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Inside Coles' technology transformation

Nadia Cameron | July 10, 2014
Coles CIO, Conrad Harvey, is an advocate for helping your business peers see technology as an opportunity to drive transformation.

"If IT foists outcomes onto teams and business leads, inevitably you get a sub-optimal outcome," he says. "While IT plays a pivotal role in informing people of new trends, technologies and opportunities, it's crucial we make sure the solution, as it is formed, delivered and then run, has to be owned by the right person and right function in Coles."

This view extends to the question of who owns digital, as well as the rise of the marketing function in technology purchasing and implementation. Harvey downplays any questions about who should be responsible for the technology or leading the way, saying the impetus should be efficiency and customer delivery.

"Like many things, it's tempting to look for the conflict, but if you just focus on the win-win, the roles just naturally evolve themselves. My head of digital and loyalty systems gets on exceptionally well with the head of digital marketing, and the two understand how they can add value to each other. We're not spending the time arguing who should be doing what."

Where Harvey has placed his emphasis is on helping marketing to move from solving problems one by one, to building platforms people can use to solve problems at scale and more efficiently.

"IT should be helping marketing evolve the platforms, tools and assets it can deploy in the digital space, making it easier to exploit the opportunity to be had in digital," he says. "Choosing and prioritising those assets is a two-way conversation.

Digital is not purely about the colour of the screen on the website, it's what assets we as a company should be building that allow us to leverage multiple marketing initiatives and across multiple touch points.

"To do this, we always try to tie up our messages across all customer platforms, so that whenever an opportunity arises — for example the One Direction competition — we are building a reusable asset for when those opportunities arise in future, and so we have the capability to do another competition."

Being a CIO

While he's comfortable on the strategic high ground and being a business-led executive, Harvey doesn't believe this should take away from the day-to-day operational role CIOs need to continue playing in their organisation. In fact, he believes anyone who says CIO shouldn't have a focus on the day-to-day operations of IT are actually diminishing the role's importance.

"The reality is the most important noise in my working life is the beep made every time someone scans a product at our checkout," he says.

"One of the most enjoyable things about being a CIO is that you have to balance real day-operational decisions and trade-offs against thinking about what system and platform I am going to need in three or five years' time. I wouldn't trade that for anything because it helps keep the role real.


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