01:18 PM

IT Flexibility Key to Alignment With Business Goals

IT managers at a commercial bakery and a law firm explain how keeping technology strategies and procedures broad gives them the agility to stay in sync with changing business needs

The gains to be made from having the business and IT groups work in tandem are great. A survey of 152 business leaders who've grown their companies beyond 100 employees, conducted this summer by O'Keeffe & Co. for IT distributor CDW Corp., shows that 61% of those who saw their investment in IT as strategic or competitive reported double-digit annual growth over the past five years.

The Tasty Baking Co. is clearly reaping the benefits of an aligned relationship. IT stepped into a mission-critical role at the Philadelphia-based bakery on Nov. 1, 2004, when the midsize business flipped the switch on its new SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The system helped turn the art of inventory management -- internal visibility into supply chain and production processes and forecasting -- into a science, key to the company's goals of keeping the right products on the shelf and avoiding pile-ups in the warehouse. It reported a 2.9% net sales increase in the second quarter of 2007 vs. the comparable period in 2006, which resulted from a 3.2% increase in unit volume. CEO Charles Pizzi credits the results to the "focused execution of our core strategies -- building the brand, delivering product innovation, growing routes and new markets, and driving operational excellence."

DON'T MISS: The Importance of Aligning Business and IT Goals

Improving operational efficiencies continues to be a strategic goal for the organization, including improving processes around Tasty's route sales. CIO Brendan O'Malley is supporting that with the recent development and deployment of a mobile system for the route drivers. "One of the key pillars of our strategy was driving our route sales, and this investment lined right up with that. It gives our route drivers better information about what they do and gives us better information about what's happening out there, so we can mange it better," O'Malley says. About 500 route drivers have been given rugged Windows mobile devices that let them track their inventory, orders, distribution, and sales to each store -- no small feat given today's complexities in servicing different channels with different programs.

"Our sales distributors' jobs have gotten incredibly complex. They have more products and more complex programs that they have to execute at retail. It's no longer the case where they can just go to a big grocery store and pack it out with product," he says. The mobile deployment gives them an added edge to deal with that: Drivers, for example, can be alerted that the last time they serviced a certain store a certain product didn't sell well, or that it's time to talk to the manager about a special deal and extra in-store displays. "Tying all those pieces of information together lets you have better execution at the shelf," says O'Malley.

Flexibility Aids Alignment
At law firm Vedder, Price, Kaufman & Kammholz P.C., a technical committee helps Maureen Durack stay aligned both with the overall strategic plans and goals, as well as with the needs of the individual practice areas. The firm -- with offices in Chicago; New York; Washington, D.C.; and New Jersey -- specializes in corporate services, labor and employment services, and litigation and intends to grow by providing better and additional services to existing clients. These practice areas may have unique demands or require alternatives to the normal flow of business processes to deliver on client expectations. And this must be taken into account by Durack, the director of management information systems at the business-oriented law firm with more than 240 attorneys.

Take, for example, the corporate-level edict to put in place records management technology to manage both electronic and paper-based data, a strategic project over the last few years. Law firms have historically been well organized -- on paper. They've had to be as clients count on their ability to be responsive to requests for information.

Vedder Price's files were meticulously maintained in hard copy versions, meaning that electronic data and e-mails used to be printed out to become part of the system. "As data evolved and became more dynamic, we had to adapt our policies and procedures," says Durack. But that adaptation couldn't be a one-size-fits-all story, as the corporate law practice's records management filing requirements differ drastically from the litigation practice's filing requirements. So, the challenge included adapting what's been in place on paper to managing the electronic side, and making sure that those electronic filing processes are tailored to the needs of individual practice areas. "You have to be flexible enough to understand their business problem and change the project you're working on to accommodate that," she says.

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