Walmart CIO repackages IT service as a product

The pace of technical change requires a different IT management approach, says Clay Johnson, CIO of Walmart Stores. Welcome to the age of managing IT as a product.

Wal-Mart CIO repackages IT service as a product
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The proliferation of consumer technologies is shifting the way CIOs are delivering technology services to their businesses. Nowhere is this more evident than at Walmart Stores, where CIO Clay Johnson is delivering IT as products rather than as projects or systems. Walmart’s culture change underscores how traditional companies are following in the footsteps of companies such as Facebook, Uber and others whose products are designed for the consumer masses.

"If you look at how [technology] products are developed, why wouldn't IT teams have that kind of model?” says Johnson, who also serves as the retail giant's executive vice president for global business services. Commanding both IT and shared services, which includes supporting payables and receivables, HR, help desk, call centers and procurement, allows Johnson to facilitate "end-to-end, single-threaded management" of technology services for Walmart's 2.3 million employees around the globe.

Delivering IT services using the rigorous, time-consuming waterfall model is no longer viable for companies seeking to leapfrog or keep abreast of competitors. And with mobile and social technologies increasingly the focal point of technology services, companies are instead embracing agile methodologies, with weekly rather than monthly delivery cycles completed in conjunction with business peers who will consume what IT delivers.

Business buys in to DevOps

Agile is fast; DevOps is faster. At Walmart, Johnson says software developers in his staff of 10,000 IT workers are practicing DevOps, in which continuous integration and continuous delivery (CICD) methods enable enterprises to push out upgrades to software daily. Such rapid deployment dovetails with the product management model Johnson is pursuing. For example, whereas managers previously owned a piece of an IT service, managers serve as "product owners" responsible for integrated technology solutions.

Among the first shifts Johnson made was to implement Workday human capital management software. Whereas IT managers would have previously been split into different groups, Johnson put one person in charge and co-located IT and business personnel responsible for deploying the product. The move inspired confidence among business executives and users. As a result, process design changes happened quicker, shrinking release cycles to 3 months from 9 months. "We saw the speed pick up and a lot more clarity in the process design and how it was going to be implemented," Johnson says.

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