Seamless design

Seamless design

For Rembrandt Suits, alignment of ICT and business strategies is the result of straightforward communication between the CEO and the CIO.

Alignment of ICT strategy with business strategy has for a long time registered as one of the top concerns of ICT management. An important element of it is the communication between CEO and top management on the one hand and with the CEO and CIO on the other. Organisations agonise over strategy documents and architectural, functional and data diagrams trying to tease out a smooth working for the relationship, conducive to accurate communication and productive.

At Rembrandt Suits in Wellington the approach is refreshingly straightforward. “We just sit down at a table and talk about it,” says CEO David Lyford. The conversation will typically involve people directly affected by the change being considered, as well as Lyford and CIO Alistair Johnson.

It’s tempting to think that such a solution is simplistic, but Lyford and Johnson insist that time spent in talking through change is the key.

“Once we set the problem down, it’s usually solved within a day,” says Johnson.

Discussions of ICT-related issues often involve more than the CIO and CEO. Ad hoc working parties may be set up to discuss particular points and these may include appropriate technical specialists, business experts and users, but Lyford and Johnson are usually at the core of the group.

Decisions are mostly expressed in text and sometimes straightforward flowcharts, says Johnson. Rembrandt tackles its ICT on a project-by-project basis, he says, and there is no need for a grand overarching architecture which might constrain options.

“If we’re talking IT service management, then we don’t explicitly use any particular model,” he says “but our approach is informed by COBIT and ITIL.”

The small size of the company helps the communication, they both acknowledge. If anyone wants to discuss a point of business process or how something is represented in the computer system, “You can just walk up to the person responsible and have an open dialogue,” says Lyford.

Johnson sits at the executive table and makes regular reports to the board. “He knows all parts of the business,” says Lyford. “Having him involved at the most senior level ensures that the understanding’s there.” Business plans flow freely “down” to the ICT function and Johnson feels free to suggest ideas arising from his technological

knowledge that may help the business — though it is the business strategy that is always in the driving seat.

Conversely, Lyford thinks he has gained knowledge from a closer interaction with his CIO. “I’ve not had to acquire technical skills, but I’ve learned a lot about process and issues around managing a big project.”

Having worked closely together for the three years since Johnson joined, “We know how each other thinks,” says the CIO.

Technology refresh

The CIO was brought on board specifically to deal with a major refresh of technology, based on the Lawson M3 Fashion solution, a wide-ranging suite written specifically for the tailoring industry. It covers most functions of the business from planning and prioritising of the manufacturing workload and the logistics of order fulfilment, to standard financials.

The suite incorporates the Lawson M3 Planning Workbench, which is designed specifically for manufacturing companies in the apparel, footwear, home textile and accessories industries.

Prior to the change, Rembrandt was operating with a small DOS-based system supported by a provider who was essentially a solo operator. This was judged not to meet the needs of a rapidly changing business; besides which Rembrandt had modified it to its own needs to the extent that the system was becoming difficult to manage.

Rembrandt’s business was continuously expanding in its range of products and types of outlets, including department stores in Australia. “On the supply side, 15 years ago all our manufacturing was carried out here [in its main premises in Naenae, near Wellington],” says Lyford. Today, some of the manufacturing is being done in Asia and in Europe. This has clearly required enhanced international communications capability and improved control of the manufacturing process.

Getting the right fit

Planning and implementation of the M3 solution was a major test of the style of CEO-CIO co-operation and it appears to have come through with flying colours.

The tailored clothing industry is exceptional in a number of ways, says Lyford and this naturally has major consequences for information management. Variation in colour, size, style and fit leads to a large number of different items, some of which will have a number of units made while others will be unique.

The industry is uniquely dependent on fashion, so the repertoire of items changes extensively from season to season, complicating the management problem. To deal with today’s market needs, the ICT system has to balance load within a production site or across multiple sites in a complex supply chain, and keep lead times to a minimum while maintaining delivery performance.

Fortunately, Rembrandt has excellent international contacts and they steered the company to some good potential solutions.

After matching the features of a number of offerings, Lyford and Johnson, with the aid of a small team, decided on the Lawson offering.

The system now has six months of operation under its belt and though there have been the expected teething problems, “we’re pretty-much satisfied with it.”

The current recession will no doubt pose problems for the company, says Lyford, but he and Johnson are glad to have got through the development workload and to have the new system functioning.

“We wouldn’t like to be implementing the system in today’s environment,” says Lyford. “We’re glad that’s behind us.”

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Tags strategycio and ceoit and business alignment

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