BI gives fashion jeansmaker a leg up

CHICAGO -- True Religion Apparel Inc. sells 4,000 different styles of jeans at prices starting at $200 and running up to $350.

For some of Computerworld 's non-fashion-victim readers, the question may be, "Why would anyone spend that much money on denim pants?"

For John Dohm, vice president of IT for the Los Angeles clothier, the question is: "What makes a customer buy this pair instead of that one?"

For the first couple of years, True Religion answered that question through the founders' instinct and taste. That was enough to bring the company from zero sales in 2002 to its current run rate of $300 million in revenue per year.

But with more than 62 True Religion stores supplying copious point-of-sale data, True Religion has embraced business intelligence software to help it reach its goal of $1 billion in annual sales.

Dohm shared his experience deploying BI tools at True Religion during a speech Tuesday at Computerworld 's Business Intelligence Perspectives conference.

A former Deloitte & Touche director, Dohm said, "BI is a good idea, but almost never done right."

For one, companies rarely do a strong study of their business processes before embarking on their BI deployment, he said.

For another, IT tends to over-invest in BI projects, resulting in a "weak value proposition."

That's more problematic for BI than similar-sized ERP projects. While ERP usually has a strong ally in the chief financial office, BI projects usually don't enjoy any "organizational air cover," he said.

Dohm sayid he was lucky, because he was hired by True Religion not only to roll out a modern BI system, but also to understand the business processes beforehand to make sure it was done right.

Before Dohm's arrival, the company used a small order management system. Since he came on board, the company has replaced it with Oracle Corp.'s E-Business Suite version 12, along with a tool called Aris created by IDS Scheer AG, which is in the midst of being acquired by Software AG.

Preferring to run the "lowest footprint data center humanly possible," Dohm has just three employees in his IT team. "The goal is to have no more than eight in IT as we grow to $1 billion in revenue," he said.

The key to that, he said, is to outsource wisely and to be disciplined enough to say no to his bosses when they demand some ad hoc report right away.

"The service mentality that most of us in IT have is dangerous," he said. "Infinite flexibility doesn't usually come with an infinite checkbook."

Dohm also doesn't believe in fighting users who go around IT's approved reporting and dashboarding tools in favor of the tried and true.

"If everyone is doing things in Excel, then Excel is your BI strategy," he said. "Let them use Excel to the point where it runs out of gas, because then they will switch to your higher-end product."

With Oracle E-Business Suite deployed, Dohm said he's finally been able to answer mysteries such as why "every Easter, our Dallas store sells out of white denim."

This story, "BI gives fashion jeansmaker a leg up" was originally published by Computerworld.

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