The Rush Of Being A Retail CTO

by Julia Fernandes    Aug 18, 2004

CIOs lack the business mindset that is so crucial to survive and rise above the crowd in today’s dynamic changing business and technology environment, feels Unni Krishnan T.M., Chief Technology Officer, solutions and technology team, Shopper’s Stop.

In a candid interview with CXOtoday, the soft spoken and reticent Krishnan shared some of the typical concerns and issues faced specifically in the retail industry, while also speaking about the popular retail major’s IT interests.

Krishnan first began by speaking about the inherent challenges a CIO faces in the retail industry. Says Krishnan, “In the retail industry every transaction and each customer experience matters a lot. At any given time we have to ensure that a hundred to a thousand merchandise is available in stock and in season. And it is here, that IT essays a key role in ensuring profit maximization.”

Exemplifying his view hypothetically, he continued, “For e.g., in the case of a manufacturing industry, the margin between a dealer and a manufacturer for a car that costs Rs five lakhs would fluctuate between Rs 50,000 to Rs one lakh. However, in the retail industry, for every sale of Rs 100 on a single product, the margin is razor thin.”

“Moreover, the transaction volume as compared to a manufacturing industry is phenomenonal,” stated Krishnan.

Outlining the qualities every CIO should possess, Krishnan felt that CIOs should develop and sharpen their business acumen. Additionally, they should be able to grasp and understand how business processes are related to the application of any technology in any part of the world. “CIOs severely lack a business mindset; being too technology focused can prove to be a hindrance, if CIOs fail to adequately grasp the finer nuances of an evolving business environment,” claims Krishnan.

The Raheja-group promoted Shoppers Stop has to its credit 15 stores spread across nine cities in India. Talking about the company’s IT focus, Krishnan disclosed, “Our current aim is to utilize and scale our existing applications to newer areas and functions.”

Revealing the retail company’s well-knit technology structure, Krishnan stated that the company has in place a retail ERP solution from JD Armstrong (JDA) that resides on IBM servers running AS/400 and a DB2 database.

The JDA, which caters to two vital functions: buying and merchandising, also interfaces with a B2B portal, that fulfills the information needs of their supply chain partners. Developed by Siemens, the portal also talks to Oracle 11i, through bridges developed in-house. “JDA enables us to manage our entire supply chain in an integrated manner on all our enterprise applications,” affirmed Krishnan.

Surprisingly, the company uses an adventurous mix of varied operating systems right from IBM and Linux down to the entire Windows family.

Remarked Krishnan, “Our IT team is trained to adopt a very focused approach. We first identify and analyze the business problem, followed by evaluation of the right solution. Finally, we marry the right technology with the areas of concern. So, despite the fact that we run multiple operating systems, it has been smooth and harmonious.”

Krishnan raised a very genuine concern on Linux. He felt that India is losing out in the Linux race as compared to the developed world. According to him, the industry is not doing sufficient work for promotion of Linux locally. “Linux lacks the critical mass appeal, due to shortage of resources in our country,” he concluded.

Tags: Retail