In the following interview, Louis Vuitton’s chief information officer (CIO) for the Asia Pacific, Loic Buelens, describes his role; the luxury conglomerate’s IT strategies, including its approach to leveraging new technology to raise the quality of its customer service; and what it means to be a CIO in the fashion industry.
Can you describe Louis Vuitton's philosophy and how this translates into its approach to IT?
Louis Vuitton's key focus is the customer. The company is dedicated to providing its customers the most thrilling experience while shopping, or even simply discovering our stores and exhibition area. As part of its customer centric philosophy, Louis Vuitton’s IT approach is thus designed to ultimately improve the customer experience. IT is a fully integrated component of Louis Vuitton's overall operations designed to adapt to its business needs and provide solutions to improve its business processes.
How is the company integrating technology successfully into its business processes?
Our main strategy is integrating technology that reduces the complexity of business processes and provides easy exchange of information to increase transparency.
One example is our fully integrated replenishment system, which enables timely and uncomplicated replacement of products. For instance, if a bag is purchased at any Louis Vuitton store worldwide, the purchase information will be integrated in our systems. The warehouses will then be informed of the need to stock up on the particular product. This system also gives the sales associates in the stores complete information visibility of products pertaining to their availability and quality.
Another example is our internal social network that was deployed to enable the different departments in Louis Vuitton to share information and exchange ideas easily and speedily.
How is Louis Vuitton embracing new technologies and strategies effectively?
We are fully embracing new technologies and strategies to effectively enhance the customer experience.
For instance, Louis Vuitton has launched a new website, which includes an application that allows customers to personalise some of the products on their tablet devices. This interactive application has resonated very well with our customers.
We also use Facebook, Twitter, and permanently interact with bloggers around the world. We use social media to engage our customers, and inform them about new products, events and store openings, as well as a platform to receive feedback.
How do you define your role as the CIO of Louis Vuitton in the Asia Pacific? What does it mean to be a CIO in the industry?
As a regional CIO, my role involves being the link between the head office and the regional corporate offices. My role is essentially like a facilitator – bridging the communication between the main headquarters and the Asia Pacific departments. It involves informing the headquarters of the requirements and the constraints pertaining to the region’s IT capabilities, as well as identifying processes where technology can be integrated to improve efficiency for the divisions across the region.
It is not a job that allows you to sit behind the desk and just deliver projects and support. It requires responsibility for overseeing multiple departments. This means going to the various departments across the region and understanding what systems work best for them and implementing solutions accordingly. Sometimes, this means having to challenge and counter the existing business processes, and propose alternative methods.
More importantly, being a CIO is this industry requires passion for the job and the brand.
Can you describe your leadership style? What qualities do you look for in aspiring IT protégés?
You better ask my team!
On a serious note, I believe I'm a very demanding and challenging leader. I am also very fast-paced and appreciate when things are done on time. I want to stay aware of everything pertaining to my job as well as the industry. At the same time, I expect strong autonomy from the team and to be challenged by them too.
Some of the important qualities for me are business awareness, the ability to listen to others, autonomy, and more than anything else, common sense.
What are the top challenges and opportunities on the horizon?
The top challenge will be to face the growth pace requirements without disrupting the business. Due to our growth and determination to improve our systems, we have deployed multiple projects at the same time, thus we have to make sure that we have enough resources too. So the challenge will also be to find and recruit the right talent.
As for the opportunities, the centralisation of support activities in Singapore, which started a year ago, should now give us more flexibility and allow us to be more efficient. More importantly, this will give the local team more time on their hands to focus on aligning new technology with business needs.
What key IT priorities are shaping your agenda for 2012 and beyond?
The key focus is on mobility and integrating new technology. We will continue to find the best combination of technology such as tablets and NFC (near field communication) to enhance service and the customer experience. It's what we call Innovative Retail.
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