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6 Ways Best Buy's New President Defines Next-Gen IT

Former Starbucks CIO Stephen Gillett shows where IT leadership is headed--closer to the customer than ever.

If you want one sentence that captures the future of the CIO profession, consider this one, taken from Best Buy's recent announcement that it hired Stephen Gillett away from Starbucks to assume the newly created role of president of Best Buy digital and executive VP of global business services:

"Through his leadership of the enterprise's ecommerce businesses, information technologies and global shared services, Gillett will have oversight of the critical capabilities necessary to make technology a bigger part of the customer experience while enhancing operations and processes."

The future's all right there in one sentence. Business IT in the past has been about performance--using IT to optimize processes, increase efficiency, and automate tasks, with an internal focus. IT won't give up those responsibilities. But the big bang from IT, the factor that separates great companies from good ones, will increasingly come from improving customers' digital interactions with your company. The chief focus will be external.

But that's all conceptual. Here are six real-world examples from Gillett's new role at Best Buy and his teams' accomplishments at Starbucks that bring to life how the next-gen CIO and IT organization will be truly different.

1. Blend Digital And Physical Experience

Gillett's mandate includes getting people interacting with Best Buy through digital channels in new ways. In the past, this would have centered on improving the ecommerce site. Today, it also means using smartphone and tablet apps to improve the experience of shopping in a physical store.

Think of Starbucks, where Gillett's team created an in-store Wi-Fi network that provided free content like The Wall Street Journal and iTunes downloads, using a portal optimized for tablets and smartphones. It's a digital element that makes the experience of drinking coffee in a Starbucks better.

[ Want more on how IT is changing? Read 15 New Rules For IT To Live By. ]

Could Best Buy provide free tablet versions of Consumer Reports in its appliance section via in-store wifi, to make in-store shopping more appealing? Whatever it does under Gillett, these are the kinds of digital-plus-physical experiences shoppers will come to expect.

2. Blur Marketing and Tech, Without Killing Each Other

At Starbucks, Gillett's IT team worked closely with marketing and other departments to get things done. Starbucks also created a Digital Ventures business unit (which Gillett led as EVP of digital ventures, along with his CIO job) to drive initiatives that crossed marketing and IT boundaries. As Gillett said in a December interview: "If I take the digital capability and put it under engineering or IT, even with the best of intentions, it becomes heavily influenced by the technology initiatives. And if I take the same function and put it under a marketing function, it will inherently be dictated by the cadence of a marketing campaign. We needed it to have the autonomy of its own destiny, of its own vision."

At Best Buy, Gillett is expected to help advance "the company's global digital strategy, digital marketing, entertainment offerings, multi-channel capabilities and business development," the announcement says. There are no neat lines here, so it'll take great leadership across the entire executive team to avoid turf wars.

3. Learn From Consumer Tech, But Serve Business Goals

IT leaders know employees want smartphone and social collaboration tools that are more like the iPhones and Facebook pages of their personal lives. But these steps work only if they have an explicit business goal and fit the company culture, not if they're done as a sop to the millennials.

One example at Starbucks: Gillett last fall launched the Tech Cafe, an area for employees inside Starbucks' Seattle headquarters that looked very much like an Apple store and is staffed by the IT help desk. It's for when employees need equipment or software fixed or replaced, but it’s also a very visible place they can go with ideas on how to use IT better.

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2012 | 2:16:52 PM
re: 6 Ways Best Buy's New President Defines Next-Gen IT
Wow, #5 hit me like a brick! We have been rolling out iPads to the Sales dept, but not a single soul has asked for getting ERP information onto the device!
I feel like the type of employees in a company can have a major influence on how much the devices become useful in a systems perspective. For example, a sales team that is experienced with and expects to be supported with ERP / CRM information at all times - frames much more meaningful projects / requests of IT as far as establishing those kinds of systems. That seems like a culture and hiring effectiveness issue.
That IT knows how to provide a better experience / solution is only half the battle if the users basically just do not know what they do not know. In that they have laptops and basically barely use them for those ERP / CRM purposes either - means they must be relying on manual processes.
You would think those depts bearing the load of the manual requests would be screaming for help too - but that has not happened yet either. Very sad in many ways.
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