Byline: Matt Nannery — Technology Editor, DNR

What’s in a name? Precious little, in Shakespeare’s view.
But a shift in the nomenclature for retailer computer departments speaks volumes about the pivotal role information is playing in retailing today.
The term MIS department is rapidly disappearing from company telephone directories across the country. That it is being replaced by the simpler, and now more accurate, IS department is telling. “M” was for management, but information systems departments aren’t just there to pump out reports for upper management anymore.
Easy access to information by people at all rungs of the corporate ladder, often from their desktop PCs, has allowed retailers to operate more efficiently — to cut costs, speed shipping, shorten lead times and offer a mix of merchandise that better reflects purchasing patterns at individual stores in disparate communities. Those decisions weren’t made in boardrooms. More often than not, they were made in buying offices, or distribution centers, or any number of departmental offices. They were made by individuals with a day-in, day-out working understanding of the problems at hand.
Now, Management Horizons’ Carl Steidtmann argues that the information revolution, which is still ongoing, may have served retailers too well. “The ability to reduce costs as a percentage of sales ran into what seems to be a physical limit in 1992,” according to Steidtmann.
Retailers have been plagued by intense competition and bare-bones margins ever since. But Steidtmann sees a way out.
The same easy access to information that allowed retailers to trim costs and compete on thinner margins could put them back on the road to profitability. Sit down for half an hour and let Steidtmann map out how.

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