Supermarkets are big IT spenders. The volume of data going through their systems is enormous and reliability is crucial. Sainsbury's strategic aim of a fully streamlined and optimised business imposes high performance standards on equipment suppliers.
Chris Montagnon, wrested from his sleep at 1am that morning, was still full of energy and enthusiasm. Night time calls, says the departmental director of information systems at Sainsbury's, are merely an occupational hazard. This time it was a fault on the distribution system. For Montagnon, it's all part of the fun: 'One feels a bit peeved about having to get out of bed, but it's also rather thrilling to think that here you are in the middle of the night helping the nation get its tomatoes in the morning.' With sales last year of £10 billion, Sainsbury's is the UK's biggest supermarket chain: 8 million customers pass through its 350 stores each week buying around 250 million products. Every stage of the business, from supplier to shelf to shopping basket, is monitored and controlled by computer.
Not surprisingly, Sainsbury's is a big IT spender - during the past five years it has forked out £200 million on computers. Currently, the annual budget is £20 million a year for hardware and £50 million for running costs such as software and staff. There are some 550 full-time IT employees, with a further 150 seconded to IT projects in other departments.