It was Valentine's Day, and Barry Hobbs was in trouble. No, he hadn't forgotten, but he was nowhere near his home in North Carolina to deliver flowers.

Instead, the CIO of S&D Coffee Inc. was in Miami riding in a truck delivering coffee to hotels, fast-food outlets and other institutional customers. Hobbs had big ideas for streamlining the processes through which the company's 400 field reps service customers, but he wasn't going to do a thing until he fully understood what those people needed and wanted. "We didn't go out and say, 'This is what you're getting,'" Hobbs says. "We spent days riding the trucks, showing them hardware and finding out, face to face, how they worked."

Follow-up conversations with several of the 727 technology executives who took our survey pointed out clearly that understanding how work really gets done—and the concerns of the people who do it—matters more than technical prowess when it comes to IT support for business process change. Whether it's a salesman or an office worker, people's livelihoods are affected when processes change. Moreover, process change today is more likely to involve multiple departments, creating a more complex political environment for the CIO.

Of all the departments in their organizations, our survey respondents said that the sales department was the most difficult to work with in changing processes. This doesn't surprise Don Schulman, a partner at consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers in charge of its financial management technologies. "CRM technology now allows call center folk to screen potential customers before sending expensive salesmen out to pursue them," he says. "Salesmen worry that someone isn't going to screen orders properly. It can be very threatening."

It's easy to overwhelm salespeople with systems and information they can't readily integrate into the simple but successful routines they've honed over the years, says Paul Bascobert, executive vice president of the New York office of Braun Consulting, a Chicago-based strategy and technology consultancy. "Look in the passenger seat of a salesperson's car. There's usually a clipboard with four or five key pieces of information that dictate their day, names and account information. If you can make that easier, you've got something of value."

Doing exactly that at S&D Coffee, Hobbs settled on handheld PCs with wireless capability, which should significantly change the process of handling a customer order. Previously, salespeople entered data on the touch screen of a larger handheld device that printed out a three-part invoice. The salesperson then mailed one copy to headquarters, where a whole department was dedicated to scanning invoices from the firm's 65,000 customers. In turn, headquarters mailed out sales reports to salespeople in the field. Now all of this will occur electronically.

Projected savings as he rolls out the new devices this summer: more than $3 million annually in hardware and labor costs for the company, which has an estimated $170 million in revenues. The real payoff is that each field rep will have an extra three hours a day that had been spent fiddling with paper. "They're excited," Hobbs says. "We've got regions begging to be the first on the rollout."

One other key factor in such a change, Hobbs says, is winning the confidence of the sales managers, and that meant a lot of upfront communication. To win them over, says Bascobert, CIOs should consider their particular information needs, such as tracking top performing customers and products. "Management can be supportive if treated properly," he says.

Our survey also showed that, among all corporate functions, process change is occurring most frequently in customer service. "Companies need new business processes to make sure new technology, such as CRM software, is used properly," Bascobert says. And these processes are more likely to extend across departments. "Sales handled acquisition, and customer service handled retention," Bascobert says. "But with the analytical tools available now, acquisition needs to look at expected churn, and retention needs to look at acquisition: Who is the more valuable customer?"

At the Centex Construction Group, a big commercial builder based in Plantation, Fla., "any business process change these days affects multiple departments," CIO Jeffrey Neyland says. A new client relationship management system is a good example. Eighty percent of the company's work comes from repeat clients, but nurturing those relationships in the years between major projects had not been systematic. "Today we have people who have a relationship with the client but don't know that three other people do, too," Neyland says. "What we can do, instead of annoying the client with three different people, is coordinate our activities." With the new system, any employee, no matter their department, can record the details of conversations with a client. The new process will help Centex management understand a client's concerns and future plans, and plot a strategy to strengthen their relationship.

Las Vegas' CIO Joseph Marcella is working on many initiatives that will cut waiting time for area residents, including a new workflow system that will dramatically improve the process of getting approvals for home improvements. Right now, a homeowner who wants to build a deck can spend up to four hours waiting for his paper file to be moved from one desk to the next as engineers or zoning officials check it out. The new system automatically passes an electronic file to the next official, sending it to an alternate person if the first is unavailable, and even makes a number of decisions itself, freeing up people for more intelligent work. The city may get 200 requests on the same kind of water heater in one day, for example, and the system already knows the equipment's specifications. Marcella says the time required to process an approval will drop to 15 minutes.

Like the majority of our respondents, Marcella is motivated by cost concerns. Las Vegas adds 4,000 to 6,000 new residents a month, but with technology, Marcella is able to hold the line on the cost of providing services to them. In fact, he says, the cost of IT services in Las Vegas is only $16 per citizen per year. Nationally, that figure ranges from $22 to $24. When the changes he has initiated affect jobs or multiple departments are involved in a process change, Marcella's task of winning adoption is made easier because every project is managed by the city manager's office, not IT.

And as for Barry Hobbs' more immediate problem at home? On his way back from delivering coffee, he turned on the charm, picked up a bouquet of flowers and managed to avoid a Valentine's Day massacre.—Terry A. Kirkpatrick

This article was originally published on 08-13-2002
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