Brendan Moylan was dissatisfied. Moylan is chief operating officer of Sports Endeavors, in Hillsborough, N.C., a $26-million direct marketer of soccer and lacrosse supplies. The fast-growing Inc. 500 company uses mail-order software to track orders, customers, and inventory. For years Moylan had relied heavily on his software vendor's expertise and technical support. But by 1994 he was unhappy with the service he was getting and decided it was time to switch.

The ensuing software conversion, says Moylan, "was an absolute nightmare." Like many other young companies, Sports Endeavors had been doing without a management-information-systems director. During the conversion Moylan found out the hard way that he needed one. Although he had scheduled the change for the slow season, the transition dragged on into the company's busiest time ever: during the 1994 World Cup. When the new system went live, it directed employees looking for products to the wrong areas of the warehouse. The company fell about two weeks behind in order fulfillment, Moylan estimates. With stressed-out employees and angry customers, Sports Endeavors lost some $3 million in business.

Now the 325-employee company has a new MIS director and even an MIS department, as Moylan vows to develop more in-house expertise. As for the former software supplier, it appears Moylan made a prescient, if painful, decision. About a month after the conversion decision, Sports Endeavors got a fax from the old vendor -- announcing its abrupt withdrawal from the software business.