Do it Best Corp.'s IT department has shifted processes and changed its culture to keep up with the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace.
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Big box hardware retailers get a lot of attention with their blue and orange signs, but in hundreds of towns and cities people depend on local hardware stores for the tools and materials used in DIY projects. Many of those local stores belong to a retail cooperative such as Ace Hardware, True Value, or Do it Best.
Do it Best Corp., a retail hardware cooperative based in Fort Wayne, Ind., works to keep up with tech trends for its members. That work gained the organization recognition in the 2015 InformationWeek Elite 100.
The company serves 3,800 member-owned stores in the US and 53 other countries, distributing lumber, hardware, and other home improvement products. The company was founded in 1945 as Hardware Wholesalers, and its business model was based on how local farm co-ops operated.
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During a telephone conversation with Brian Loucks, APM design manager, and Mike Barley, EDI manager in IT support, we talked about Do it Best Corp.'s approach to project design and some of the challenges facing similar companies, which still base their businesses on brick-and-mortar stores in the era of online commerce.
The conversation began with a simple question about the way the company approaches IT projects. According to Loucks, "The way we handle a lot of projects, when we do it well, we're not tackling it once the issue is found. We do best when we're proactive and get ahead of the curve."
Loucks explained what "handling it" means for the company. "We try to handle [a project] three different ways: Organizationally, in process, and logistically." The goal, he said, is to bring applications and processes to the table before business users even know there's an issue.
"[We] map out our current systems both architecturally and in process, and look at where they are now and where we'd like to take them in the next two, three to five years," he said. "Once we have that, we work with whatever business owns the piece and we try to get an advocate in there to demonstrate all the potential opportunities we have." Much of the company's success depends on the equal partnership between IT and business that both executives said exists at Do it Best Corp.
Partners and the Market
The partnership between IT and business is relatively new at the company, according to Barley. "I've been here 22 years and it's a pretty drastic change," he said. "For a long time, we were the standard IT 'do what you're told and move on.' For the last few years, we've worked very hard to build the trust with the other business units."
Here's how it works: "We're expected to come to the table with a lot of ideas, because we come with a lot of expertise in IT," he said, "just as [business executives] come to the table with a lot of expertise in certain parts of business practice."
One of the projects in which the partnership has worked well, Loucks said, has been in an overhaul of the MMS (Member Management System). The project owner is from the sales team, and Loucks said that the project benefited because "... the owner [is] very technical for a sales guy." Along with the technical bent, Loucks said that the project owner brought a willingness to solicit ideas and comments from all over the business in order to improve the system.
From the IT side, "They have people within the team that are really passionate about agility, specifically scrum, and they're always trying to improve within the methodology," Loucks said.
In addition, Loucks said that the team has been a success because, "They use a suite of tools we have for collaboration. It's great to watch them use it because they're fairly humorous about the way they use Slack, Yammer, and Trello. A lot of the people are in the field and they get to see how we collaborate."
IT staff members gain insight into the workings of the other business units by getting out of the data center and going into "the field" to meet colleagues, customers, and co-op members. One place this happens is at a regular Do it Best Corp. event, simply called "The Market," where members see new products and talk with staff members about processes and procedures.
Barley said that he's seen the effect The Market has had on Loucks' group. "It's helped that Brian's team attends The Market, where we get a lot of ideas as well. They get first-hand knowledge of what the
Curtis Franklin Jr. is executive editor for technical content at InformationWeek. In this role he oversees product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he acts as executive producer for InformationWeek Radio and Interop Radio where he works with ... View Full Bio
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