Linda Lewis, 36, the director of new-business-systems implementation at the Limited Stores, a division of the Limited, Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio.
What's your problem?
"I've always said that technology 'problems' are opportunities to improve the way we work. Then came the Y2K problem: a mission-critical case, no room for error, absolute deadlines. So how do I take advantage of that?"
Tell me about it
"Y2K is a big challenge. Our strategy is even bigger. We're not just patching old systems; we're developing new systems that are better, faster, smarter — and Y2K-compliant. It may sound strange: Our backs are against the wall, so the last thing we want to do is expand our work beyond Y2K, right? Wrong. People understand the severity of the challenges posed by Y2K. Why not take advantage of that urgency to rethink our business?"
What's your solution?
"A 'super user group' that works with our IT staff. It's our dream team: 15 of our best people from finance, planning, merchandising, and other departments. Taking these folks away from their jobs was disruptive. But we had to have people with imagination and smarts.
"This group identifies and maximizes the opportunities for change created by the Y2K-compliance effort — without derailing that effort. We've scrutinized all of our core processes — from paying bills to distributing merchandise — and we've asked ourselves, 'If we could start over, how would we design those processes?' For example, we live and die by the numbers. But we've gotten report-happy. Y2K is an opportunity to change. The team went back to basics: What decisions are we trying to make? What numbers do we need? Now we generate only 10 reports.
"We can't implement every new system before January 1, 2000. The idea is to get blueprints in place — so that after that date, we can implement our plans quickly. We're building systems that go way beyond Y2K."
Cathy Olofson (email@example.com) is a writer and editor in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Contact Linda Lewis by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the May 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.