23 Feb Frank Giannantonio blends IT and business for Lands' End
Frank Giannantonio, CIO at Lands’ End, takes pride in his organization’s ability to seamlessly blend business and technology. “In a meeting you can’t separate the business folks from the IT folks,” he said. That collaborative spirit reaches all the way up and down the organization, from Frank sitting on the executive committee, which sets vision and strategic direction for Lands’ End, to the way IT supports picking and packing of orders in the warehouses.
Tight integration of technology and business keeps Lands’ End from being heedlessly tech?happy, even though its groundbreaking Web site led the retail charge onto the Internet in pre-bubble days. Frank said, “We had to get good at knowing when to go high-tech and when to go low-tech.”
With its slogan of “Guaranteed. Period.” Lands’ End is a customer service company first, and that guides the technology decisions. For example, a customer calling Lands’ End will always get a live person. Interactive voice response systems may be cost-effective call-center technology, but they don’t fit the customer experience that Lands’ End wants to create.
The mix of low and high tech creates some challenges for Frank and his organization. If you’re not always chasing the highest of the high tech approaches, that means you’re maintaining legacy systems. Frank compares the situation to remodeling a house. Rarely do people have the luxury of simply moving out of their house during the construction, and the same is true for business. You can’t just shut down the business, replace old systems with new, and then restart everything.
Frank works to find ways to continually integrate old systems with new and to maintain the right blend of emerging and legacy skills in his staff. Key to this effort is understanding where the business is headed in a three- to five-year period and developing a vision for the architecture to get there. That architecture then guides the selection of platforms and skill development. The IT department maintains support for necessary COBOL/CICS while moving towards a Java Enterprise Edition/open environment with a Web-services-oriented approach.
Frank points to the business decision to switch from paper gift certificates to gift cards as an example that required complementary development in IT capabilities and migration of underlying technology.
Having worked on the coasts and internationally, Frank says he doesn’t feel any drop in IT professionalism coming to the heartland. The technology itself is as leading-edge as anywhere. Witness the Lands’ End Web site or the local biotech climate. There might not be as rich an environment for professional interaction through professional societies or vendor interactions, but that’s easily made up for by the strong sense of collaboration, passion and mid-western work ethic. “There’s no difference,” Frank said.
Frank takes advantage of this cooperative environment When looking at new technology. Lands’ End has an extensive call center, and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) is on his radar. He’s working with some of the leading VoIP vendors to understand when it makes sense. In building out new construction, VoIP is a “no-brainer.” The challenge is to find the compelling business need to upgrade existing infrastructure.
Another major part of the Lands End business process is warehousing and fulfillment, where RFID has the same kind of potential impact as VoIP does on call centers, but with similar challenges. In that arena, Frank participates in the University of Wisconsin Consortium on RFID.
Frank says that if he wasn’t in technology, he would be in marketing. That’s one of the reasons he was excited about coming to Lands’ End. Everything is customer-focused, and the quality of the customer support depends on the quality and security of the information systems.
That link between customer experience and technology carries through to the high-points in his career. Frank talks about the thrill (good and bad) of realizing he had two weeks to pull off the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show webcast, which was announced during the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. Frank also recently appeared on the cover of CIO magazine, an honor he attributes to having worked at a string of great companies including Avon, Victoria’s Secret and Lands’ End that are dedicated to their customers.
There’s no louder drumbeat in the IT industry than the integration of technology and business, but it’s not always clear what that means. At Lands’ End, it’s very clear that business starts with a customer orientation and technology investment has to start from there, too. Frank’s unique blend of customer orientation and technology savvy provides the leadership required.
Q&A with Frank Giannantonio
What magazines do you read regularly?
Golf, Wine Spectator, Sports Illustrated
What’s the Worst Job You Ever Had?
Department of Defense mathematician – I never got included in the business
What’s your favorite quote on leadership?
“How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Someday in life you will have been all of these in life.” — George Washington Carver
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.