Amazon.com's IT Leader Leaving Huge Customer Service Infrastructure as Legacy

CIO Rick Dalzell is leaving Amazon.com after 10 years of constant change, inventions in personalization, product and service offerings. Here's a look at Amazon.com's evolution during Dalzell's tenure.

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Wed, October 17, 2007

CIO — As senior vice president and CIO of Amazon.com, Rick Dalzell is the visionary behind the company's legendary e-commerce platform and personalization engine.

Dalzell has overseen $2 billion worth of technology investment during his decade-long tenure with the Seattle-based e-commerce and technology company. On his watch, the company's IT infrastructure has scaled to support $10.7 billion in sales, more than 69 million active customer accounts, 42 product lines from apparel to video games, more than 1.1 million third-party sellers, and a growing contingent of software engineers who are tapping into the computing prowess and Web services the company has developed over the years. Then there are all the technological innovations the company's legion of software engineers have brought to market, many under Dalzell's leadership, to make shopping online a piece of cake for consumers: 1-Click ordering, the A9 search engine, product recommendations, wish lists and order updates, among others.

The IT platform Dalzell has overseen is viewed as Amazon.com's core competency, a competitive differentiator and a monumental achievement. CIO.com visitors voted it a wonder of the IT world. Jeffrey Lindsay, a senior analyst with the research arm of investment bank Sanford C. Bernstein, says it's the world's leading online retail platform and calls out its ability to tailor the e-commerce site to each individual customer who logs in. "It delivers a unique user experience in real time to everyone who uses it. It extends to lots of product categories and seamlessly integrates third-party sellers," says Lindsay. "What they're doing [with IT] is extremely difficult and very complicated."

In an interview with CIO in 2001, Dalzell noted that personalization was a way for Amazon.com to achieve its vision of being a customer-centric company. "Very early on, we recognized that we were really in business to help the customer find anything they wanted to buy," he said. "The key was that we were going to need to build a unique store, one that changed all the time, for each individual customer."

Dalzell, a 50-year-old West Point graduate, is now preparing to end a chapter in his career. After 10 whirlwind years, the CIO has decided it's time to pass the baton to someone else, though the company has not yet publicly named a successor. On Aug. 31, 2007, the company quietly announced to its investor community that Dalzell—who joined the fledgling online bookseller in 1997, the year of its initial public offering, from Wal-Mart Stores, where he spent seven years in its information systems division—would be retiring by the end of the year. Dalzell, who maintains a low profile, declined to be interviewed for this story. His retirement presents an opportunity to examine how Amazon.com has changed over the past 10 years, how it executed on its vision, and how it beat investors' skepticism and changed retailing.

The Only Constant Is Change

What we've been able to do, and what I expect we'll do in the future, is we'll continue to build and innovate like crazy.

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