JB Hi-Fi’s new chief information officer Simon Page will be given free rein to assess the retailer’s technology environment and work out an action plan when he takes over the role in September.
The company earlier this week revealed it had lured the former head of retail technology from Australia Post to become its first official chief information officer.
Previous equivalent roles held the title of technology director and group IT manager. The retailer had been without an IT chief since the February departure of George Papadopoulos.
JB Hi-Fi opted to introduce the title under the guidance of CEO Richard Murray, who has been in the chair for the last 12 months.
Murrary told iTnews market practice indicated “the guy in charge of leading your IT requirements across the organisation is a CIO”.
“But at JB we’ve never gotten lost in job titles. We’re more interested in finding smart people to get on with growing the business,” he said.
Page - who has experience with large distributed networks such as JB Hi-Fi thanks to prior employment at Australia Post, and Tabcorp before that - will initially be tasked with assessing the retailer’s IT environment and working out where to go from there.
“JB Hi-Fi as a business is becoming more and more complex,” Murray said.
“We have the in-store and out-of-store environment, and we now have a number of warehouses to support bulky goods and the Home [home appliances brand] rollout, we have a commercial business doing installation and fulfilment - our business from when it listed in 2003 is a lot more complex, so we need our IT systems to work in a more integrated way.
“In the old days you just needed to know where stock was in one store. But the number of parts of the business now accessing that inventory is much greater.”
JB has been a bit of a closed shop traditionally when it comes to its strategic technology work, and Murray isn’t keen to divulge anything that could give his business a commercial advantage.
But he indicated that one of Page’s first tasks would be to assess the core inventory management and accounting systems that were installed as part of the company’s takeover by private equity owners in 2000 - prior to the boom in online retail.
The systems are functional, Murray said, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement.
“We’ve kept our systems very focused on what’s important. I think the challenge moving forward in an increasingly complex world is keeping your systems simple,” he said.
It’s especially key in a world where purely-online players such as Kogan and Appliances Online are growing in number, and where traditional JB rival Dick Smith has used online as a key plank of its successful turnaround effort.
“Obviously many online players have a single distribution point, whereas we have - across the group - the best part of 200 stores, warehouses, fulfilment centres,” he said.
“And we have to think about a world where we want to access inventory in our supplier’s warehouses, potentially an unlimited number of distribution points that either we or others own, so how do we get our inventory management and distribution systems to handle that?
“Absolutely they are key focuses for Simon in the short term. There’s nothing broken but he’s got a pretty clean slate.”
Murray is hesitant to dictate specific areas for attention, preferring to have a “collegial conversation” about retail, its rivals and how JB’s systems can support the growth of the business.
“There’s no point goal-posting everything if it doesn’t add value. We have to work out how to have a robust, innovative IT system within the context of low cost.”
He is not, however, interested in going down the path of a Myer or General Pants by offering a central point in-store where customers can use iPads or other technology to browse and order stock from JB’s online catalogue.
“If you’ve got a large store you’ve got room to do a hub, but at JB we would just call that our counter,” he said.
“Our store’s retail selling space is on average 1200 to 1600 square meters. The counter is the service environment.”
That doesn’t mean JB Hi-Fi isn’t taking into account its customers inclinations towards online - Murray singled out JB Hi-Fi’s click and collect service as one example of how the company is moving with its customers.
The retailer has also made sure it wasn’t left behind in the online boom by jumping in head-first with offerings like the JB Hi-Fi Now music and video streaming service, mobile applications and a retail site for e-books.
It also re-platformed its website and brought the Home product - launched in 2013 - onto the same environment around two years ago.
“Every retailer is trying to make [the shopping] process easier for customers,” Murray said.
"We have a lot of traffic on our websites and in stores, but it’s about maximising the outcome rather than the traffic specifically.”