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4 ideas to steal from IT upstarts

Beth Stackpole | Dec. 13, 2013
When startups grow up, their IT must mature as well. Here's how four hot companies are choosing tech that's serious but not stodgy.

Idea No. 3: Simplify the org chart
Building out IT with an eye toward a leaner and more compact organizational structure is another common characteristic of adolescent technology operations. Plum Organics, a maker of baby foods, worked with an outsourcing partner early on to handle the heavy lifting of setting up servers, managing email and establishing connectivity to external partners.

When the company entered its fiscal 2012 year expecting to hit the $60 million mark, it realized it was time to retire the spreadsheets and QuickBooks system in favor of companywide ERP. Still, Plum didn't staff up internally, according to Mike Meyer, the company's COO/CFO, who oversees responsibility for IT.

We will continue to leverage cloud capabilities to grow and be competitive in the market. Mike Meyer, Plum Organics

Instead, Meyer and a business team spent eight to 10 months planning and mapping out business processes and then working hand-in-hand with an external implementation partner (Meyer declines to name it) that got an SAP cloud-based ERP system up and running in a scant two months. Today, Meyer and other senior operations and finance leaders continue to set direction for IT, though the company is about to hire a full-time IT manager to help with implementation, Meyer says.

In addition to serving as the point person working with the third-party outsourcing partner, the new hire will play another critical role given the latest chapter in Plum Organics' growth —the now 90-person company was bought in June by Campbell Soup Co. "The IT manager will be the person on the ground working with our teams to figure out how to best leverage the technology and existing infrastructure Campbell has," Meyer describes. For example, Campbell has a data center packed with file and email servers that Plum Organics can use as well as a fully staffed help desk.

"This gives us the opportunity to have someone with technical skills on site who can help us leverage [Campbell's] larger and established infrastructure," Meyer explains. "At the same time, we can remain nimble and continue to leverage cloud capabilities to grow and be competitive in the market."

Idea No. 4: Fail fast, stay agile
At jewelry maker Alex and Ani, the internal IT group, at just under 40 people, is more akin to a traditional organization, but there are still real differences in its approach to technology. The 300-plus-employee company, founded in 2005, hired its first-ever CTO about a year ago to oversee both internal IT, including a recent on-premises ERP implementation, as well as customer-facing initiatives, such as a new mobile point-of-sale system.

"It's fun to have the blended role, and it creates a much better and more cohesive technology stack for the company," says CTO Joseph Lezon. For instance, Alex and Ani has a sizable digital team focused on e-commerce and social media, which benefits from some of the initiatives undertaken internally, Lezon says. "When you have the CTO and CIO role blended, it gives you a cross-functional view of external and internal initiatives," he explains.


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