Retail is all about relationships. And according to Carter CIO Janet Sherlock, so is IT.
By Charlene Oldham
As Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Carter’s Inc., Janet Sherlock considers herself to be a retail industry expert who just happens to know a lot about technology.
“I consider myself to be a retailer first and foremost, and an IT [information technology] professional after that,” she said.
But Sherlock, whose resume includes jobs at retailers such as Guess? Inc. and Calico Corners as well as stints in the retail operations of ARCO and Mobil Oil, may be the exception to the rule. In the old days of IT, it was not unusual for techs to squirrel themselves away in the back office and reluctantly emerge only when they were charged with a specific task or when someone’s system crashed. Back then, computer experts were not expected to know much about the companies they served.
“The issue with that was they could never bring leading practices to the table,” Sherlock said, “so they had to be order takers.”
Since joining Carter’s in 2010, Sherlock has set out to change that by encouraging others in her department to become subject-area experts. She also has hired IT professionals with specific experience in retail, product development, distribution and other departments represented at Carter’s, the country’s largest branded marketer of baby and children’s clothing.
“We’ve built subject matter expertise and competencies within each of the areas we service now,” Sherlock said.
Constant Contact Internally
She also touches base regularly with a company mentee who works outside the IT Department. While Sherlock gives advice on how to navigate the corporate world, her mentee offers perspectives that sometimes illuminate ways in which IT could make other jobs easier.
“It’s interesting to hear her perspective on how things in her area work,” Sherlock said.
Input from different departments and targeted expertise within the IT ranks means Carter’s now relies less on outside consultants when implementing improvements to everything from international systems to the messages customers see on store receipts.
“We are morphing into being a trusted advisor to our business when it comes to implementing technology,” she said. “I think they really feel like we are partners as opposed to a purely technical function that needs to be guided along.”
… And Externally
Sherlock has always had an aptitude for solving problems and finding better ways to do things through technology, which led her from functional areas like merchandising and store operations to IT more than 15 years ago. In that time, she has seen evolutions in e-commerce and point-of-sale technology change the way people shop. These days, a consumer might browse for products using a smartphone, check prices online and finish that transaction at a bricks-and-mortar location in order to take advantage of an in-store promotion or program.
“Retail IT is really exciting because it touches the consumer,” she said. “And consumer behavior and shopping patterns and preferences have really changed the complexion of retail IT.”
Rapid changes and new challenges within the industry have made networking a must both within the retail industry and in the Atlanta area, where Carter’s is based. Sherlock is a member of the Georgia CIO Leadership Association’s Advisory Board, and often discusses recruitment, security, cloud computing and other horizontal IT issues with other professionals in the region. Sherlock also serves as Vice Chair for the National Retail Federation’s CIO Council, which meets three times a year to talk about IT issues unique to the retail industry.
“And I talk to at least one other retail CIO in a given week,” she said. “If they’re not calling me to ask me something, I’m calling them to ask them something.”
Developing a Direction
To be sure, even in her role as a CIO and Senior Vice President, Sherlock is always looking to expand her tool kit. It is a lesson she learned while interviewing for the top tech job at another retailer. She had been working as a divisional CIO, but lacked experience when it came to data center operations and other infrastructure issues.
“When I interviewed with the other retailer to be the CIO, I did not get that position because they were concerned about my lack of experience with infrastructure,” she said, “so I took a job as a CIO with a smaller company.”
There, she was able to purposefully build the skills she needed because she had an ultimate goal in mind. It is advice she offers others seeking success in any industry.
“I think it’s important that people develop a direction. It doesn’t have to be set in stone,” Sherlock said. “But, if you don’t have a direction or roadmap, you will end up directionless. Things will start leading you around as opposed to you being in charge of your career.”
Charlene Oldham is a freelance writer based in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Janet's Key Partners:MicroStrategy (Business Intelligence Platform) | IBM (Smarter Commerce Solutions) | Hughes (Managed network services) | Cisco (Network and Collaboration solutions) | Infor (ERP Solutions) | Manhattan Associates (Supply Chain Commerce Solutions)
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