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Iconic shoe company leans on CIO, 'fast data' for better business returns

Red Wing Shoe Company Inc., a 108-year old footwear business with a penchant for new technology, is a big believer in the "fast data" that platforms like cloud and mobile help generate. From shortening sales cycle times to improving purchasing systems to enhancing customer relations, the Red Wing, Minn.-based company has used fast data to achieve savings, increase revenues and continue investing back in the business.

Ralph Balestriere Ralph Balestriere

In this SearchCIO Business POV interview during the GlobalDirections 2013 conference, Ralph Balestriere , executive vice president, CFO and treasurer at Red Wing Shoes, shares his insight on the breadth of the enterprise technology initiatives under the watch of CIO Joe Topinka and why the use of fast data will continue to be a go-to IT strategy for the company. For a detailed account of Red Wing's shift to lightweight computing platforms, go to "Best-of-breed solutions drive 'fast data' and revenue at Red Wing Shoes."

You're presenting the CFO perspective on fast data. Could you give us a few highlights on what you will share with the audience?

Ralph Balestriere: Red Wing Shoes is regarded, especially in the Midwest, as an icon. It has a long heritage and long history -- it's a 108-year-old company. That's a good thing. But the bad thing is that a 108-year-old company has antiquated systems, has worked on a lot of old processes and procedures, and that has caused problems as we grew as an organization. During my presentation, I'm going to highlight that, rather than going through a full ERP implementation, which can be costly, time consuming and take some of your best people out of the organization, we took a best-of-breed approach. I am going to speak about those solutions that we came up with.

How important is big data to your organization now, and how are you planning on utilizing it more in the future?

We want as much data as we possibly can get, in the fastest way and as voluminous as possible, to drive our decision-making processes.

Ralph Balestriere,
EVP, CFO and treasurer, Red Wing Shoe Company Inc.

Balestriere: Well, we talk about big data, but it is also fast data. It is getting information faster to our employees, to our sales organizations, to our people in the infrastructure process, like demand planning and our financial organizations, so they can react and make decisions on a real-time basis versus having to wait weeks and months -- or depending on Excel spreadsheets to provide that data. That may have worked 20 years ago, but it doesn't work in the fast-moving environment today. So we want as much data as we possibly can get, in the fastest way and as voluminous as possible, to drive our decision-making processes.

Another big topic at the conference is the unprecedented rate of change in technology. Looking at mobile, cloud, social computing -- how do you see all of this change playing out at your company over the next five to 10 years?

Balestriere: The solutions we have come up with are all in the cloud and also usable on mobile devices. That is especially [the case] with our CRM [customer relationship management] solution, where salespeople can get leads on their mobile devices, get to a sales lead, get to that place and close the deal on a rapid basis. So we are going to be taking full advantage of our mobile devices and using the cloud to drive our solutions.

Are these new technologies and the changes in the way IT is working with the business making your company more or less reliant on the CIO?

Balestriere: More reliant on the CIO. He is a key component to our organization. He is well-regarded throughout the organization. People depend on that organization to be successful. IT is a large investment, the IT organization, but it is proving to be very worthwhile, and we're getting returns double what we ever expected.

Ralph, could you provide a couple of examples of exactly how your company is becoming more reliant on the CIO?

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Balestriere: The CIO we have in place is a gentleman by the name of Joe Topinka. He is very well known in IT circles. He is a very strategic individual, and his organization is built around strategy versus just process and writing code. So their project-management group is very important to us in developing processes and procedures throughout the organization. We depend on them for not only the work they perform, but also the strategy they provide in helping us drive better business decisions. We've increased our IT spend, probably over the last three years, 50%.

Are there areas of enterprise technology that you think could work a lot better than they are today?

Balestriere: Well, that's a very good question, because it touches all facets. One is our financial capabilities. We are growing as a global organization. We've made an acquisition recently in Europe. We have offices in Dubai, in Singapore and in Amsterdam as well. We are not receiving good financial information on a timely basis, either to do our monthly close or to perform our analytics. So that is one area where we are really deficient at the moment and we have a plan to improve that process very soon.

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