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The New Mandate of the Fashion CIO

Fri, Oct 31, 2014

Digital Fashion

Adapting to the relentless pace of today's technology has become a critical challenge for fashion organizations. Foremost on the hot seat is the IT department, facing increasing pressure as they scramble to implement the latest technology innovations, while simultaneously ensuring that existing Business Applications and IT infrastructure is running smoothly.

As new technologies bring more agility to an organization's operations, the Fashion CIO is now confronted with growing tensions, conflicted with these two fundamental forces; knowing that the success of the organization hinges upon stability and business innovation. This has spurred the need for the IT department to take on a more proactive role and deliver on the transformational agendas that a business requires. 

Driving Business Transformation with IT

Digital technologies - the cloud, social media, mobile and data analytics - are disrupting the way businesses work across all industries. While they have irrefutably changed the ways in which consumers engage with fashion companies, they have also opened up new opportunities.

With the potential to influence fashion business directly, new possibilities that technology brings to the table have fundamentally reinterpreted the role of the IT department and the CIO as a whole. No longer is the IT department recognized as a service provider; instead IT leaders are striving to add more to the businesses by facilitating business change.

In the hunt for new business models to close the gap triggered by the new technology wave, the key question today’s Fashion CIOs have to ask is “How can our company grow in sync with the rapid pace of technology?”

According to a Gartner report, 65% know that IT departments in their existing form will not survive by 2020. In fact, 40% anticipate such change to happen sooner, possibly within the next three years, and nearly half are already acclimatizing with the idea that they will no longer manage a team that offers a service to the company, but one that will directly add value to the success of the company.

As we enter a threshold of what could be the golden age for technology, this whole new spectrum of technologies, merged together, offers even greater potential that could transform a fashion company into a game-changer. As the key person to tap into these technologies and introduce them to a company, the Fashion CIO now has a new mandate: to be the key enabler for business innovation.

The Biggest Concerns for CIOs

With today’s focus mainly on customer experience, it is no surprise that mobility, big data and analytics leads as the topmost priorities for a retail organization, followed by ERP, Cloud Computing, Collaboration Tools and Process Automation. Given the top-line potential of such initiatives, today’s CIO needs to understand and identify how IT can be applied in new ways to the business - to convert such ventures into revenue streams, improve operational efficiency and reduce costs throughout the company.

In this world of dynamic technology advancements, it is essential that the CIO has a decisive say in where a fashion or retail business is headed. Yet in many cases, CIOs are finding it demanding to manage both the IT needs and the innovation agenda of the organization at the same time.

The shift in the CIO role, although opens up new streams for generating revenue, and drives the much-needed push towards IT-enabled business innovation, has brought on its share of challenges. One of the principal hurdles remains the daily concerns of running IT.  A significant proportion of CIOs and their teams still focus on delivering routine IT services, including maintenance activities that involve their existing SAP applications, which makes it difficult to move into areas that need more attention.

The most common barrier in this case of conflicting IT priorities is the lack of resources. Fashion companies often have difficulties in finding people with the right combination of technology skills and business acumen. CIO’s already have their hands full with the need to keep pace with innovation and drive the business towards a more comprehensive digital transformation; challenges such as infrastructure issues, talent management and continuous alignment with business goals often end up consuming the entire IT department.

With the deluge of challenges facing fashion CIOs, companies are now turning to Application Managed Service Partners to ease the burden and better confront these hurdles. Managed Service Providers help with many issues, and by keeping IT operations running smoothly, the organization is better positioned to compete in the industry. This is echoed in a new Forrester study, which illuminates the evolving IT landscape revealing findings that indicate that by year 2015, IT projects handled by the IT department will decline by 47% with a rise in a number of CIO-led collaborative ventures with external vendors.

The Fashion CIO of the Future

Fashion CIOs are now compelled to make their mark and unleash new technology that will differentiate a fashion business from their competitors, instead of spending most of their time automating the back office. IT has certainly pervaded to one of the core strategies in the Fashion industry and as companies actively pursue IT-enabled business innovation throughout their organizations, the CIOs have a mandate to innovate. The business-driven CIOs will be a key part in the overall strategy of a fashion organization – empowering and reshaping the operating model to be better aligned with today’s technology evolution.

Customer Sentiment, Social Analytic, Big Data