Take the CIO Challenge: Five to Stay Alive
By Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting
Whether you’re in IT, or need to deal with IT, here’s a good exercise to keep your wits sharp…
You’re the new chief information officer at a venerable retailer — brought on board to “fix things up.” What are the first five steps you would take to meet your objective?
This scenario doesn’t come about every day but, when it does, it’s an open snake pit. Competing visions and old rivalries team up to make the new CIO’s job a real challenge.
Just getting to “the truth” can be a nightmare. Here is my list. Tell me what you think and add your own.
- Document all the KPI’s
- Take an application inventory
- Do an IT staff assessment
- Improve the gross margin
- Improve the customer experience
Before you do anything, you’re going to need benchmarks… to demonstrate what you’ve accomplished and justify your actions to both your management and your own department.
By identifying both your own department KPI’s (system down time, application bugs, updates installed, etc.) and your company’s (out of stocks, quality orders, PO discrepancies,
etc.) you will have the baseline against which to measure your successes.
Inventory all the existing applications and compare them to the industry standards. To identify urgent requirements, look to current FMI and NRF information on the current
state of the art. And consider functionality first; not technology. Technology takes a backseat at this stage because your first concern must be to give the business the tools
it needs to survive long enough to afford any technical upgrades you may want to do later. This is also a great opportunity to use the GCI Scorecard (www.globalscorecard.net
See Business Tip) that captures retailer capabilities. During this process you open up the dialogue
with your users and understand why they need your help. Since many applications are purchased, you need to understand both the contractual commitments and the quality of vendor
support for purchased applications.
This is not going to be easy. I think of the IT Staff as falling into four categories. The “A Players” are the ones who understand the job well and perform at an exceptional
level. These are the “red meat eaters” when it comes to technology and the ones you must “pamper” in order to succeed. These people may need to be given additional training
when the technology changes begin, but their knowledge of the company and the history that brought them to this point cannot be purchased.
The “C Players” are the ones who are not nearly as aggressive as the A’s and may not be technical geniuses. But as in most fields, IT has a lot of mundane tasks that don’t
require creativity but rather a commitment to getting the job done accurately. These are the last to go if you have to begin severe cut backs. It’s like they say: “You can fire
five vice presidents and not miss them but if you fire the maintenance crew, everyone knows the next day.”
Finally, there are the “B Players.” These are the people who have the creativity necessary to make innovations when given clear requirements from the users and the A Players.
This middle area is where IT must accommodate their labor budget requirements. The company can afford to cut back on B Players because they are not critical to the day-to-day
operation and are not the visionaries that are going to carry the company to new heights. In an ideal situation, these are the “hired guns,” consultants hired to complete specific
tasks while the permanent staff sets the vision and provides the continuity required to run the department.
(Hopefully the “D players” have been dealt with already.)
The simplest, most direct improvement you can make for your new organization is to help them boost their gross margins. Gross margin improvement does not require any organizational
changes and does not involve training a lot of people at warehouse or store level. This does not mean merely raising retails; it means “pricing smarter.” You can actually increase
gross margins and create or sustain a “low price perception” at the same time. Improved execution of price changes and more intelligent markdown decisions (small cuts early)
can go a long way to helping this effort.
The point here — what goes on in the store is the customer’s one perspective of your technology. If it is difficult to handle a return, or frequent shopper points are “always
screwed up,” this is the customer’s perspective of your technology. If the competition is able to offer discounts and continuity programs that your stores cannot, you are
sending your team out to play without the proper equipment. Some of these capabilities may have to be postponed until back office systems are upgraded, but by thinking about
them now and beginning the store upgrades needed, the stores will be ready when the back office is fixed.
Moderator’s Comment: What are your thoughts about my five and which ones would you change?
I have plenty more thoughts, but since I set five as the limit, I am at the end. Remember, in order to put in another one, you have to drop one of these.
Tell us what you would add and what you would remove. –
Bill Bittner – Moderator