Managing Change, Starting With the CIO

The conventionally smart company wanting new IT leadership for this degree of tumult, brings in a grandly pedigreed CIO. Target didn’t see it that way. In 2008, as strategies were being formed, it brought over Beth Jacob from an operations post at Target.

Jacob first worked for Target, in 1984, as an assistant buyer, leaving after a couple years. Just about two decades later, in 2002, she returned to rise through Target’s guest-relations division. Jacob was vice president of guest operations when she was tapped to lead IT as executive vice president and CIO with a budget of over $1 billion.

She oversaw’s switch from’s e-commerce platform to one that was home-grown. At the other end of the big-project spectrum, Jacob has introduced projects that capitalize on mobile computing, such as smartphone coupons.

Hers is a custom shop, yet she knows Target won’t move into Canada before Y3K, much less by 2013 as planned, if the firm can’t be flexible on that point. So, Jacob will throw the switch on its Great White North locations using a package implementation.

The technology team will be working with its internal partners on a business-process architecture design that’s more off-the-shelf than it would ordinarily prefer.

In the run up to the opening, Jacob says, her department is examining and re-examining how work gets done to find the most efficient and, yes, standard, methods of accomplishing goals. That is, she says, “where doing so doesn’t drive a different result for the guest or drive a different result for our business.”

Jacob is at least as qualified as any of her colleagues to describe the state of change management in 2012, so we asked her to do just that.

CIO Insight: The nature or change has changed, hasn’t it? It seems that change isn’t always iterative any more, and antecedents are rare. You can’t attack fires the same way because the fire’s never the same.

Jacob: You’re spot on. I don’t think the topic of change management is dog-eared at all. I think it’s going to be more important than ever. As a topic, I think it’s fascinating. By way of background, four years ago, I took over being CIO for Target after a career based mainly in operations, so, personally, I went through a huge change. With the Target Technology Services [TTS] team, we really have undertaken a whole lot of change.

Target is a fast-paced, dynamic, innovative company. Change is something we lean into. Because of that, the TTS team has had to change almost everything, including the way it partners [internally and externally]. And the way it approaches different organizational change initiatives.

We’ve had to develop skills where we can operate at a couple different levels. From my leadership position, I’d say it’s a different kind of strategic partnership that’s needed compared to the past. It’s a different skill set for the TTS team. You’re managing for the long term and manage change for projects that have very short life cycles.

In the last year or so, the pace of change has significantly increased. We’re making changes where [project] life cycle is a matter of days or weeks – think about the mobile capabilities we’ve implemented.

CIO Insight: Life cycles of days and weeks. Can you expand on that?

Jacob: We have to be ready to bring a company offering to our guests and staff, both of whom are more tech savvy. One example for guests would be mobile capabilities, like mobile [device] coupons. Last holiday, we created a mobile-coupon program tied to our toy catalog in just a few days. It’s an amazing capability. The coupons are very easy for guests to use, very easy for our team members to work with.

[Ed. note: Target claims to be the first national retailer to offer a scanable mobile-coupon program, in 2010. Shoppers who opt in get a text-message link to a mobile Web page that can contain multiple with offers, all accessible through a single bar code. Coupons are then redeemed by a cashier scanning the bar code on the shopper’s phone at checkout.]

CIO Insight: You must have a huge incentive to continually educate your team members.

Jacob: That’s true. We need our team members to feel like they have the same knowledge and insight into tools and opportunities that our guests do.

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