IT chief in Asda U-turn

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ASDA has been forced to sweeten the terms and conditions of its key information technology director's job after he tendered his resignation in the middle of an overhaul of the supermarket giant's entire computer systems.

Philip Langsdale left the Leeds-based retailer several months ago after receiving what he calls "a very attractive offer" from a rival firm in London where his family lives.

But in an unusual U-turn he decided to stay put two months later after Asda's chief executive, Archie Norman, agreed to his demands for a broader role covering operational activities in the south of England. As a result, he will be spending considerably less time at the Leeds headquarters.

"It is a peculiar situation," he admitted, "but it is very much Asda policy to get out to the stores."

Losing Mr Langsdale would have been a serious blow to Asda, which is in the middle of three-year, pounds 70m programme designed to bring its ageing systems up to those of its big three competitors, Tesco, J Sainsbury and Argyll-owned Safeway.

Asda makes no secret of the fact that existing logistics are not up to scratch. Successfully overhauling all its IT systems is considered vital if it is to improve distribution and drive profits forward over the next few years.

Mr Langsdale denied that he had been overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task at hand, or the demanding timescale. The two-month hiatus between his resignation and its withdrawal had not affected the overhaul of the computer network, he insisted.

However, his decision to leave in the first place will inevitably fuel speculation that all is not well with Asda's stock control and management information systems as the new, purpose-built technology is introduced.

"There have been hiccups," Mr Langsdale admitted, "but there have also been major successes. We are proceeding at an immense pace and have moved to parity with our competitors."

In the next 18 months, all existing computers in Asda's stores will be replaced with more powerful equipment. New systems support and management information software is also being installed. The new systems include automated cash handling, sales-based ordering, daily store trading management information and systems that incorporate staff scheduling at check-out tills, attendance and pay.