Mrs. Fields Cookies case pertains to the cookie business run by Mrs. Debbi Fields and how Information
Systems was integrated into the corporate structure of this business. Mrs. Fields was able to realize her
teenage passion for cookie making when she opened her first cookie store in Palo Alto back in 1977.
What had started as a small store had now developed into an international company with more than 500
stores in the United States and few other countries. With increasing competition and changing market
demands, Mrs. Fields not only increased the different varieties of cookies (14) but also ventured into
other products in the sweet snack industry- brownies and muffins followed by expansion into candies
and ice cream. Thus, catering to such a wide market, the company had developed a strong employee
base of 8000.
Mrs. Fields management philosophy was based on the art of learning by doing, intertwined with a less
hierarchical structure and less formalization. Each store operated as a profit center with future growth
funded by cash flow and debt. The company sought to diversify through various acquisitions, with the
recent acquisition of a France based bakery and/or sandwich store named as La Petite Boulangerie
(LPB) from PepsiCo in 1987. With a wide range of offerings like croissants, breads, etc. it seemed a
logical expansion for the bakery aspect of Mrs. Fields Cookies. However, these expansions precipitated
changes in the organizational and financial structure. And in 1988, what was viewed as record revenue
were reported as record losses by the press.
In this case, we see how the company had incorporated a Management Information System for its
efficient functioning. The MIS consisted of applications like Form Mail, Day Planner, Labor Scheduler,
Skill Tests, Interview and Time Clock. These applications helped the company in proper
communication, day-to-day store operations, efficient scheduling and managing human resources-
making hiring decisions, employee promotions and payroll activities. Through this case we understand
the benefits the MIS brought to the company which are as follows:
1. It provided Debbi a degree of personal involvement with each store manager even without
being physically present. It increased Debbi’s influence over the stores.
2. It was to free the manager from performing those tasks and making those decisions which could
be managed by a computer. Managers could focus on vital business related tasks.
3. It provided the company a way to expand vigorously without increasing its staff count. This
allowed the employees to focus on business problems than to manage layers of people.
4. It used mathematical models to come up with the day’s schedule on the basis of the certain
inputs by the manager providing him with a realistic schedule and projected sales data.
5. Since the IT system allowed entering of inputs throughout the day, the system could revise its
projections and offer recommendations. It was not rigid. It also provided marketing support.
6. It allowed a proper inventory management and used mathematical models to prepare order for
supplies based on current sales projections.
7. Facilitated in making hiring decisions and had an application which could be used by employees
for taking tests to be eligible for promotions in line with the “promote from within” policy of
the company.
8. It tracked the financial performance of each company-owned outlet.
There are essentially two questions which need to be pondered upon while trying to understand the why
the company made record losses in 1988-apart from the basic reasons like competition, heavy
investments made for diversification etc. Firstly, had Mrs. Fields lost control over the company?
Secondly, was there an information overload because of MIS and had it become cornucopia? We
understand from the case that due to the transition phase there was a partial loss of control and due to
diversification, there were significant changes in the organizational and the financial structure and the
company was in a state of flux.
It is possible that the partial loss in control could be because the applications in the current MIS would
be required to be modified to meet the requirements of the newly acquired LPB which had some
different operations. Also, it is possible that the reduction in administrative staff in LPB from 53 to 3
would have adversely affected the updating of the MIS. MIS would function efficiently if data is
recorded properly and then the derived information is made available to the managers to take informed
decisions and plan their activities. Since the acquisition of LPB was unlike other acquisitions in the past
in terms of operations and design, this would require much more modifications done to the MIS in the
past to be able to regain full control over the company, something which an efficient MIS provides.