Target's new tech operating model hits the mark

CIO Mike McNamara’s bold bet on product management, agile, DevOps and reskilling has helped turn around the big box chain.

Target's new tech operating model hits the mark

Competing for dollars in the digital age is hard for any brick-and-mortar retailer, but sprinkle in some self-inflicted wounds and the task gets tougher. Just ask Target’s CIO Mike McNamara, who invested in a new technology operating model, reskilling and innovation to help pull the big box chain out of its funk.

"We did things to change our ways of working by investing in learning and development," Target CIO Mike McNamara told in an interview at the Forbes CIO Next event recently. "When those things come together it's a magic combination."

Magic isn't a bad word to describe Target's revival.

When McNamara took the tech helm in 2015, the company was still recovering from a data breach that shook the confidence of consumers, investors and employees. Its ill-fated launch in Canada was a debacle. The company’s 1,800 physical stores were losing foot traffic and sales.

Moreover, the company's first website didn’t launch until 2011 and it ran on cloud software from rival Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of the very company that has been throttling retail for two decades. This made it difficult for Target to compete when the current blueprint for retail success is making it easier for customers to purchase goods via physical and digital channels.

McNamara, who previously ushered U.K. grocer Tesco into the digital era, pulled the technology department, an order-taking function that was 70 percent outsourced, in-house and hired more than 1,000 new engineers. He also ordered the IT department to cull many of its 800 projects and sharpen its focus on building supply chain applications for assortment planning, digital merchandising, store ordering and other critical software.

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