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5 ways retail CIOs can future-proof their business

Sharon Goldman | May 24, 2017
You don't need to predict the future to prepare for it. The strategies outlined here will help you keep your organisation’s eye on the prize.

The retail CIO is facing a number of challenges in 2017. Budgets are tightening, the technology environment is rapidly shifting, the business has become more empowered to bypass IT, and brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to meet digitally-demanding consumer expectations.

At the same time, CIOs have a great deal of opportunity to help both the IT organization and the overall business not only keep pace with industry changes, but future-proof against thorny obstacles that may hold companies back. Here are five powerful ways the retail CIO can help keep the organization’s eye on the prize:


1. Find a balance between “Stop” and “Go”

When it comes to emerging technologies, many retailers get burned by ‘shiny object syndrome,’” says Peter Sheldon, VP of strategy at Magento Commerce and former Forrester Research analyst. “They jump on the bandwagon to invest in pilots without fleshing out the new technology on the maturity curve,” he explains. For example, it’s important to determine whether a new solution works within the reality of a physical brick and mortar environment, including bluetooth and WiFi adoption. At the same time, CIOs need to strike the right balance between being perceived as negative and unsupportive, while still being the voice of reason to the C-Suite. “They may need to encourage more restraint and say, ‘Let’s sit by sidelines on this one,” he says. “Retailers may believe digital transformation is key to saving the in-store sale, but what is the value proposition? Does it really improve the customer experience?”


2. Work with the business

The rise of other C-level positions, such as the Chief Digital Officer (CDO), who may be given responsibility for discovering the above-mentioned “shiny objects,” as well as increasingly powerful CMOs with large technology budgets, means the CIO may struggle to rein in spending that happens with or without the CIOs help. “The trend we see is that spend is getting bigger, if no one is reining in this fast growth path,” says Ricardo Belmar of InfoVista. However, a proactive CIO will reach out to work with the business to solve technology challenges while not holding the business back. “The successful CIOs will not be the person who says, 'No, we can’t do that,' it will one who is proactive and says ‘That’s a great idea; here’s how I think we should work together to implement it,” he explains. “The CIO can say, here’s three challenges we might have, but we know how to solve using technology — so let’s get it right the first time.”


3. Support continuous delivery

CIOs must have the right people, processes and products to support continuous delivery, says Rob Thomas, SVP, Global Research & Development at Manhattan Associates. In many cases, he explains, this may mean looking for partners that have products with all the necessary elements. This includes things like decoupled business components to support plug and play enhancements across the system; an extension model that allows for unique solutions and strategies while ensuring the core system components can be upgraded without downtime; and the ability to deploy in and leverage cloud environments that support rapid provisioning and horizontal scale. “With the right business agility, architectural agility, and people/partners, the company’s ability to create competitive advantage or react to a competitive threat with continuous delivery will put them in the position to create the future rather than react to it,” he says.


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