Enabling Business Processes through Information Management and IT Systems: The FastFit and Winter Gear Distributors Case Studies

Article excerpt

1. CASE SUMMARIES:

The authors introduce the FastFit case in the first week of our entry-level MIS class, as we begin the discussion of information management and IT-enabled business processes within the business. This case presents the scenario of a small, regional sporting goods retailer engaged in day-to-day operations. The company is a well established seller of high-end sporting goods, operating in New England through five store outlets as well as on-line through an eCommerce Web site. Since the typical undergraduate student possesses both an interest in out-of-doors exercise and a familiarity with retail business operations--at least as a consumer--the FastFit case poses few barriers in terms of its initial accessibility. Furthermore, the simplicity of the initial FastFit story makes the more detailed unfolding of its business process needs and information flows all the more impactful in terms of the student learning experience.

Initially, students respond to the case questions that are then discussed in class. The discussion brings out the issues and opportunities presented to capture and share information across FastFit business processes, opening the door to an exploration of customer and supplier relationship management, individual store and enterprise-wide decision making, and more long-term corporate planning and business innovation. The case also provides any number of useful examples of how information technologies enable the capture and sharing of corporate data. It should also be noted that while we employ the FastFit case in the first week of the course, we return to FastFit mid-course, after the students have read the chapter in their textbook on eCommerce but before we discuss in detail the design and operations of a Web-enabled fulfillment service. Since FastFit is familiar to the class, the case works nicely as a transition to this new subject. The eCommerce questions in the case serve as the homework for this later session.

As with the FastFit case, we have framed the Winter Gear Distributors case with an eye towards a particular approach to information management and the uses of information technologies within a business setting. Both FastFit and Winter Gear emerge as organizations whose competence in the market place relies upon customer intimacy. This strategic focus in turn drives their respective information processing and management requirements as these relate to operations, control and decision making, and innovation and corporate learning. For FastFit, these requirements in turn drive the organization's choices in business process design, the acquisition and deployment of IT, and the corporation's human resource and organizational structures. But for Winter Gear, it would appear that these choices have been left in abeyance. In the latter business context, the organization has settled into a comfortable but somewhat antiquated groove where business carries on much has it has done for years. Information management improvements and IT-enabled systems do not appear to be on Winter Gear's priority list, and as the case suggests, they are certainly not in evidence as part of standard corporate operations. Indeed, one would expect that a distributor like Winter Gear would want to compete on the basis of low cost and operational excellence, but instead the firm has allowed these opportunities to innovate operationally to slip by. The organization must rely on its established customer relationships and outmoded but personalized processes to survive, significantly limiting Winter Gears' ability to grow and diversify in an increasing competitive global marketplace.

Thus, though FastFit and Winter Gear comprise two ends of a long-standing supply chain management relationship, the retail chain FastFit is poised for accelerated growth where as its partner the wholesale distributor Winter Gear is positioned only for stagnation. To put it another way, as case studies FastFit is an illustration of the well-measured deployment of IT to enable operations, control, and innovation, while Winter Gear lacks an integrated set of information systems and any sort of overall long-term strategy or approach to information management within their corporate activities. …