Today's CIOs Should Find Change as Normal

Josh Jewett, SVP-IT/CIO, Family Dollar Stores
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Josh Jewett, SVP-IT/CIO, Family Dollar Stores

The introduction of consumer grade mobile devices into the enterprise can transform store operations. Retailers like us have stores all over the country. In our case, we have district managers responsible for 18-23 stores. This person is the definition of road warrior. He or she might be in Cedar Rapids, Orlando, or the Bronx. While these road warriors have had laptops for 15 years, we recently decided to issue them iPhones and iPads and to reclaim their laptops. These mobile devices are designed to be easier to use, to power-up quickly, and to be more portable. Unlike the laptop, these characteristics enable them to be part of every routine activity conducted by this management team. Moreover, since the consumer marketplace has clearly chosen these devices as the preeminent mobile devices, we are giving them the same devices at work that they enjoy in their personal life. This makes them more likely to adopt these devices to perform their work.

The real transformational opportunity, however, comes from the applications themselves. In order to eliminate their laptops, we have had to shift the functions they used to perform on the laptops to their iPhones and iPads. The beauty of this is that rewriting the applications gives you an opportunity to re-engineer them. If you do it right, you can make the work more efficient and streamlined. Moreover, you can’t just shrink down what they used to do on laptop and put it on the iPhone or iPad. You have to think more like an ATM machine vs. a PC. To be efficient, there can’t be more than 2-3 choices. You also need to leverage organic tools and controls native to iOS. You need to navigate with swipe, pinch or spread to zoom. If you embrace all the aspects of the new development environment when you convert functions to these new devices, you can really transform the experience and improve the quality of their work. This can be revolutionary if done right.

Big Data and Analytics: Transforming In-Store Experience for Retailers

Across our 8,000+ stores, we have a number of different formats. We are always experimenting with changing the layout of fixtures and merchandise in our stores. In addition to interviewing customers on their experience, leveraging analytics is crucial to determine the success of such new formats. We retain basket information for each store for multiple years. Once we’ve identified a format we’d like to assess, we create a test and control group and measure the performance before and after the changes we’ve introduced. We have recently experimented with anonymous cell phone tracking to aid in this analysis. Most cell phones try to access available Wi-Fi or blue tooth devices constantly. This can be used to map customer patterns within stores. This activity is passive and the consumer remains totally anonymous, yet you are able to determine what aisles they visit and where they dwell. If you compare this to POS data, you can infer whether poor sales of an item is due to customers never visiting that part of the store or whether they aren’t interested in the item. This is truly transformational for retailers.

Preeminent Retail technology Trends in 2015

Image and video analytics are going to continue to transform re­tail operations. Most retailers deploy camera systems. In­creasingly, their im­ages and videos can be harvested to under­stand compliance with planogram assignments, whether customer queues are being managed well at registers, and what portions of the store customers visit. This technology continues to improve and c omp u t i n g power allows the analysis of large vol­umes of im­ages and videos in aggregate to determine trends and patterns. This can only lead to improved retailer execution and better customer service.

Extensive role of a CIO

The retail industry has certainly had its ups and downs over recent years. As a CIO, you need to keep your head on a swivel. At times, you are called on to reduce cost, hunker down, make more with less, and enhance the bottom line within your cost center and others. Then, within days it seems, you can be called upon to make strategic investments in hopeful digital and social programs designed to grow top line or improve the customer experience. It is a challenging profession! This volatility in the imperatives of the CIO role did not exist in the past. CIOs need to be flexible and adaptive to change in order to be successful.

“Most cell phones try to access available Wi-Fi or blue tooth devices constantly. This can be used to map customer patterns within stores”

The CIO must be flexible and adaptive. He or she must be a business leader first, and a technician second. He or she must be an excellent communicator, and must understand change is normal, not abnormal. Most on your team won’t see change as normal. They will want the world to be consistent and predictable. That is not the case. The world of the 5-year strategic plan is gone. You need to have a vision, an ideal end state in mind, and make decisions along the way consistent with that dream. You also need to accept that life isn’t perfect and that your dreams may not ever be fully realized. Stay optimistic, however. If you don’t think it can be done, none on your team will either.

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