Successfully launching an executive information system often requires cultural change at the head office.
need to be presented with solid evidence of why EIS will improve their performances, retailers said.
"There's a perceived need up there. We know they'd like to see that information, but it's something that's never been there," said Michael Hubert, director of management information systems at G&R Felpausch Co., Hastings, Mich. "They don't request it because they don't have the exposure to it to say, 'How come we can't get it?' "
"[EIS] will replace some hard-copy reporting. But the majority of it is information that executives have never quite had before in this way," said John Laboda, director of management information services at Grocers Supply Co., Houston.
Gordon Goodyear, director of management information systems and electronic data processing at B&B Cash Grocery Stores, Tampa, Fla., agreed. "We've just installed a computer terminal for one vice president of the company this week. It's something he never had."
To incorporate EIS into the average executive's daily routine, the systems must be kept as simple as possible, retailers said.
"If I have a system that's too complex to use, I'm not going to use it," one industry source said. "If it's the right type of interface, it will become a habit for executives. If it becomes a habit to track and monitor your business as closely as possible, there will be a gain."
Much emphasis is being placed on EIS that produces easily accessible, graphically attractive reports. An easy-to-use format is key to capturing executives' attention and keeping them interested long enough to recognize the value of the decision-support tool.
"Sometimes you have to have executives play 3-D pinball before you can get them to drill down to a region," said another source.
"At the same time, the system has to be powerful enough so that it doesn't interfere with their train of thought," a third observer said. "If I'm doing an analysis and I have a question, I want that question to be answered quickly with a click of a mouse."
Ken Doherty, vice president of information systems for Calgary Cooperative Association, Calgary, Alberta, said that initially many executives had a major learning curve to overcome. The retailer's IS department has spent the last few years training executives, to help make them more comfortable with technology.
"We have spent a fair amount of time educating executives on just the basic use of PCs: Lotus, Word Perfect, E-mail, things like that," Doherty said. "They're now fairly computer-literate. This EIS system is fairly intuitive; it's pretty simple."
When Felpausch designs its own EIS, a key factor will be simplicity, Hubert said.
"Our whole goal is to have something powerful enough and flexible enough that executives can literally determine their own reports, rather than have MIS write a report for every different user out there," he said.
"Our goal is to have [EIS] as easy as taking their mouse and dragging something from their picklist over onto a blank piece of paper and pressing 'done,' " Hubert added.
Perhaps the easiest way to make EIS part of an executive's routine is to allow remote access to the information, retailers said.
"We may link our president up at his home," B&B's Goodyear said. "Four of our executives have computers at home and can dial in to our system and get sales. On Saturdays they used to drive all the way in here just to log on to the system and see what the sales were for Friday."
"We've made our system transportable," Doherty added. "We can download [EIS] off the mainframe onto their PCs when they sign on. They can then take their laptop home with them and are able to use it.
"That's fairly important to some executives because they're too busy to use it any other way. The flexibility of being able to take it home is really important. They just don't have time in the day. Some have told us, 'I find it much easier to sit home in the evenings, take 10 to 15 minutes and I'll know exactly where I'm at.' "