Step 1 – Recap and analyze the relevant facts
Land’s End is the manufacturer and retailer of clothes. It is one of the first companies to use Internet in order to promote and distribute its products. It should be noted that this organization consists of many departments such as customer service, shipment department, numerous production units etc. To some extent, these departments can be called geographically dispersed teams, who never communicate with one another face-to-face.
Furthermore, they are often separated by long distances. One of the most critical issues, faced by this company, is lack of coordination and information sharing between the departments. For instance, if a customer requires assistance or information about a certain article of clothing, he/she will not receive the respond immediately, more likely this will take twenty-four hours or even more (Land’s End 2010 unpaged).
It stands to reason that many potential consumers feel dissatisfied with such treatment. In addition, we need to mention that the process of ordering is also very time-consuming. First of all, the company processes an order for two days, while shipment may take from three days to a week (Land’s End 2010 unpaged). This slowness of operations often leads to the customer dissatisfaction.
Step 2 – Determining the Root Problem & Step 3 – Identifying the Problem Components
The key issue is that various business units of Land’s End do not communicate with one another as quickly as they should. On the one hand, it can be explained by the fact that the company has yet to integrate an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system (Hamilton, 2003, p 3).
The key purpose of this tool is to facilitate the flow of information between departments. Secondly, the employees do not have access to those technologies, which allow face-to-face communication via Internet, such as Skype. These are the core components of the problem.
Overall, we can argue companies with poor inter-departmental cooperation do not perform to their full capacity. They cannot lose competitive advantage to other firms due to their inefficient operations (Quirk, 2008). This is why the management of Land’s End should attach much importance to the cooperation and communication between various business units.
Step 4 – Generating Alternatives
There are several strategies which can help the management to cope with this problem. First, they can establish a separate coordination department that would be acting as a mediator between customers and various business units of the firm. Moreover, this department will perform the functions of inquiry service, which would address the needs of both customers and employees.
This department would have to achieve two goals: 1) to speed up ordering process; 2) to respond to the customer’s inquiries as soon as possible. The second alternative is to integrate an ERP system, which would greatly improve order tracking, planning, and information-sharing between departments. The third alternative will be to install technologies that would facilitate face-to-face communication.
At present moment, there are a great number of companies, which develop solutions and technologies that enable to transmit video, sound and data almost at the same time. They can be of great help to the management of Land’s End. Each of these strategies has its advantages and disadvantages, they will be discussed in the next section of this paper.
Step 5 – Evaluating Alternatives
In order to evaluate the alternatives, we can use various assessment techniques. One of them is SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats) analysis. This method will be of great assistance to us as it will show us the benefits and drawbacks of each strategy.
a. Establishing a coordination department.
Strengths: the existence of a separate coordination department can significantly help customers, who often require information about the product. As it has been noted before, this business unit will perform the functions of inquiry service. Both employees and consumers will obtain the necessary information in the quickest possible way.
Weaknesses: This strategy will involve considerable changes in the company’s structure and most importantly it will entail extra expenses. In addition to that, this department will not be able to function effectively, unless the company integrates new software solutions and technologies.
Opportunities: The implementation of this strategy is more or less independent of external environment in which the company operates.
Threats: there is a great likelihood that personal data of the customers or the company can be disclosed.
b. Integrating an ERP System:
Strengths: an ERP system, which is perfectly adjusted to organizational needs, can insure total control over each of the business processes. This includes supply chain management, ordering process, information sharing between the departments etc (Hamilton, 2003).
Weaknesses: the software, required for the effective functioning of ERP system is usually rather expensive. Secondly, many ERP programs are difficult to customize (Bendoly & Jacobs, 2005, p 48). Moreover, a tailor-made ERP software would cost a considerable sum of money. Besides, the development of such software may take six or seven months,
Opportunities: informational technologies and programs are constantly developing. Provided that there is a newer and improved version of the ERP system, the company would be able to update the older one at a relatively low cost.
Threats: Despite the fact that ERP system is designed to protect confidential information, there is still great likelihood of cyber attack. Under such scenario, the perpetrator will get access to all the information stored on the computers.
c. The use of technologies facilitating face-to-face communication
Strengths: if the employees receive access to the technologies, which allow face-to-face communication via Internet, the decision-making within the company may become more effective. This alternative will help the company avoid many delays.
Weaknesses: The implementation of this strategy will involve considerable expenditures on behalf of the company because such technologies are rather costly.
Opportunities: overall, external environment, in which the company operates, will not affect the implementation of this strategy in any way.
Threats: there is a great probability that the employees working in various departments of the firm will not pay sufficient attention to their direct work responsibilities.
Step 6 – Choose an Alternative
Given the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy, we can argue that the integration of an ERP system will be the most optimal solution. First of all, it provides the best price-benefit ratio; among each of these options, this one is the least expensive. Secondly, it ensures almost complete confidentiality of private information, such as customers’ account numbers.
Thirdly, an ERP system enables the manager to control virtually every business process. The use of technologies, enabling face-to-face communication via internet, can also be an appropriate solution but it is more costly to implement. Moreover, there is a great risk that the employees will not concentrate on their duties.
The establishment of a separate coordination department can also solve many of the problems, faced by Land’s End. But this strategy is very time-consuming. The management will have to spend much time in order to recruit and train employees. This choice can also be explained by the fact that ERP system practically excludes the possibility of information leakage. This is perhaps the key advantage of this strategy.
Step 7 – Implementation Plan
The implementation of this plan would take approximately two or three months. At first, it is necessary to select the most appropriate software for the ERP system. This stage of the plan has to be completed within two weeks. The thing is that there is a great variety of ERP programs and it is vital to evaluate their advantages and disadvantages.
Secondly, the company will need to customize the existing software. Such programs are not usually tailor-made. This stage may last for forty days. The final step is to install it in various offices of the company. It should be borne in mind that the exact timelines can be changed. In this paper, we have given only approximate estimation.
Step 8 – Alternative Choice
The results of this strategy will be measured according to such criteria as the speed of ordering process. It must be completed within several hours so that customers would not have to wait for a long time. Secondly, I will need to evaluate the cooperation between various departments. This evaluation will conducted with the help of employee surveys. Provided that the results are not as good as they were expected, I would try to use technologies, enabling face-to-face communication via Internet.
Bendoly E. & Jacobs F. (2005) Strategic ERP extension and use. Stanford University Press.
Hamilton S. Maximizing your ERP system: a practical guide for managers. NY: McGraw-Hill Professional.
Land’s End. 2010. “Clothing at Land’s End”. Available at http://www.landsend.com/
Quirke B. 2008. Making the Connections: Using Internal Communication to Turn Strategy Into Action. NY: Gower Publishing, Ltd.
Stuart. B. Sarow M. & Stuart L. (2007) Integrated business communication in a global marketplace. John Wiley and Sons.