By  on January 12, 2005

In 2005, retail chief information officers will spend their days irked and amused, inspired and confused, held accountable for the unpredictable and measuring the intangible. No win? No way.Though technology simplifies tasks and communications for everyone except those charged with juggling it all, cio’s embrace this Gordian knot. When centrally managed systems gave way to today’s decentralized computing, the knot’s threads became finer, tighter and more numerous to enfold an intricate network of older workhorse technology and newer analytical tools. Achieving harmony in so diverse an environment is getting increasingly tough.

That’s only the technology part. Inject ever-changing processes and people issues into the mix and it guarantees to add up to a year filled with promises, challenges, surprises and opportunities like no other, according to six retail technology executives who spoke with WWD.

Managing customer data properly is crucial, they said. Radio frequency identification can wait, but must be watched, they agreed. Demystifying the rapidly shifting technology marketplace cannot wait. A robust systems infrastructure is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must. Sarbanes-Oxley instills angst, but has an upside. Projects must deliver a return on investment if cio’s are to regain credibility lost in the dot-com craze. New technology, such as customer relationship management and wireless communications, promise great benefits, but can easily backfire, alienating shoppers and breaching security.

The six executives who dissected the issues, in separate interviews, included Phillip Maxwell, senior vice president, cio, Neiman Marcus Group; Ron Ehlers, vice president, information services, Pacific Sunwear of California; Peter Burrows, senior vice president, cio, Reebok International; Paul McFarren, senior vice president, cio, United Retail Group; Jeffrey Orton, cio and vice president of logistics, Wilsons The Leather Experts, and Michael Stanek, chief financial officer, Northern Group Retail.Cio’s Adapt to Regain Credibility

The cio’s role is evolving so rapidly that the only absolute consensus is that it is no longer what it used to be. Retail’s technology czars once occupied an ivory tower from which they dictated certain technologies should be adopted. Unsophisticated users of technology were in no position to challenge their decisions.

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