Voice of Experience: Herding Apps

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2005-08-04 Print this article Print

Office Depot's vice president of customer systems, gets developers and business managers on the same page.

Mike Kirschner
VP, Customer Systems
Office Depot
Delray Beach, Fla.

MANAGER'S PROFILE: Responsible for managing information systems and application development for the office supplies retailer, which posted $13.6 billion in sales in 2004. He oversees a staff of 150, which includes project managers, Java developers and systems quality engineers.

HIS PROJECT: Office Depot maintains its own order-management software and uses custom-written programs to run customer and partner electronic-commerce sites. Most of the software is developed in Java, using IBM development tools. On top of that, the company has started using software from IBM's Rational group to manage the process of gathering and analyzing business requirements.

SAME PAGE: For the past year, Kirschner's team also has been using IBM's WebSphere Business Integration Modeler, which visually represents a business process (such as authorizing a credit card transaction) and simulates how an application built to manage that process would function. "It makes it easier for the developers and the business people to talk the same language," Kirschner explains.

TASTE FOR JAVA: Office Depot adopted Java as a de facto software language in 1999, Kirschner says, because it was further along than the Web-oriented development tools Microsoft had at the time. Today, his team uses Microsoft's tools for some smaller applications, but he feels more comfortable using Java for critical enterprise applications: "With Java, you avoid Microsoft lock-in."

WHEN TO OFFSHORE: The company sends some software jobs to overseas development firms (which Kirschner declined to name). He says the most successful offshore projects have been "easily explainable" and involve middleware—software that lets an application exchange data with another application—rather than applications used by humans. "When developers are here working on user-oriented software, they're where the users are," Kirschner says. "There's more administrative overhead in outsourcing those projects."


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