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Global CIO: How Lands' End's CIO Made The Case For Cloud

Steve Cretney plugged into a company goal--global expansion--to overcome doubts.

Lands' End has been doing Web commerce since 1995, and most of its revenue flows through its Web site today. It has been an early adopter of a number of e-retail technologies, like the live video chat with customer service reps that it started offering customers last fall. So you'd think it would be a natural for the clothing retailer to embrace cloud-based infrastructure.

But not so natural for the systems that run behind its Web site, many of them Cobol-based engines for tasks such as order entry that the company has been doing as a catalog retailer since the 1970s. When it comes to online, "the Web was born there. Order entry wasn't," says Lands' End CIO Steve Cretney.

Cretney spoke at the recent Fusion CEO-CIO conference run by WTN Media in Madison, Wis. He described the resistance and doubts within his IT organization and elsewhere in the company as he tried to move part--a very important part--of the company's infrastructure into an online software model. It's a journey many IT leaders will need to take their companies on, or to push their companies further along if they've already started.

Lands' End's immediate business challenge last year was extending its online business into Sweden. When the company moved into France and Austria in 2009, it cloned its existing e-commerce systems, which Cretney said was the right call then because there wasn't a hosted or software-as-a-service option it considered suitable. But that system, Net.Commerce running on an old IBM AIX platform, is an outdated legacy, and as the company set its sights on Sweden, there were now alternative Cretney considered viable. “Cloning it makes no sense" for Sweden, he says.

And because international expansion is one of Lands' End's major goals, what about every other country that comes after Sweden? Cretney laid out to his IT team that he thought they could move to a full-featured, cloud-based e-commerce engine in Sweden in three months, and that would then let them stand up each country after that in less than a month.

And what do you think the key members on his IT team said? "They said, 'You shouldn't drink and work,'" Cretney says. "Actually, what they said was, 'You can't do that. We don't do that. We've never done that. They won't accept it. You can't pay for it. Let's just do this.'" By "they," his IT team meant colleagues on the business side, and by "this" his team meant to just do it like they have been--the way that's proven. But Cretney considered this resistance the opposite of a red flag. "Those are the barriers my own team brought up," Cretney said. "When you get that many no’s, it's an absolute yes."

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