The Bottom Line Per ... Agway's Bill Parker

By Anna Maria Virzi  |  Posted 2002-04-15 Print this article Print

Agway's chief information officer on two decades of change.

Agway's Bill Parker started at the Syracuse, N.Y.-based agricultural cooperative 21 years ago, as a project manager in the insurance division before tackling business process re-engineering. He's been CIO since September 1994, responsible for Agway's infrastructure, data center and enterprise applications. Agway spends about $12 million a year and employs 105 people for information systems.

Q: What has changed since you arrived at Agway?

A: We used to have one box—a mainframe—and everything was done in Cobol (programming language) and CICS (IBM transaction processing software). We didn't have the Internet or e-mail. All our networks were private. Now it's a lot more complex, although we still have our mainframe around. To prepare for the year 2000, we replaced just about every mainframe application we had. Our last application—our lease/financing package—will be off of that probably by December.

Q: What role does IT have in an agricultural cooperative that sells animal feed, produce, fertilizer, insurance and energy?

A: Each division here is very independent. When I did business process re-engineering, we looked at the (business software providers) SAPs and J.D. Edwardses of the world, and learned they would not work for us across the company. Instead, each business unit selected software that supports their business.

Q: Will that make it easier to move ahead with Agway's plans to sell off some divisions?

A: It's very easy to sell these divisions because they are not really tethered to an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.

Q: What projects do you have under way?

A: We are considering an upgrade to our Oracle financial system. When we looked at it over a year ago, it was going to cost $700,000 to upgrade, including hardware and consulting. We postponed that upgrade because of the cost and because Oracle extended support for our existing version through June 2003. Based on our most recent assessment from Oracle, it's now going to cost about $400,000. Also, there are a lot more people who've done the conversion and there's software that helps you do that migration.

Q: How do you evaluate your return on investment?

A: In a situation with Oracle, for example, you don't have a lot of choice. You have the risk of, 'What happens if my system fails and I can't get it fixed?' That's the risk of having applications that are not supported by your vendor.

Executive Editor
Anna Maria was assistant managing editor Forbes.com. She held the posts of news editor and executive editor at Internet World magazine and was city editor and Washington correspondent for the Connecticut Post, a daily newspaper in Bridgeport. Anna Maria has a B.A. from the University of Rhode Island.

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