Retail Technology Blog Series – 10 Reasons that keep CIOs awake

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We thought we’d give a view on a number of challenges facing CIOs in Retail organisations at present. There is no doubt that the role of the CIO is a tough one, but at the same time a very exciting and fulfilling role in a healthy organisation.

It’s at the heart of the business or should be and the Retail CIO should be a key player in any digital transformation. The definition of ‘digital’ is an interesting topic in its own right, but let’s take it to mean a change agenda that includes disruptive elements such as web, apps, social and their impact on the customer experience.

The modern CIO really does need to possess people skills, technology experience and courage in equal measure. They must be, and perceive themselves to be, a peer of other thought leaders in the organisation so that they can genuinely play a role as a business leader. This is a crucial point as technology is so ubiquitous that it is impacting pretty much all aspects of business growth and operations in a retail company.

So herein lies our first ‘keeps me awake at night’ item: business engagement.

Reason 1 – Business Engagement

The CIO will be focused on maintaining and developing business relationships at all levels of the organisation. Without proper engagement a CIO runs the risk of “the business” and “IT” working in silos, with little sensible interaction at best and at worst, a change agenda that is directed inaccurately potentially wasting precious budget. It is powerful to harness retail technology and retail technology services but only when they are targeted at the appropriate business need. We do not want “a solution looking for the problem”.

Another symptom of less than healthy business engagement is the evolution of a ‘shadow IT’ whereby business units will progress projects without any IT engagement until it is absolutely necessary and unavoidable. Think of projects procuring hardware devices or even business applications which have been made from budgets apart from IT, made in good faith but ultimately flawed.

So engagement is a constant concern and focus area, and the smart CIO will recognise that the leadership he or she provides is vital to the overall health of business engagement. The CIO’s actions can be worth a million times more than their words or PowerPoint bullet points! Developing a high performing team with attributes such as communication skills, constructive challenging, commercial savvy, business knowledge and curiosity as well as being able to multi-task and deal with ambiguity should be their goal.

Written by Martin Schofield & David Callow

Martin's early career covered a variety of IT roles at The Burton Group and Debenhams. He then spent four years at Burberry managing IT for the UK and European retail operations before moving on to Harvey Nichols in 2003 as Head of IT. At Harvey Nichols he was promoted to the main Board with responsibility for IT, Logistics and Retail. Martin has also worked for software organisations (Itim and NCR) before co-founding Retail247 in early 2015. Involved in many large scale and customer focused projects Martin brings a real world thinking, pragmatic approach to innovation and strategy.

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Martin Schofield

David’s early career was with Argos and then The Burton Group. He worked in a variety of technical roles before becoming Business Systems Controller at Debenhams in 1998. He has held senior IT roles at Debenhams including operating at CIO level. David has extensive experience in multi-channel, ecommerce and stores systems as well as back of house implementations in Data Warehousing, HR and Finance. In early 2015 David co-founded Retail 247 Consulting where he continues to exercise his problem solving skills.

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David Callow

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Rob Thain

Any CIO now needs to be able to translate the technology, and technical jargon, into language the business as a whole truly understands, using and advocating how technology is a key enabler on how the business achieves its overall goals. The more business engagement, and importantly alignment, the greater the chance of succeeding with these goals.

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David Callow

Completely agree Rob. The CIO needs to fulfil that role and engender that approach throughout his or her team.

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