The Stride Rite Corp. may have been a late entrant in the e-commerce race, but it was fast to the finish line with a strategy that will likely pay off.
The race started in January, when the Lexington, Mass., footwear company's Keds Corp. division was preparing for a major product launch, scheduled for March, that included a television and print advertising campaign.
And what better way to heighten customer awareness than to leverage the Keds.com Web site for promotion and taking orders. There was only one problem—the site was built for information only. It had no order entry or any other e-commerce applications. So Stride Rite officials made the decision to add e-commerce capabilities to the site.
The Keds.com upgrade, however, came at a time when the IT staff was working on an order processing system as part of the company's business-to-business extranet, expected to go online by the end of the year.
Rather than waiting for the other shoe to drop by spreading the IT staff thin, Stride Rite enlisted the help of two outside companies to accelerate the development of the e-commerce applications. The company hired Web builders iXL Inc., of Atlanta, to design the e-commerce site, and Cutler Systems Management Inc., of Morristown, N.J., to pro vide long-term management and maintenance of the Web applications.
"Knowing we had a limited amount of resources, and trying to optimize those resources, our best strategy from a Web-enabling standpoint was to focus on an intranet and an extranet and let people who are experts in electronic commerce to consumers handle and maintain those sites," said Bob White, Stride Rite's CIO.
It turned out to be a good decision: The Keds division made its deadline and is now selling shoes online.
While many retailers are moving toward e-commerce initiatives, few are taking Stride Rite's approach. Industry experts say companies that find themselves in a similar predicament often rush to the Internet with inadequate planning on how Web applications will be managed and maintained after the site is in operation. Factors such as the level of maintenance, 24-by-7 uptime and support, and designing an architecture that's flexible enough to change with business strategies are often not given enough attention.
This can lead to Web applications becoming the legacy applications of tomorrow—software that is not easily extended and has little documentation.
"In the haste and desire to build things quickly for competitive advantage, [maintenance] is something that's not always foremost in people's minds," said Bill Martorelli, an analyst for Hurwitz Group Inc., in Framingham, Mass.
"There are lessons to be learned from today's legacy applications," Martorelli added.
A good fit
But in Stride Rite's case, the decision to rely on Cutler Systems to manage the Keds site will likely result in e-business success. In other words, it's a good fit. "We're a footwear company, predominantly," White said. "We're not a software development house."
Cutler, on the other hand, is one of the few outsourcing companies focused solely on helping companies manage and maintain flexibility in their Web sites, Martorelli said.
For Stride Rite, the need to outsource the Keds site was obvious, as the IT team already had its hands full.
Stride Rite's internal systems include a mixture of custom enterprise resource planning applications and home-grown software for finances, warehouse management and retail, White said.
And Stride Rite executives wanted IT to keep its attention on building the company's intranet for handling internal business processes and its extranet for doing business with partners and suppliers.
As a result, Cutler is responsible for managing the Keds e-commerce site under Stride Rite's supervision. White and his staff, including John Wright, the company's Internet applications manager, are very involved in the Keds site development and track all changes and modifications.
Documentation for all work on the site is shared between the two companies, and Stride Rite's IT staff is notified of any problems.
"It's not like we tell [Cutler] to go and develop something and [we're] not ... involved," White said. "But they definitely do the lion's share of the work."
Cutler uses Microsoft Corp. products to manage the Keds site, including Site Server running on Internet Information Server and Windows NT, and a SQL Server 6.5 database.
It also uses Freshwater Software Inc.'s SiteScope and Symantec Corp.'s pc Anywhere to monitor and manage clients' applications remotely. In addition, the company has its own set of proprietary technology used in the management of Keds. com's order entry and e-commerce applications.
The Keds site is located outside the company firewall, and Stride Rite maintains control over the interfaces to internal systems. It's a security measure, but for the outsourcing relationship to work, "you also have to feel very comfortable with your business partner," White said.
And because Stride Rite feels that way about Cutler, White and his IT staff can kick back and watch the Keds e-commerce initiative take off.
Company: The Stride Rite Corp.
Location: Lexington, Mass.
The need: Design e-commerce applications for an existing Web site within a three-month time frame while simultaneously building out an extranet for doing business with partners and suppliers.
The solution: The company dedicated its own IT staff to the internal business processes related to the extranet and hired a Web design firm to build the e-commerce applications. Stride Rite also outsourced management of the e-commerce Web site to a separate systems management company.
What's next: Stride Rite's business partner extranet will launch at the end of the year.
Microsoft Corp.'s Site Server, Internet Information Server, Windows NT, SQL Server 6.5 database; Freshwater Software Inc.'s SiteScope; and Symantec Corp.'s pcAnywhere.