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Ingram's IT, Sales Departments Joined At The Hip

CIO Guy Abramo also serves as chief of strategy and oversees worldwide marketing at the $24 billion computer-products distributor.
It's hard to find a better example of the connection between IT and business than at Ingram Micro Inc., where CIO Guy Abramo also serves as chief of strategy and oversees worldwide marketing at the $24 billion computer-products distributor. At Ingram, IT staff work for the business units, learning the intricacies of business processes and customer needs. It's not uncommon for a senior programmer/analyst to make sales calls. "The IT person in charge of sales could handle accounts if he had to," says Keith Blachowiak, VP of IT strategy and planning.

Such customer awareness helped Ingram this past year develop a system to curb customer attrition as the technology boom of the late 1990s fizzled in the new millennium. Ingram Micro teamed with data-mining experts at Northern Arizona University's Center for Data Insight to create a way to evaluate transactions and to identify retailers and value-added resellers who have been decreasing their orders.

For instance, data mining could identify a reseller who used to place orders Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but only does so now Mondays and Fridays. The data-mining app notes declines in order sizes and also points out resellers who return fewer PCs, suggesting that the reseller is getting supplies elsewhere. Ingram IT experts worked closely with sales and marketing personnel to digest the mined data and develop a plan to win back customers.

"The IT people who ran the data-mining initiative sat in the same room with the marketing people, analyzing the results of the data-mining efforts in order to understand if it's a data pattern or just a nuance of the data," Blachowiak says. "They were there to understand what the data were telling you."

Ingram Micro developed the system in Microsoft SQL server, using Microsoft's Analytic Services to crunch the data. The company created a sales portal employing Microsoft's Digital Dashboard to present information on buying habits to its 1,200 sales reps. "The customers are pleasantly surprised," Blachowiak says of the new attention they're receiving from Ingram Micro sales reps, who now have more detailed information on customer behavior. "The customers are getting more personal attention."

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