A NEW STRUCTURE

Management information systems managers and systems gurus say the technology necessary to support Efficient Consumer Response is already available. But like harried commuters waiting for a light to turn green, most sit tight while presidents and chief executive officers wrestle with organizational structures that are anything but efficient."Systems and technology aren't hurdles to ECR," one ECR proponent

Management information systems managers and systems gurus say the technology necessary to support Efficient Consumer Response is already available. But like harried commuters waiting for a light to turn green, most sit tight while presidents and chief executive officers wrestle with organizational structures that are anything but efficient.

"Systems and technology aren't hurdles to ECR," one ECR proponent said. "It's vertically aligned organizations that stand in the way. If you're a buyer, it's your job to buy as much as possible at the lowest price and let the next guy worry about whether what's best for your department is best for the rest of the company."

"ECR is 20% technology and systems and 80% people," admitted Mike Gorshe, executive director of industry food programs at Andersen Consulting, Chicago.

Retailers agreed.

"Supermarkets should draw people from different departments into cross-functional teams to discuss the merits of ECR best practices," said Claire D'Amour, vice president of corporate affairs at Springfield, Mass.-based Big Y Supermarkets. "But sharing information across departments isn't only an issue for supermarkets. At brokers and manufacturers, the right hand doesn't always know what the left hand is doing."

"Getting people in different departments to work for the common interest is one of the hardest things to do," said Robert Rough, chief financial officer at Harvest Foods, Little Rock, Ark. "The corporate well-being is part of everybody's bonus calculations, but the lion's share is based on a department's performance."

Rough said Harvest is trying to dissuade individual departments from making decisions in a vacuum that could adversely affect other departments.

"We are trying to build interdepartmental bridges," Rough said. "We actively facilitate them."

Rough said such dialogue is necessary in order to operate efficiently and keep costs down. He said concerns of departments like procurement and transportation often can be at loggerheads.

"We had a meeting between transportation and buyers last week," Rough said. "The buyers are under pressure not only to get the best deal but to keep inventory down, and the transportation people have to make sure they cube out their trucks and minimize pickups."

Rough said meetings help refocus different departments on the larger goal of what's good for Harvest.