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A New WAN: Network Rebuild Primes Weight-Loss Giant for Growth

After years of lean technology investment, Jenny Craig desperately needed a new network to get in shape for company expansion.

Three years ago, Shoukry Tiab, then-CIO at New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, got a call from a headhunter wondering if Shoukry was interested in becoming the tech boss at Jenny Craig Inc.

Tiab decided to check out the company, which runs weight loss centers around the U.S. and is well known for its shrinking spokeswoman, the former self-described "Fat Actress" Kirstie Alley.

So Tiab registered with Jenny Craig's website and walked into one of the company's stores in Santa Ana, Calif. At the center, Tiab had to give the same information he had already entered online. Then he noticed that the weight loss specialist he spoke with wrote down his data a second time.

The store's technology was hardly more advanced than pen and paper -- MS-DOS, specifically -- and the company's wide area network (WAN) barely merited the name. Workers at a given center, for example, could print only from a single computer. There was no failover. If a DSL connection went down, credit card transactions could grind to a halt.

"Immediately, walking in as a client, I knew there was a disconnect between the center and the website," Tiab says. "My name wasn't there. They took the same data and re-entered it. It was shocking to see DOS-based character recognition running the business. They had very little technology and a lot

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of challenges. That's what CIOs look for; we love challenges. I saw the opportunities."

But Jenny Craig wasn't just struggling with antiquated technology. The company had posted poor financial results and subsequently suspended the CIO search. Then Tiab got another call from Jenny Craig, only for the company to freeze the search yet again when its owners put the business up for sale. Then, last year, Swiss giant Nestlé acquired Jenny Craig. In early 2007, after three years of courtship, Tiab finally came aboard as the CIO. And recently, Jenny Craig launched a massive network rebuild that has laid the foundation for a complete tech revamp.

In 2006, IT Director Alessandra Nicoletti was hired to deploy a new thin-client WAN, which would connect 3,500 users across the company's 600 stores and allow the California-based IT department to centrally manage technology for the first time. "If you looked at the time spent supporting the current system and downtime, it equaled rolling out a new center," she says. "They were screaming for help out in the field." For Jenny Craig's IT department, the new $8-million WAN promises to be a makeover as dramatic as any on a reality TV show.

This was first published in July 2007

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