Achieving Strategic Agility Through IT Isn’t Guesswork

How does a company whose strengths are more on the creative and design side than the technology side achieve strategic agility through the use of IT? According to Michael Relich, executive VP and CIO of fashion retailer Guess?, a flexible approach that focuses more on solving business problems than on meeting technical specifications goes a long way toward getting the most business value from your IT investments.

“We don’t have a lot of technical people,” Relich explained to the audience of a session about achieving strategic agility through IT held at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge. However, Relich said non-technical employees (including senior management) in the company do generally appreciate the importance of IT, and he tries to apply IT in as practical a way as possible so that non-technical users can obtain significant benefits.

Think Globally, Act Locally
For example, in response to dramatic growth of Guess’ international business, Relich focused on developing a collaborative platform that would connect disparate parts of the business to provide the raw data needed for effective localized decision-making. This includes the widespread use of iOS-based smartphones and iPads.

“With iOS and iPad you can provide rich analytics with pictures,” said Relich. “It’s an easy platform for gaining information.”

In addition, using mobile technology helps meet the needs of younger Guess employees, who unlike many of their peers do tend to be tech-savvy. “We embrace mobile and BYOD to engage younger users,” said Relich. “People in their 20s have better technology at home than they have at work. When they get into management, there will be a change.”

Armed with mobile devices, planners in different markets can all have access to the same centralized corporate data warehouse and make locally appropriate decisions using the same data.

“It’s speed to insight,” said Relich. “We deliver data quickly.”

Guess also offers decision-makers in the field access to tools such as visual dashboards and even rich video content, like videos of CEO Paul Marciano displaying top globally selling products known as “Paul’s Picks.” iPad users also have access to spatial and visual tools allowing them to view photos of goods and view representations of geographic sales trends.

Give the People What They Need
“We don’t give people what they ask for,” said Relich. “We give them what they need.”

As an example of this ethos, Relich explained how a general user complaint about the spreadsheet-based process marketers used to gather product sales information and communicate product specifications to manufacturers led to his decision to replace it by extending the product lifecycle management (PLM) system to the marketers.

“We extended the PLM system to send high-resolution product images to marketers,” he said. “We also placed 2-D barcodes in product samples that marketers could scan to create information sheets in seconds. Getting this information would have taken thousands of hours manually.”

The Social Touch
Relich also touched upon the growing importance of social media as a form of advertising. While he admitted the effectiveness of social media advertising is hard to measure, he said not doing it makes your brand “irrelevant” with younger consumers and that it also can be easier to measure than some traditional advertising platforms.

“You can see social media impressions, click-throughs and conversions,” said Relich. “You can’t measure that with print.”

In addition, Relich sees huge potential for Facebook as the self-maintaining CRM system of the future.

“To get people to participate in CRM and loyalty programs, you have to give them incentives,” he said. “Facebook does that for you. If you could match a Facebook user’s individual preferences and likes with their purchase behavior, you could do some real microtargeting. Of course there are privacy issues.”

Money Well Spent
Finally, Relich agrees that chief marketing officers (CMOs) are gaining influence on IT spending, but cautioned that CIOs must remain an integral part of the process.

“Will CMOs gain more control over the spending of IT dollars?” Relich rhetorically asked. “Yes. But if it doesn’t happen in partnership with the CIO, the money will not be spent well.”


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