Agent of e-change

By David Raths, InfoWorld |  Career

"As you can imagine, we weren't that sophisticated about integrating this new order
mechanism into our back-end processes," Loranger recalls. "We would just print them
out, carry them over to our sales department, and key them into the order-entry
system."

This "unautomated" process did temporarily solve the problem of how to connect the
Web orders with the company's legacy system for order processing. "But once we started
getting as many as 1,000 orders a day, re-keying became a huge manual task. So we
started to build automated feed mechanisms to the order-entry system, which is on a
mainframe," Loranger says.

The in-house IT staff worked with the networking consultants to build that
interface. "As the site continued to grow and we gained expertise," Loranger says, "we
decided it was time to take control of support of the Web application development."

Retooling the department

Bringing that Web development in-house raised new issues for Loranger because his
mainframe shop had little experience with Web programming. "The technology was so
immature, it was very difficult to find anybody who had experience with Web sites. No
one had five years' experience; they might have [had] six months," Loranger says.

Following an aggressive hiring and retraining program, today his department has a
staff of 250, 30 of whom work on an e-commerce support team. That team works on the
core U.S. site, the international sites the company has set up, and the corporate sales
of logoed merchandise. The company's online sales jumped to $138 million in fiscal 2000
compared to $61 million in fiscal 1999.

Friction can result when e-commerce gurus become a Web "silo" inside a larger
legacy system. Loranger says Lands' End's IT management team tries to head off any such
personnel problems.

"We would be foolish not to realize that this certainly could happen," Loranger
says. "We have worked hard to provide opportunities for a number of our internal staff
to move to the Internet team as they have expressed a desire to do so. Certainly, these
moves must be planned and timed so as not to increase risk to other areas of IS."

Loranger believes his department works well preciisely because it is not
decentralized. If there is a Web component to something that involves merchandising
systems or the call center, teams are created that include both traditional IT staffers
and e-commerce team members.

Loranger's IT department has grown considerably, fueled by the cataloger's online
success. "Things have always moved fast in IT, but now it's moving at lightning speed,"
Loranger says. "It's an exciting time, but it brings a lot of added stress."

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