BrainTrust Query: Who Really Needs a CIO?
We’ve seen a huge change in the role of the internal IT department as retailers have gone from building their own solutions to buying prepackaged software and services. As cloud computing introduces more alternatives to in-house solutions, the role of the internal department moves further from software design and development toward software support and implementation. More emphasis is being put on interpersonal skills and the ability to organize and manage projects and less on understanding the “magic behind the curtain,” i.e., developing software to run unique business processes.
As retailers turn to applications built on more sophisticated platforms, much more of the development effort is spent on the “touch and feel” of the application — the machine to human interface. The technology used to integrate with different PC platforms, tablets, smartphones and touch screens is the same across many applications. It’s analogous to what biologists have learned about genes in chimpanzees and humans; that 98.5 percent of the code is the same. The unique portion of an application that creates a list of the items in a retailer’s catalog or optimizes a work schedule for a selecting shift in the warehouse is only 1.5 percent of the development effort. It simply does not make sense to have staff devoted to developing this internally.
Without internal development, retailers no longer need to manage development processes. By using software as a service and purchasing solutions rather than developing them, retailers can get results more quickly and reduce their ongoing overhead. It seems that the remaining processes fall more under the traditional role of the human resources department. HR is where the change agents reside who can focus on training and organization modifications required to adapt to newly purchased applications.
So what does a CIO do when they realize the best thing for their organization is to dissolve their own department? I am being a little facetious, but only a few technicians are required to integrate the input and output of various applications. Under the eyes of a project manager, independent contractors hired for specific projects can provide these skills. The modern retail CIO may very well be a project manager who reports to the HR.
Discussion Questions: How is the role of the CIO changing in big retailer organizations? Do you see a lot of the responsibilities traditionally assigned to CIOs moving over to human resources departments? Will in-house IT development ever go away completely?