From Back Office to Front Stage
When prominent American retailer J.Crew revealed major plans to restructure its business in 2017, CEO Millard Drexler famously took the blame for not helping the company jump on the technology bandwagon earlier. “I’ve never seen the speed of change as it is today,” he said. “If I could go back 10 years, I might have done some things earlier.” When someone such as “retail king” Drexler, who is often credited with the early ‘90s renaissance of GAP and Ann Taylor makes such a statement, the whole world better sit up and listen.
Drexler was right. Digital technology has become the driving force behind fashion today. The torch of leadership has been passed from those at the creative forefront to those responsible for automating back-office operations. With the rise of social media and e-commerce, consumers are now the ones deciding on the trends and setting the pace for the industry. Companies are struggling to keep up, unable to make sense of Big Data, machine learning, AI and IoT. Large volumes of structured and unstructured data are streaming in from IT systems such as ERP, DAM, Fashion PLM or PIM, time is tight and CIOs must be there to save the day. They need to lead the company into making informed decisions using the right tools to aggregate, filter, organize and analyze the data.
But before anything else, fashion executives need to change their perspective of these professionals and develop an IT-first mentality. CIOs in fashion industry were merely regarded as firefighters in the past where executives solicited their advice only during technical mishaps. Today, the mentality has changed. CIOs now have to take part in big decision-making processes by leading their fellow executives with illuminating insight and foresight.
Big Ambitions: The New Fashion CIO is in Town
This may sound ironic, but current CIOs themselves also need to change their mentality in order to embrace their new position in the fashion hierarchy. They need to think big in order to grow big. According to a recent Forbes Insights survey, five years ago CIOs believed that their most important ability was having technology expertise. However, today, they place a higher value on the CIO’s ability to contribute to the corporate strategy. What’s really surprising about this survey is that 70% of the CIOs interviewed believe that they would be ideal CEO candidates as technology has become a priority for their companies. This proves to be a turning point for Fashion industry CIOs as they no longer see themselves as just leaders of their own IT teams. They could very well become leaders of their companies.
It is time for CIOs to lead. CIOs should not be shying away from new responsibilities and challenges. Instead, they should be providing a vision for the company that will take the enterprise beyond the status quo. They should be building a strong team of IT experts that can help implement their strategies and find the right suppliers whose solutions and expertise best meet their business needs.
It will be a pity for CIOs to think otherwise. Because with the right tools and technology, CIOs can help fashion companies:
- Get rid of operational burdens
- Provide fashion pros with adequate applications
- Avoid data security risks
- Facilitate collaborative action by simplifying IT processes