Wal-Mart: IT Inside the World's Biggest Company

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Unfortunately, we are doing things differently as a result of Sept. 11, and I say unfortunately because we’re investing a lot of money, resources and time in security, privacy and similar activities. Things that were once objectives and goals are now a way of life. That’s really the transition that’s happened for us since 9/11. We’re going to be burdened with it for quite some time. I’d really like to see our technology vendors step up and help us with these vulnerabilities because the money that we’re pouring into security right now is being pulled away from development and strategic things that we could be investing in. A lot of the vulnerabilities that we deal with are preventable and could be avoided if the technology vendors would get proactive and do the due diligence to tighten up their products.

In security, companies typically spend maybe 20 percent on prevention and 80 percent on recovery or dealing with problems after the fact. Have you shifted the amount you spend into prevention?

I’d say we’re spending 80 percent on prevention right now. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we’ve invested a lot of knowledge and capital in intrusion detection and playing as much offense as we can to make sure that we’re protecting our company. Personally, every day I spend time on security.

With the Enron and Wall Street scandals, we’ve seen how important it is to know how the data that’s driving the company is being handled, managed and monitored. How do you treat this responsibility?

My job as the chief information officer for Wal-Mart is to bring visibility to all of our information, to eliminate the blind spots, to not wait to be asked to develop controls and balances but to be the champion for the information. In the last 10 years, the driver of change has transitioned from technology to information. Technology at this point is simply a means to an end. What is really strategic is the use of the information and how we exploit and maximize it. We’re in a business that competes at the speed of information, and my job is to ensure we present it in such a way that we use it to drive execution and improvements in our business.

On the Changing CIO Role

You see the CIO as champion of information now. In what ways has the role of the CIO shifted?

I think the role is changing quite significantly. Someone once said if we do everything perfectly in our profession, we would still get a B- grade. You can do one of two things with that. You can let it eat you up, and deem yourself unappreciated, or you can decide to better that and become a strategic element in your company. This idea of being more transformational is about making sure you identify those things that are truly transformational and put your effort and resources behind them. That’s the shift happening with CIOs, and my role is to be more strategic, more plugged in to the big ideas that can change our company. And by the way, those ideas don’t find you; you need to go out and find them. That’s something Lee Scott has really pushed home to me?that I’ve got to be more proactive in seeking out those transformational ideas so that we can widen our gap over our competition.

You’re fortunate to have a CEO who is pushing that transformation agenda from the top. What about CIOs who can’t get transformation on the agenda?

The key is credibility. Our formula for credibility is track record plus empathy equals credibility. That begins and ends with learning and understanding the business you’re in, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. And then you bring forth those things in IT that can change the world. Of course, the infrastructure today has to work like a light switch. People really don’t want to know how it works, they just want to know that it works every time, and that it’s fast, reliable and scaleable. This is required in order to establish the credibility that is key to getting the opportunity to change your company.

For the CIO’s responsibilities going forward, what percent is technology versus business strategy?

Ideally support and infrastructure are zero to 1 percent, but that’s not the case. There are times when that’s a lot of what we’re doing. Obviously strategy and business learning have to dominate over half of your time. The other half should be dominated by the people that make us successful. One of the things that I’ve learned at Wal-Mart is it’s not the people that I work for that determine whether I am successful or not, it is largely the people that I get to work with. It’s really important that you involve them, that you help them, that you give them the time to get out and learn the business and hold them accountable for that. Typically they’ll exceed your expectations every time.

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