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12/3/2004
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Wal-Mart: Bringing The Customer Focus Home To IT

Business-technology leaders must be as customer-centered as everyone else in the organization.

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Building leaders who always put the customer first is a key focus for Wal-Mart's business-technology group. Sometimes, that happens in a very personal way.

Linda Dillman, CIO and executive VP, recalls attending a leadership meeting where David Flanagan, Wal-Mart's VP of networks, recounted the day he learned how critical his job could be to people he'd never meet. Flanagan told the group that Kevin Turner, Wal-Mart's CIO at the time, called him into his office and simply handed him the phone, with no explanation. On the other end was a manager at one of Wal-Mart's stores, which was having trouble accessing over the network data related to Wal-Mart's electronic-benefits transfer system. The system lets recipients authorize transfer of their government benefits from a federal account to a retailer account to pay for products received and is used in many states to issue food stamps and other benefits. The result of these problems was that a customer wasn't able to purchase the food she needed for herself and her two children.

Suddenly, network availability was more than just a number to Flanagan, Dillman recalls his telling the group. It was personified in the form of a woman and her two children, and it became important for him to do something to fix the problems of transactions timing out that were preventing that woman and possibly others from getting the groceries they needed.

"We all shoot for what we think is the goal, and many times when the goal is reached we stop," Dillman says. That day, "the goal changed for [Flanagan]." He had considered 2,000 daily timeout transactions a pretty good record when measured against the number of electronic-benefits transfer transactions done every day, but after that experience he decided that any timeout transactions would not be tolerated. Says Dillman, "And we rarely have an EBT transaction issue now."

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