I am a young, 30-something strategy executive at a parent company for multiple youth- orientated consumer apparel brands, some of which you have surely heard of.
We are a traditional B2B manufacturer/distributor with a sophisticated and well -resourced digital/social marketing deployment and an aggressively growing direct to consumer business, primarily via e-commerce.
“The Future Couldn’t Be Brighter!”
When I came on board a few years back I was impressed with the Fortune 500 background of our senior most IT leaders and the underlying Fortune 100 technology platform on which they stood.
I was given a long leash to figure out innovative and lucrative ways to unlock the true value of the brand-building machine that I still am an integral part of.
Most exciting was the design and development of a new “interactive” business unit engineered specifically for the purpose of digital business activities across our portfolio of brands.
My team of business development, marketing and operations guys were all motivated and ready to take this to the next level, all driven by the creative suite of technologies assembled by an VP of IT and his team to execute this dream…I thought the future couldn’t be brighter!
That’s When I Got “The Call”
In the final days of development of some of our newest, most exciting and more importantly lucrative initiatives, I got the call none of us non-tech guys ever want to get: my VP of IT and senior most technology executive was leaving for a competitor and more likely than not taking some his team with him (to his defense he had brought them to us when he first came on board).
After the shock and reality set in, the subjective side of me rationalized that there would be a seamless migration of both open and completed projects given the complete transparency and documentation I had simply assumed was taking place along the way.
We said our goodbyes, wished each other the best of luck and I cleared my schedule for the next couple weeks to manage the transition.
Scrambling To Get Tech Back On Track
The first thing I did was order a complete technology audit to ensure that our IT systems were secure and that our organization would operate it’s core business activities without issue.
The next thing I did was re-connect with our technology vendors working on some of our yet to be completed projects that for the most part were joint ventures with third parties to unlock new revenue streams that we would all share.
This group of vendors included our FRY OCP e-commerce platform and the implementation firm we engaged as well as various search refinement (Endeca), imagery (Scene7), SEO vendors, etc.
We had negotiated contractual obligations to deliver this on time or there would be very real and tangible opportunity costs to not doing so.
“This is when things started to go down hill.”
As it turned out we were way off schedule and even further off budget for all of the open projects we had on the table. We only determined this after unraveling some budgetary jumbling and getting clarity from each of our technology vendors on where they thought we were on various timelines; not based on what had been reported to myself and the C-suite by our in-house leadership.
Needless to say there could not have been greater discrepancy.
The following month involved more disappointed news, from murky and inaccurate budgets to poorly assembled technologies not capable of serving the very purpose they were intended to.
It was painfully clear that we did not have the in-house development resources necessary to realize the full potential of our platform. As we outsourced our needs, our true costs surfaced and as such our business strategy needed to be remodeled.
From”Triage” To Streamlining
We scrambled to triage the necessary activities to ensure our current e-commerce operations were intact, bringing in quickly vetted consulting and implementation firms to make up for lost time.
I made some calls to some trusted friends I knew to have creative and successful leadership experience in the technology business to seek advice on how to address strategic steps forward.
Ongig co-founder & CEO Rob Kelly was the first person I called.
Per his suggestion and those of others I assessed our wounded org chart, streamlined responsibilities and reporting and had a pow-wow with those that remained.
I think my COO said it best when he stated that:
“medals were not given out before a battle to encourage people to step up and make things happen, but those who did would surely be rewarded after the fact.”
While this triage was taking place it allowed for some reflection on human capital we were overexposed to and the technology capital we over relied on. Through this inner reflection we understood that in order to innovate successfully we needed a rock star team, one that exceeded expectations not merely met them.
Building A “Rock-Star” Tech Team From Inside & Outside
Part of that team I knew would arise internally as we were beginning to see the stars of the group come to surface and the duds fizzle out and eventually quit under the pressure.
I am happy to report that in the middle of our full holiday push where the majority of our eCommerce transactions for the year take place were have been able to see some relief and early indicators of success, all while on a skeleton crew left to untangle and succeed under extraordinary circumstances.
Furthermore, the need to reduce many of our activities to bare bones necessities has allowed for greater understanding of the viability of such activities now they are completely transparent and no longer over-engineered.
For the past month this has all taken place under the direction of an experienced and visionary eCommerce executive we brought on board as a consultant for 60 days while we regroup on our long-term strategy.
While we would be so lucky to keep this individual on a permanent basis this was more of a favor than a career move.
However, having this relatively objective third-party to lean on throughout all this, providing constant feedback and advice, all while shaping our future has been nothing short of fascinating for someone like me who really never had a hands-on approach to managing technology.
Our Poorly Built Suite Of Technologies Would Have Collapsed Anyway
The moral of this story is quite ironic and rather cliché … this truly has been a blessing in disguise.
The façade of our poorly built suite of technologies would have collapsed in the wake of the aggressive growth it was increasingly shouldering and we would have arrived at this point no matter what.
While I always hope to learn lessons faster and cheaper I’m glad this gave us the opportunity to reassess our technology heavy strategy and acquire talent based on where we want to be in the future rather than reverse engineering future strategy out of the limited capabilities of our ex-talent.
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