The role of the Chief Information Officer needs to evolve in the coming years in order to enable the retail sector to make the most of innovation opportunities.

Innovation in the Retail Sector Ought to be Driven by CIOs

2014 should be the year when Chief Information Officers at retail sector companies start to play a greater role in implementing innovation strategies. This is a key finding of a paper entitled The Global Agenda of Retail CIOs, commissioned by multinational information technology company Tata Consultancy Services from independent technology and market research company Forrester Consulting. A majority of the 192 senior business and IT executives at global retailers worldwide who were surveyed for the report say they are currently hampered by the fact that their firms do not place innovation at the top of their list of priorities. Some 64% of the respondents said that reducing costs will be the number one priority for their company in the coming years, compared with 38% who say that driving innovation will take top spot. The Forrester analysts argue that if CIOs are to become the instigators of the drive towards innovation, these managers ought to be playing a more central role in their companies.

CIO: a job undergoing evolution?

The TCS-Forrester study throws up three key points for Chief Information Officers. First and foremost they must become true strategists rather than mere service providers. The Forrester analysts deplore the fact that at the present time CIOs are too focused on cost reduction and back office issues. Secondly, since they have a unique enterprise-wide view on cross-channel data, CIOs should use it to drive cross-functional collaboration, using Big Data analytics to provide ‘customer-centric actionable insights’. Thirdly, given their accumulated knowledge and experience of the field, they ought to be playing a key role in the digitisation of their company’s value chain, argue the Forrester consultants.

Many obstacles to surmount

However, the CIOs responding to the survey reckon that they will have to overcome a variety of obstacles on the way to creating this type of organisation. Firstly, a shortage of qualified people at the company is a real issue, with 67% of the retail CIOs polled saying that attracting new talent will be a major priority over the next three to five years. Secondly, companies in this sector are currently failing to capitalise on the Big Data they collect by speedy analysis. This slows down the CIOs’ work processes and reduces their capacity to be innovation creators. In fact 68% of the survey respondents admit that they are not maximising the value of Big Data.

By Aurore Geraud
Senior Editor & Analyst