BestBuy CIO Discusses Quadrupling The Number Of Her IT Managers

Trying to regain detailed operational control over Best Buy operations, CIO Jody Davids has gotten board permission to do what major retailers are doing today: Hiring new IT managers by the hundreds. Indeed, what had initially looked like a 200-person boost—which alone would have roughly tripled the number of dedicated, salaried Best Buy IT people from about 100 to 300—is now looking like perhaps a 300-person boost, Davids said. Either way, it means a very different IT environment at the $50 billion chain.

Historically, those 100 Best Buy IT folk have managed "several thousand" IT contractors, Davids said, which puts Best Buy—albeit in a rather extreme way—in the same position as many other chains. Outsourced IT certainly has the advantages of scale and instant experts, in that it's a lot easier to bring in a team to create a specialized app for one business group and to then not rehire them when the project is over. That's much easier than having to hire and train employees and to then have to try and lay them all off.

But the downside can be daunting, too, with the potential for far more overlap and duplicated efforts than projects run by salaried managers. The prospect of contractors managing other contractors sounds compelling until you realize how little your team is personally running. And the very nature of contractors gives them different incentives and motivations than employees. When the project ends for a contractor, he/she might easily fear being cut loose, while the employee is generally assuming he/she will simply be assigned a new project.

Even with the new hires, Best Buy will continue to be "very much an outsourced model," the CIO said. Sometimes, these efforts go in cycles. With mobile and social and other critical and new areas today, IT is in more of a create—rather than a more reactive maintain—mode, which suggests more salaried people.

Moving from a 100- to 400-person salaried IT team means Davids' group will be "taking greater control of our own destiny," she said. More than mobile, the driving force is merged-channel efforts, removing more of the barriers from online and in-store. "It's not so much about new technology as it is a new way of aligning business technology, aligned to a growing and changing business," Davids said.

The CIO said that she didn't want to get specific as to what she told the board she wanted to do differently with the new team of architects, designers and project managers. In general, though, she said that Best Buy will be "changing our delivery mechanism, the way we're delivering our services" to Best Buy business units. It will include "ways to bring speed, simplification" and will likely mean a reduction in the number of outsourced IT companies the chain will be working with. "We'll be trying to work with one, maybe two major partners," she said. "This really revolves around architecture, making sure that we have Best Buy people working on the strategy in conjunction with all of the right technology partners."

Readers wanting to check out the new Best Buy IT manager positions can drop by Best Buy's site for more details.