IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

  • 23 May 2011

Guest Blog – IT and the Business

By Martin Schofield, Retail Operations Director at Harvey Nichols

I become increasingly frustrated as my career continues with the constant pre-occupation that some corners of the IT community have with ‘business’ integration. The mere fact that the phrase “IT and the business” is used builds the perception of a barrier between two sides at war. Are there groups of accountants sitting around asking themselves how to get closer to the business ?  Are there groups of marketers asking themselves the same question ? Who indeed is the business ? Done correctly IT could, and should, be a business leader

So what causes this intrinsic mistrust ?

IT used to be the department that nobody understood, the department of the unknown. Overpaid geeks would take months to, if you were lucky, deliver cumbersome, difficult to use, solutions to problems that probably no longer existed. Today everyone knows about computers. IT is now the department that takes too long to fix the PC, that is still staffed by overpaid geeks and that still takes too long to deliver real solutions.

Can anything be done ?

A change in attitude is required. I am fortunate enough to be in a company that allows me to run IT as I want. We are an internal consultancy who sponsor most initiatives and can often lead or be involved in non technical business improvement projects. We obviously provide the support and technical services you would expect but we are so much more. The demonstration of operational excellence is a prerequisite to being allowed to play in other areas. If you can’t manage the day job you can’t expect to be allowed to manage the future. The failure to deliver daily sales information or pricing updates should be a very rare occurrence.

People are individuals. There is no magic formulae on how departmental integration should occur although I have met people who would tell you otherwise. Learn what makes people tick. Treat them as you find them. You must also set an agenda that deals with both real and perceived issues, if people think reports are slow then they are.

To challenge convention further, get rid of the name. I have often thought that the very name ‘IT’ conveys a perception of technical geeks who are to be avoided unless a PC isn’t doing exactly what is required. Perhaps two functions of Business Continuity and Business Improvement would convey a higher purpose.

Project agility is also an important consideration. Excessive documentation can be a barrier to success. People don’t always know what they want until they see what they can have and the definition of a rigid solution for the first phase of a project can be inherently wrong. The phrase “it’s not in the spec” is a sad indication of failure and a clear sign that the project will be delivered to a user community that will just think that IT have delivered another inadequate project. Clear understanding of what is required is obviously vital but equally the ability to be agile throughout the entire project cycle is essential to the delivery of an optimum solution. If something is right it is right regardless of whether it is in the spec or not. You must become comfortable with being tactical but always with strategic direction. This is only possible in certain sectors. Solutions that are more ‘life or death’ obviously require detailed planning and complete testing. Retail is about being reactive and the delivery of solutions to gain the competitive edge.

And while we’re at it; testing; have we gone too far in this area ? I do not want CMM Level 5 testing methodologies. I want high a high quality of code delivered in first place!

Harvey Nichols are one of Retail Assist’s clients: If you are interested in writing a guest blog for Retail Assist, please email

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