Profile: Jim Lance, CIO of Bon Ton

While this huge undertaking was designed to steer the company to competitive advantage, new challenges have tweaked the strategy. “Our business is directly impacted by changes in consumer confidence,” confides Lance. “Periodic downturns in the economy create distractions which demand attention be directed to changes in customer behavior and since customers are a shared resource in the marketplace, the actions of competitors must be understood to protect market share and brand.”

But this is no ordinary periodic downturn. To ensure Bon Ton makes every IT penny count, the company has a strategic IT decision-making process in place. Lance describes it thusly: senior management must sponsor an initiative and be prepared to remove obstacles. Business processes do not always belong to a single pyramid within the organization. Senior management must promote and value what is best for the organization as a whole. The objective is to determine the most efficient way to execute the work that leads to an optimized business outcome or value.

A successful BPM project must have a solid reason to exist. As a matter of practice in areas where transformation projects are being designed, a business process review (BPR) should be a part of the scoping and requirements effort. The BPR provides an opportunity to examine the business process and how best to integrate technology components.

Walking through the process using a series of “use case” or mock transactional exercises can prevent costly change orders resulting from discovery midstream in the project. It also provides a refresher course on what is being done and an opportunity to assess the effort and value produced. Monetizing outcomes helps to make sure a proper balance of effort and the value produced. Once completed, systems development functions can be tailored to best serve the needs of the business process activity.

Driving revenue and eliminating costs

In other cases, management may recognize an imbalance between the cost of a business process and the perceived value or business outcome produced by the service. A business process review can quickly determine the opportunity for improvement and thereby present a better vehicle to determine next steps. Business process activities should be focused on meaningful opportunities – opportunities that drive revenue or eliminate cost.

Lance’s list of outstanding technologies are:

1) Advances in engineered quality have improved virtually all categories of hardware products. Reliability, effort to deploy, proactive error management, and processing capability are improved over previous technologies. The C class blade server is one of these outstanding technology products. The cost/performance is outstanding.
2) Virtualization of everything is an outstanding development in managing IT costs and the service performance. The elimination of underutilized equipment due to proprietary application constraint is greatly reduced. Less equipment means lower costs and better manageability.
3) The introduction of sophisticated business intelligence delivery systems manage vast amounts of data and optimize query response by distributing the workload across many processors. Hewlett Packard’s Neoview system is an outstanding example of this new generation of systems.

He lists technologies currently piquing his interests as:

1) Emerging models for Service Oriented Architecture offer highly efficient development environments that can deliver business value faster, with high levels of flexibility.
2) The concept of Software as a Service is also promising as a vehicle to control costs for businesses with varying transaction volumes. The model creates a metered delivery to create a pay for consumption structure.

Beyond the hectic retailing world where Lance spends his days battening down the hatches and manning the IT pumps, he spends his time in quieter pursuits: “golf and a little creative gardening.” A Hail Mary, after all, is also part faith and part waiting for the outcome.