Kmart Corp.'s national energy manager John Sulek is not ashamed to ask for help, especially when it comes to monitoring the incredible amount of energy consumed each day by the discount empire's 2,100 U.S. stores. When the Troy, Mich.-based company asked him to consolidate its energy management data collection processes, Sulek turned to TeCom Inc., a high-tech energy information systems provider based in Tampa, Fla.

"We needed to streamline the process of collecting and analyzing our energy consumption data for our stores across the nation," Sulek says. "As we began planning the arduous task of nationwide integration, it was essential to achieve a turnkey solution."

The solution TeCom offered was its InterLane system, an Internet-ready energy information program that provides everything from single-site data collection to multi-site aggregation, alarming and analysis. With the system, security-clearanced users are offered instant, real-time access to the energy usage information from any of their store locations.

"Kmart was looking for a way to get more detailed utility information at each of their stores," says Dave Robinson, director of product management for TeCom. "Typically, all they received was a once-a-month utility bill that lacked the detail necessary to aggressively control costs."

To create a seamless energy monitoring and control program, TeCom integrated the Interlane's PM6000 hardware device with Kmart's existing building automation system. "The PM6000 hardware device is used for store-based data logging," Robinson says. Our EV Analysis software application for headquarters-based data collection, storage and analysis was also installed."

The link between the hardware and software is Kmart's Ethernet-based private network, or Intranet. Thus, when John Sulek wants to update his database with utility usage information from each site, he does not use a "dial-up" telephone line. Instead, he directs EV Analysis to communicate with an Internet Protocol-addressed PM6000. If Kmart did not have its own Intranet, they could use the Internet as the communications medium between the headquarters and each store, Robinson says.

"The use of Kmart's existing Ethernet-based private network means there are no incremental costs to send data from each store to their headquarters," he says. "Thus, headquarters staff can look at each store's operation as often as they want without worrying about long distance and other telephone charges."

According to Robinson, the system is designed to be maintenance-free over the course of its life. The only ongoing requirement is to verify the accuracy of utility rates used in the estimated bill section of the software, which performs "what if" analyses and evaluates price schemes from multiple-energy providers.

"Industry studies have shown that savings of 10% to 20% are achievable without additional investment," Robinson says. "These savings arise from many factors, including peak-demand reduction, load shifting, tighter control and monitoring of building automation systems, and modified building system operations."

Kmart began deploying PM6000s in the summer of 1999, and intends to install the system in all of their stores over the course of three to four years, Robinson says. "Initial savings have not been quantified, but Kmart has already identified and corrected numerous operational problems and other utility cost-reduction measures," he adds. The InterLane system also has provided benchmarking and deregulation preparation functions for Sulek and his team.

Additional applications for the InterLane system at shopping centers include sub-tenant metering and cost allocation, facility equip-ment monitoring, preventive/predictive maintenance support, multiple site/store load aggregation, and utility bill verification.

Kmart isn't the only retailer to cut costs with high-tech programs:

* IKEA selected StaffWorks automated labor scheduler from SAP Campbell, Newtown Square, Pa., to combat inconsistent scheduling methods and improve customer service at its 130 stores worldwide.

* To avoid cashing fraudulent checks, Kroger Co. is using biometric check-cashing machines from San Francisco-based InnoVentry at 50 of its Texas stores. The machines compare visual images of customers to a database of stored images in order to verify their identities.

* Casual Male Big & Tall has cut inventory shrinkage from 1.75% of sales to 1.1% with an exception reporting software called XBR Track from Cleveland-based Datavantage. XBR identifies trends in point-of-sale data that indicate false returns or credit-card fraud.