Magazine Article | February 15, 2008

The CIO Legacy

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Is it hard for CIOs to make their mark?
Is it hard for CIOs to make their mark?

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, March 2008

The IT profession may be the only one in which the word 'legacy' almost always has a negative connotation. The word, defined literally as something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past, conjures up images of antiquated and dysfunctional systems when mentioned in these circles, as in we replaced an aging legacy POS infrastructure. Indeed, CIOs generally use the word in reference to a problem they inherited from a predecessor. That would make the predecessor's legacy less than one to be revered. You don't want to be that guy, do you?

You understand, then, that I'm moving forward with the use of the word legacy here with some trepidation. I assume that we proud professionals do endeavor to leave a legacy behind us that won't be left to the 'rip and replace' intentions of the next guy to sit behind our desks. That said, many of my CIO and CIO-type friends have retired lately; many others have reached legacy status and are due for a 'refresh' of their own. Few of them, however, leave a lasting legacy when they're gone.

To be sure, this IT thing is a tough gig for legacy building. You purchase and implement capital equipment that is in large part commoditized and entered into service with an end date in mind. If you enter into a job with the idea that a major systems overhaul is going to be the stuff that makes you legendary, I'm here to tell you that your legacy will be ripped and replaced long before your name is forgotten. But I'm also here to tell you that with a focus on the information part of your C-level acronym, you can, indeed, build a legacy that transcends wires, store systems, and time.

You Won't Be Great…
We have a motivational saying around the office that hits on the point I'm trying to make: We will not be great by what we accomplish, rather by what we help others accomplish.

Increasingly, IT management in the retail enterprise is about more than building networks and policing the applications your business hangs on them. Technology is pervasive, and information is your company's second most valuable asset, close behind people. In my estimation, that seats you, the IT leader, at the right hand of the throne. It weaves you into every thread of the marketing, merchandising, CRM (customer relationship management), inventory management, and operations fabrics. Understand how the technology you purvey can help those departments build traffic and sales, or save margins by running more efficiently, or delight customers. That's how an IT leader's lasting legacy will be built.

Brian Kilcourse, managing partner at Retail Systems Research, recently penned a column entitled "Being CIO Just Ain't What It Used To Be." In his article, he draws on his own experience as a retail CIO and reflects on the position with veteran retail IT leader Jim Brownell. The two arrive at the conclusion that now more than ever, the CIO is an agent of business change and ability. Read the column at

The hard truth remains; much of what you do will one day be undone. But if you focus on helping others accomplish their goals — and there's plenty of opportunity for a CIO to do just that — you'll build a legacy that lasts.