R12 came out before Amazon processed its first order, back when Wal-Mart was a midsized regional discounter. The retail industry was just beginning to toy with PCs, database management software. Mobile, the Internet, broadband, wireless were not yet a part of their technical backbone. Yet with all the change affecting retail, R12 has persisted. Why? And How?
Let’s start with Howard Stotland, CEO and co-founder of STS Systems who lives an active life in Montreal, continuing to invest in retail technology. “When you reflect on all the issues retailers have been dealing with since we launched R12, from eCommerce to Omni-Channel, it is not really too surprising that R12 stayed viable all these years. While retailers were focused on survival, R12 continued to chug along and was doing its job.”
Diane Randolph, recently retired CIO of Ulta Beauty and RIBA-AYDEPT advisor, remembers her role as an R12 development manager. “One reason for its staying power and wide installation base was that we intended R12 to be the bridge to new technology which was going to take a while. So, we were very careful to consider the requirements of a diverse group of more than 100 retailer clients, from a wide variety of retail formats and strategies”.
Gary Brill, KWI’s longtime VP of Business Development, jumped at the chance to comment on R12’s longevity, since in his STS years he sold it more than anyone else. He recalled the product management discipline under Stan Zack, STS’s talented VP in charge of hundreds of developers and customer facing specialists. “I recall Stan’s never-ending mantra, ’NO MODS’. His discipline allowed R12 to be a true package, quite unique in its day, assuring real stability. It was feature-rich and configurable with hundreds of parameters, allowing retailers to adjust the system and functionality to the way they did business.”
We also reached out to Elayne Rolbin, the leading architect and development manager at STS in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Elayne is now retired in Tucson after a successful career as Director of Quality at leading software firms. “It’s amazing that any retailer was still using R12 up until today. At the time, it was leading edge, giving our clients insight into what was selling and where the opportunities for growth were. This was a big advancement over the original versions that were all about automating tedious record-keeping processes. R12 was progressive and continued to evolve until the early 2000’s. But today the world of retail has evolved beyond our wildest imagination. Even our most forward thinking clients could not have imagined what retail looks like today”
Finally, we talked to Ron Cohen, R12 lead analyst and developer, who was as responsible as anyone for R12’s success. Today, Ron manages merchandising systems and analytics at Tailored Brands, which is North America’s dominant menswear retailer with brands like Men’s Wearhouse and Jos A Bank. Ron remembers the forward thinking that went into R12. “When we released R12 in the early 90s, we had refined all of the features and functions retailers needed. Plus, we put in a Y2K (year 2000) fix just in case our replacement software wouldn’t have made it through the entire base by then. Even though it was green screen and non-glitzy, it was what the clients needed.”
In closing, Rick Boretsky, co-founder of RIBA-AYDEPT, added his thoughts, “In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I was faced with the challenge of building a new age modern system to replace R12. It was a huge challenge, as the R12 system had so many features and options, after 20+ years of development put into this legacy system, it was nearly impossible to replicate. And this is why R12 survived such a long life!”
Thanks to all of our old friends, colleagues, and customers who worked so hard to deliver R12’s amazing record of service to the retail industry. May she rest in peace.