Location One Aldwych, London (6pm - 8pm)
PODCAST: Chris Howell, IT Director for Customer Systems of Dixons
At the latest Fieldworks event held in London on October 13, 2011, Chris Howell, IT Director for Customer Systems at Dixons – discussed the challenges facing the retail industry and how IT departments are adapting to the new world of retail and the challenge of multi-retail.
Chris spoke in detail on the ever-increasing pace of change and customers’ expectations, forcing retailers to provide a seamless multi-channel experience, and he noted that the IT department has to play two key roles to help achieve this:
The primary responsibility is to deliver the service; it’s a must-have, and IT departments need to take this responsibility seriously. A great deal of the digital economy is built on technologies. Data fills the shelves and ensures that products are there, and they have to be available all of the time. As a service provider, IT has an interesting function to play because it’s one of the few departments that has the opportunity, and responsibility, to say ‘no’ if need be.
The IT department has a responsibility to its customers, colleagues and shareholders to make sure that it is providing a safe environment, which is absolutely critical. In addition, data was always important in the supply chain to make sure products are in-store, but the algorithms and the processing are also now highly sophisticated and important to ensure that products are on the shelves. IT is absolutely embedded in both bricks and mortar and online, but it’s important to provide the right level of service – after all, not everything has to be open 24/7.
The second responsibility is for the IT department to play its part in being a transformative agent of change, which is all about people, innovation and adaptation, and the department needs both geeks and jacks (of all trades) to work together to deliver solutions.
The pace of change and customer demand are notoriously difficult to keep up with and, whilst internal changes are far more frequent and commonplace than they used to be, it’s still nowhere near fast enough. Unfortunately, due to many businesses being cash-strapped, the innovation and R&D areas have been diminished somewhat, but the IT department has to change its mindset from being purely a delivery function to being a transformative agent of change within the organisation. The end goal is to hopefully make the customer the bottleneck, and once the point is reached whereby there’s so much change that the customer is actually telling the IT departments to slow down, then its job is done.
Chris added that IT departments need to have a culture in which they believe they’re an equal party in the particular organisation they are in. Then, they have to collaborate – not only to achieve the best solution, but to clear the obstacles out of the way so that the good ideas can be put into practice without any effort required. No one has a monopoloy on ideas, let the whole company think up innovative solutions.
Chris joined Dixons Retail via Tesco.com in 2009, taking on the role of eCommerce Systems Director responsible for a full technical refresh of the eCommerce operation and development of the ongoing change programme. His role was expanded to incorporate all customer facing solutions in June 2010 and has since landed the solutions behind the new Knowhow brand as well as the ongoing change programmes in Retail, eCommerce, Marketing and Customer contact centres.