The advantages of data-driven business processes are legion, especially in the case of updating legacy IT. In an article by Charles Babcock for InformationWeek, Wal-Mart CIO Karenann Terrell talks about her experiences and lessons learned with data analysis at the world’s biggest retailer. Suffice to say, IT has played no small part in their climb to the top.
“Classic,” not Legacy
When it comes to Wal-Mart, Babcock begins by explaining:
Data drives inventory systems for the movement of goods and placement of goods in individual stores, in an effort to ensure merchandise will be available where the demand occurs…Wal-Mart collects large amounts of data that it needs to constantly analyze in order to stay abreast of retail trends.
The switch from Terrell’s old job at $15 billion pharmaceutical giant Baxter International to the $500 billion Wal-Mart helped her highlight some key areas that differentiate the retail sector in terms of IT. She notes that compared to that of Baxter, the data-driven business processes at the retail giant exceeded even her greatest expectations.
Terrell uses the term “classic” instead of legacy out of respect for those who must “keep the lights on” while IT units undergo modernization. She jokes about the difficulty of finding and retaining talent to help companies like hers make the transition from legacy to modern IT.
Terrell describes the upgrading of Wal-Mart’s systems as a “lifelong venture” that consists of a continuous build-and-operate cycle as new technologies wash over one another like waves on a beach. She sees no conceivable end date for technology revision at her company or elsewhere, saying “the minute we roll through a modernization of that, we’ll see new trends in technology and new capabilities emerge.”
The Need to Compete
With a motivation to compete and to constantly lower prices for customers, Wal-Mart is determined to optimize its IT unit for speed and efficiency. To achieve this, IT staff frequently trade positions to gain exposure and insight. And though it is the world’s largest retailer, the ability to work speedily and at scale is what keeps Wal-Mart competitive against its many smaller counterparts. Your IT outfit can surely take away some solid advice from their example.