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E-commerce strategy, client analysis focus help Coach bag sales

How does a company become one of the world's top handbag sellers? Producing covetable designs is a must, of course, but according an IT leader at Coach Inc., soaring sales and brand recognition also rest on a winning e-commerce strategy, strong collaboration between marketing and IT, and superb analytics and client analysis.

In this video Q&A, filmed at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2012 in Orlando, Fla., site editor Wendy Schuchart sits down with Luis Garzon, senior director of enterprise architecture at New York-based Coach, for a wide-ranging interview on how a legacy migration, social media efforts and a strong client analysis program have strengthened the company's point of sale (POS) and e-commerce strategy and operations.

Read the transcript from the Q&A below, and watch the video to learn how Garzon's IT organization has empowered the company, generating brand recognition and helping turn Coach into a household name.

Recently, you integrated a lot of your Asian facilities into your infrastructure. Can you talk about a little bit of how you've moved those legacy systems into your current operation?

Luis Garzon: Actually, a lot of it was really based on our POS system. When we first took over one of our original businesses in Asia, we bought a solution, and the solution worked very well [in that region]. As we purchased the rest of our companies in Asia, one at a time, we had a lot of cookie-cutter solutions in terms of copying the original solution over and over again, and it worked very well.

Now we have this dilemma when it comes to integration and integration of data and information. A lot of our focus right now is on making sure that we can go back and build a really solid foundation around our integration infrastructure.

This has taught us a lesson that says, if we're going to continue to grow like this, we need to be able to add systems on the fly and be able to move data back and forth fairly seamlessly. So, we're going back to foundations and making sure that's pretty strong.

Could you speak a little bit about how you've integrated and how you work with the marketing department with your social media efforts?

Garzon: At every company, marketing is really what's driving a lot of that nowadays. We partner though, very closely, with our partners in marketing. A lot of what they're doing in marketing really involves analytics and involves some of the 'big data' aspects.

It also involves quite a bit of [questions, such as]: Where are we going to be integrating? Is it going to be Facebook or Twitter? How are we going to look at that information and do something with it?

We really have been partnering more on the analytical aspect of it because we're looking to extend our marketing base into social media. But now we need the information back. We need to take that raw data and turn it into useful information and analyze it. That's really what we've been focusing on. And it's really about the analytics of that.

Do you base that analytics in-house? Or are you using another system? Perhaps like a Hadoop?

Garzon: We actually do base it in-house quite a bit. Although we do go through a cleansing process, and we do outsource that because that's something we don't want to be in. Once we get that information, we do bring it in-house. We have expertise in-house that's really looking at it. That's one thing with Coach: Internally, we really like to look at things about 50 different ways. It's just our nature, and so we take care most of the analytics in-house.

You have a very diverse clientele structure. How do you handle that from an IT perspective?

Garzon: It is very diverse. It's actually not that difficult from an IT perspective because we're not necessarily client-facing quite so much, other than our POS and our e-commerce sites.

From that perspective, though, we have taken an approach where, especially in e-commerce, we've really built a solid foundation for being able to present our information and our products to all of our customers. And then we're really using technology to be able to customize it for their region or their culture. That's really where our focus is; I would say it's really mostly around e-commerce technology.

In terms of our POS systems, and how we integrate, we're starting to look at doing some more 'clientele-ing' that's very specific to a region or a customer. But that's really nascent at this point.

Are you using any kind of cloud services currently to handle any of your databases?

Garzon: Not for our databases, but I was just mentioning 'clientele-ing.' We actually have rolled out a solution in our North America stores. It's not completely rolled out to all the stores. The stores that have been using it are enamored with it: The information that they're getting from it, the real-time integration and the ability to collaborate with the customer right there and then -- they just say it's fantastic. It's really changed the way they do business.

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As a matter of fact, I went to one of our premier flagship stores on Fifth Avenue the other day and had a tour. They just have nothing but great words to say: "I can now [see] my top 10 customers. I didn't even know what my top 10 customers were before."

We're able to roll out that solution relatively quickly. If we were to do it in-house, that would've probably taken three times the amount of time that it did.

Now let's talk a little bit about you and your career. How did you get started in IT?

Garzon: Completely by accident, actually. I was pre-med in college, [but] didn't want to do medical school. I needed a job. I had done some accounting before. I was doing accounts payable in a hospital. And the head of my department said, 'Listen. You look like a pretty bright guy. The accounts payable department is going nowhere, but I need to start up an IT department. Do you want to do it?'

I said, 'I know nothing about computers.' He said, 'You'll learn.' That's pretty much it. It's been fantastic because I never really knew that it was something that I really like. It just fell right in line because it did fall in line with the analytical aspect of why I like science and math to begin with. It still had an interactive, personal aspect to it that really worked with everything that I wanted to have in a job. Let's be honest: It pays pretty well. It's a great find.

From an IT leadership perspective, what is your biggest challenge in your role?

Garzon: I think it's really about balancing collaboration with delivery. And there comes a point where you want to make sure that you're collaborating. You're getting, basically, all the input that you really need to make the right decisions, to move forward on a project. But there comes a point where you have to just stop. There are things that you have to do and make decisions [about], that are not going to be popular with everyone. You need to move forward. It's really finding that balance and continuing to basically keep those relationships alive. It's a lot of relationship building and maintenance, I think.

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