Sponsored By

Boise Cascade's IT Efforts Pursue Efficiency And The Customer

With revenue down about 5%, it's proving to be a difficult year for Boise Cascade Corp., but that doesn't mean the $7.81 billion forest-products and office-supplies company is shelving important IT projects, says company chairman and CEO George Harad.

InformationWeek Staff

September 12, 2001

3 Min Read

InformationWeek 500 - Metals and Natural ResourcesWith revenue down about 5%, it's proving to be a difficult year for Boise Cascade Corp., but that doesn't mean the $7.81 billion forest-products and office-supplies company is shelving important IT projects, says company chairman and CEO George Harad.

In fact, the Boise, Idaho, company has increased its IT budget slightly this year, to about $60 million, and the IT department has several initiatives in the works. The company is convinced these projects will help it achieve two key goals: increased efficiency and greater responsiveness to customers. In an industry that generally takes a wait-and-see approach to IT, Boise Cascade stands out for its early identification and pursuit of strategic IT projects it believes will yield measurable improvements in its business.

Among the projects in progress is One Boise, an initiative to unify databases used by Boise Cascade's office-products-distribution business. The project reflects the company's overall philosophy of keeping its data and IT systems and processes "clean and simple," as Bob Egan, VP of IT, describes it.

The company tackles IT projects methodically, from the ground up, so that it has a solid base on which to build top-level user applications and services, which are more flexible as a result. For instance, the underlying organization of its databases and its companywide use of applications and shared utilities mean Boise Cascade can more easily change its user interfaces and make applications available via the Web. "We're conservative in approach but not in outcomes," Egan says.

Another tactic of the IT department is to work with executives from all the company's business units. For instance, for each major application it implements, IT works with a senior-level executive from the affected operating unit to identify priorities and ensure that the new technologies will be cost-effective.

In the IT department itself, Egan's own priorities are clear: He treats Boise's IT staff as a top asset. One key objective is to minimize IT turnover, and the company has managed to keep the rate to an unusually low 3% annually for the past five years. What's responsible? The department maintains a healthy attitude about work-life balance, including an emphasis on 40-hour workweeks, with rare exceptions for major projects.

The biggest project the department took on in the past year was an overhaul of Boise Cascade's network services. The project included implementing new directory services based on Microsoft Active Directory, putting in new firewalls with load-balancing capabilities, installing a virtual private network, and building a subnetwork for E-commerce. Boise Cascade operates E-commerce sites for its paper and wood-products divisions.

At the same time, Boise upgraded the groupware tools it uses, including Lotus Notes, Exchange 2000, and NetMeeting. It also installed quality-of-service software that will let it monitor and control how the company uses its network bandwidth.

The upgrade, whose goal was to prepare Boise Cascade for anticipated increases in traffic from wireless devices (such as pagers, pocket PC-enabled handhelds, notebooks equipped with wireless modems, and wireless LANs) and E-commerce gives Boise a load-balanced network for its E-commerce sites and hosted applications. In the future, it will supply authentication and security services that will provide essential access controls as the company establishes more connections among its network, the Internet, and customer networks.

In implementing E-commerce systems for its major businesses, Boise Cascade set out to provide customers with Web-based, real-time access to the same product-ordering and delivery systems Boise Cascade uses internally. Customers can do some custom product configuration, create and save catalog templates, customize their views of product data, and arrange for deliveries, Egan says.

"All the business logic needed for custom product configuration and delivery is available over the Web," adds Egan, "and three-fourths of customer inquiries can be handled through self-service over the Web."

close this window

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like


More Insights