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TechEd '07: Beyond "Aligning Business Alignment"

The second session at today’s Server & Tools Business Analyst summit was a customer panel with Robert Fort, CIO of Virgin Megastores and Jeff Hays, Market Data Product Manager at Lava.

For me, the primary interesting point was the mind-set for running IT and making IT decisions that Fort came to time and time again. His focus was clearly on making money for Virgin: both enabling it and innovating it. For example, when he took on the roll, he found that each store had a T1 that was under capacity. From a cost control perspective, they were wasting money paying the monthly fees. cost-slasher would just downgrade to a cheaper line. Taking another view, that extra bandwidth provides room for some innovation.

So, Virgin started doing realtime (every 15 minutes) data warehousing of sales data over those lines. More importantly, they provided each store with updated reports on sales numbers which could be easily compared to the day’s sales goals. Floor sales staff started going back to look at these reports, ramping up sales as needed (I’m guessing, however they do that…pressure people to buy more CDs?) to meet those goals. Instead of figuring out they’d miss the store’s goal the day afterwards, they could tell in 15 minute intervals. I didn’t catch the revenue growth numbers, but they were high.

We spend a lot of time hearing about IT helping the business make money. Fort’s discussion was exciting because he was part of that business, not just a department responding to it. As he said of the above and other examples, “the key thing is: none of these have been technology initiatives,” meaning they’ve been business initiatives.

When it came to base-level IT management, Fort had another zinger:

When I looked at the sales plan, I said, IT’s job is not to f’ that up.

It was great to hear from someone who was concerned with both avoiding screwing things up and also making money. Clearly, Fort understood Virgin’s business and the low-level strategies of retail. Trickling that kind of business-understanding and the desire to make money for the business is what IT needs to become more than just the department that can f’ things up.

Bonus side-note: in a discussion of “illegal music downloads,” Fort said that industry people have been going out into the networks and corrupting (or putting up corrupted) digital music. Anyone know more about these music industry IP-war counter-measures?

Disclaimer: Microsoft is a client and paid for travel and expenses to TechEd.

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Categories: Conferences, Systems Management.

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  1. I remember hearing about this: that files would be posted to file distribution networks in which the filename and other metadata would suggest something desirable to download (e.g, the name of a hit song), and the first few seconds would be those of the song, but the rest of the file would be noise. The goal is jamming to discourage casual downloading by reducing the reputation of the download networks: if someone has been sitting in front of their computer waiting to download an illegal song and finds it's been a waste of time as the file is corrupt, they might not try to download music from those networks again.