Wal-Mart CIO Interview


Wal-Mart is the world's largest company and one which has consistently used technology as a competitive advantage.  In this article, their CIO talks about how they manage IT systems.  He lists three key philosophies behind his IT strategy:

  1. The first philosophy is to run a centralized information system for our operations all over the world, and we run that from Arkansas.
  2. The second is to have common systems and common platforms.
  3. The third is to be merchants first and technologists second.

In this day of XML standards, one might question why someone cares about (1) and (2) until you start asking about cost.  I like to say that an engineer is someone who can do for a dollar what any fool can do for two.  I've also learned, the hard way, that XML is great for interoperability when you can't control both ends of the system (or don't expect to in the future).  When you do control all the pieces, however, XML is a whole lot of parsing for nothing. 

Its hard to get people to see the wisdom in the first two philosophies.  There's a natural tendency to autonomy, decentralization, and disparate systems.  Many confuse these statements with geographic or system centralization, which is not the case.  I'm sure, for example, that Wal-Mart has both people and systems spread out around the globe.  What they don't have is fiefdoms.  I've written a white paper on IT organization that speaks to how I'd like to see IT functions organized in Utah.