By Joe Skorupa
Last week Dave Weinand, publisher of RIS News, and I had the honor of handing out the first annual RIS Retail CIO of the Year Awards to five talented executives for helping guide their organizations through one of the toughest business environments in decades. During these challenging times it was the retail CIO’s job to help organizations stay productive, profitable and relevant to shoppers.
The awards fall into four categories. Three were open to nominations and one was an Editor’s Choice. The categories that received nominations were:
- Innovation: Awarded to the CIO that implemented an emerging technology that drove ROI through top-line growth, improved customer satisfaction, or increased bottom line savings. A tie occurred in this category and two CIOs were given awards.
- Strategic Impact: Awarded to the CIO that implemented a project that is advancing the company in a new direction, market or channel.
- Rookie of the Year: Awarded to the CIO that made a significant contribution to the organization in the first year on the job.
Career Achievement, the last category, was awarded to the CIO that made a significant contribution to the organization and the industry for a minimum of 15 years. This award was selected by the RIS editorial team.
RIS received 19 qualified nominations that were the result of filling out an exhaustive list of 13 questions detailing the reasons and projects that drove business value to the organization. The questions focused on the following areas:
- Technologies used to accomplish business goals
- Areas of business that benefitted from nominated IT projects
- Current status of nominated IT projectsROI timeframe for the projects
Judges for the 2011 RIS Retail CIO of the Year were: Robert Fort, CIO for Guitar Center; Greg Girard, program director for IDC Retail Insights; Eric Olson, vice president of education strategies for the NRF; Lynn Olson, CEO of The Innovation Group; and Joe Skorupa, editor-in-chief of RIS News.
And the Winners for Innovation Are
The 2011 RIS Retail CIO of the Year award winner in the Innovation category is Jon Kubo, CIO for The Wet Seal. Kubo has come to be known as one of the visionaries in retail technology and was cited in 2010 by Oracle as CIO of the Year.
One of the interesting things about Kubo is that he brings the force of his technology knowledge and business acumen to the mission of improving the shopping experience. Some CIOs assume more of an enabler role for corporate objectives, but Jon takes it a step further and drives customer centricity to improve brand awareness, engagement and sales.
The Wet Seal laid the foundation for a social selling and mobile strategy in 2008 with the development of a Fashion Community on Wetseal.com and Facebook, where shoppers build, tag, share, rate and purchase outfits through a personalized boutique. Wet Seal extended this to an iPhone application called iRunway in 2009 to allow customers access to a library of user-generated outfits and ratings while using their iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. The iRunway app also creates a cross-channel strategy by providing customers with the ability to scan an item in the store and be shown styles generated and rated by other consumers.
In 2009, Wet Seal also enabled a mobile optimized website making it easy for consumers to instantly shop Wet Seal products and find store locations. It has become the centerpiece for an innovative mobile marketing effort. Using the site, consumers can search the Wet Seal catalog, see the latest fashions and buy directly from any smartphone including iPhone/iPod Touch, Android, and BlackBerry devices. In 2009 the iRunway app was a winner of the first annual Mobile App of the Year award presented by RIS.
Under Kubo’s direction, e-commerce business revenue has increased more than 10-fold despite a sluggish economy. Since enabling Fashion Community and iRunway, the concept has generated roughly 20% of revenue at WetSeal.com and consumers have created more than 750,000 outfits. Online shoppers who view these outfits have a 20% higher average order and 40% higher conversion.
And, Wet Seal is still seeing growing results from this effort as more people access the mobile app while in the store. Over 85% of styles carried by Wet Seal are contained in user-generated outfits and users view between 500,000 to 1 million outfits per week using the iRunway app.
Due to the tie that occurred in this category the second Retail CIO of the Year award for Innovation is Carla Moradi, a divisional vice president and CIO of Walgreens Enterprise Shared Services.
For the last four years, Carla and her team at Walgreens have been working on a strategy to become the “Store of the Future” that will significantly change the store and pharmacy experience for the consumer.
The foundation of the strategic vision started with an upgrade in the IT infrastructure at each of the 7,500 stores. The Walgreens team spent three years looking for a platform that would allow them to fundamentally change how POS systems are implemented, mobilize clinicians and pharmacists with streaming technologies, provide dynamic shelf-edge labels and pricing, and enable interactive healthcare kiosks with future expansion into video analytics to better serve the customer.
Combining a virtualization solution with a modular, integrated platform, Walgreens has been able to achieve power reductions through server consolidation and significantly improve manageability and serviceability of its stores. A key component of this solution is the adoption of solid state drive technology that has reduced failures by 10 fold and improved application performance by fivefold.
Patient records are now pulled up with no delay allowing faster processing of prescriptions and reduced wait times. Using tablet devices, a mobile clinician can roam the store and provide guidance to customers about medications, with encrypted data streaming to the tablet from the server. The new store infrastructure also enables wireless access for customers, in case they need to call up information while they wait to see one of the new on-site nurse practitioners.
The end result is a suite of technologies and innovations that act seamlessly together to begin moving Walgreens toward its goal of becoming the “Store of the Future.”
Strategic Impact Winner
The 2011 RIS Retail CIO of the Year award winner in the Strategic Impact category is Mike Relich, executive vice president and CIO for Guess Inc. Guess is a powerful global fashion brand that is expanding product lines, growing its core business and taking control of its global distribution. While many of its competitors struggled during the recession, Guess more than tripled sales and has grown from $637 million in 2004 to $2.1 billion in 2010.
With a sourcing team in Asia and designers in the U.S. and Europe all working on aggressive deadlines, Guess needs up-to-date information and collaborative processes that help employees make the right decisions more quickly. This can include shifting to a less expensive shade of dye or identifying and dropping garments early in the development cycle that will be too expensive to make.
To streamline this effort Relich launched a product lifecycle management initiative in 2007, and, as the business evolved with increasing complexity and ever-shorter cycles, the system was upgraded to enable improved vendor collaboration, complex costing and sourcing, and personalized access for each user’s role. The system provides a single version of the truth so that the product development team, sourcing teams and vendors are all on the same page at the same time from concept to purchase order. The end result is a global solution that speeds products to market, streamlines workflows, and meets margin requirements.
Relich was nominated four times in multiple categories, which clearly demonstrates he is considered a leader among his retail CIO peers.
Rookie of the Year
The 2011 RIS Retail CIO of the Year award winner in the Rookie of the Year category is William Wood, CIO of Brookstone. Before geekiness became cool and ingenious gadgets took over the world, Brookstone was already selling innovative, hard-to-find consumer products through catalogs. Brookstone was ideally positioned to serve those who followed the motto “He who has the most toys wins.” Today, the privately held retailer has 305 stores and its products fall into the travel, entertainment, technology and wellness categories.
Although Bill Wood has been at Brookstone for about a year, he has been leading several big projects. One of these is in the area of supply chain execution, DC/warehouse management and fulfillment. The retailer had been well equipped to serve its stores, wholesale customers and shoppers in the pre-omni-channel environment, but in an era characterized by channel proliferation the warehouse management system installed in 2001 needed upgrading.
The upgrade had to accommodate the shift toward global business, creating joint value with partners, and directly touching customers through better service and reduction of stock outs. The new system is able to do this by achieving near real-time order management, improved competitive positioning, value creation, and task management.
In addition to this project Bill was tasked with upgrading the existing e-commerce platform, which was critical to a planned Web business expansion. The new platform’s goals include avoiding site downtime, scalable state of the art functionality, capabilities for social and mobile applications, and new forms of digital payment. At a cost of over $2 million dollars, this project is a cornerstone for the company’s overall success.
The 2011 RIS Retail CIO of the Year award winner in the Career Achievement category is Don Courtney, president of e-commerce for The Finish Line. Don Courtney started at Finish Line in 1988 and began by heading up distribution and logistics before becoming CIO. Today, distribution and logistics are major areas of strength at the Finish Line.
However, one day in 2002 things became grim at a major DC, which had been hit by a tornado. The DC had to be completely rebuilt under Courtney’s direction and it has become a state-of-the-art facility that has won industry awards.
Two years ago The Finish Line needed someone to transform its digital business division and Don switched gears to take on the task and become president of e-commerce. Recently Courtney’s team moved The Finish Line into launching a mobile website and Android and iPhone apps all leveraging a single platform.
But more than anything else, Courtney is a smart and fair leader, according to those who work for him, who has an open door for anyone to enter and talk about ideas or debate issues, and these hallmarks have been keys to his longevity and success.
Courtney is passionate about exercise, hiking and bicycling, and recently colleagues at The Finish Line have been involved in a workout program called Insanity. Courtney gets a lot of kidding for being the old guy in the group, but he is the one who outpaces the kids.
Courtney is a long time member of the RIS Editorial Advisory Board who rarely missed a meeting. He embodies the sharing, interactive spirit of the Editorial Advisory Board and everyone who attends the closed-door meetings values his opinions and comments.