Staples aims at Amazon with innovative, efficient, data-driven IT

Framingham, Mass. – Staples Inc. sees as its biggest competitor, and is not shying away from the competition. During a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium held May 20 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Staples CIO Tom Conophy explained his company’s intentions in its rivalry with the e-commerce giant.

“We’re going after Amazon in a big way,” declared Conophy. “We were an original disruptor in retail but lost our way. We didn’t see the onslaught of Amazon coming.”

One way Staples is trying to win back market share from Amazon is by performing e-commerce functions such as pricing in or near real time. In more general terms, Conophy described the kind of innovative, forward-thinking IT approach he feels is necessary for survival in today’s retail environment.

“My role as CIO is chief disruptor,” said Conophy. In addition to ensuring that IT dollars are spent intelligently and dedicated toward meeting consumer demand, Conophy said CIOs need to ensure that “tech debt” of redundant or outdated systems is eliminated.

“If you carry ‘boat anchor’ systems, your time to market is impeded,” he said. “They act like a value-added tax. The shiny new thing from last year is now tech debt. A legacy system can be a mobile app you rolled out a month ago.”

Conophy also described how he is changing Staples’ IT staffing approach:

“I have a 3,000-person IT staff,” Conophy said. “Some parts of the IT function are performed in a very heads-down, traditional way. They’re not performed by the ‘killer instinct’ types. But we’re also getting a subset of innovators who are more competitive and interact with their business colleagues more.”

Other changes Conophy is enacting include “demystifying” IT for the rest of the business by performing a cost analysis of all technology products and services. He sits on the executive committees that drive the company’s larger agenda to ensure IT is in sync with broader corporate goals. He is also a firm believer in the value of data, and hosts a monthly internal data summit.

“Data is the currency of any business,” said Conophy. “Applications are worth squat if they’re not manipulating data.”

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