RBTE 2015: IT directors grapple with directing budgets

Digital is driving up IT budgets but with the myriad options of where to commit their resources IT directors face a big challenge in making the right decisions, delegates at RBTE learnt on Wednesday.

Speaking on the 'Ask the IT Director' panel at RBTE 2015, Menno Rientjes, IT director at Lloydspharmacy, said: "We're increasing our budgets but the challenge is finding efficiencies. Rents on shops are going up and IT costs are ramping up so this is eating into profitability."

Where the company commits funds is dependent on the customer, he argued, adding that investment is often a "defensive move [to what customers are doing] and you have to react to it". The challenge then is how the solutions are integrated into the broader business model.

Siobhan Fagan, IT director at Pizza Express, suggested this task is made even tougher by the presence of legacy systems: "You'd like to try the technology and see if there is an return on investment but sometimes it's not easy to even do a trial. You need agility in your business to do trials." 

She admitted to ideally having a 'store of the future' at Pizza Express to test new technologies but is constrained by other priorities in the business. And with digital's impact on the business it has a full IT roadmap at present.

Another challenge facing the business is the fragmentation of the traditional IT budget as the likes of digital marketing are pulling some of that technology budget into the marketing department. "We're trying to, not exactly control it, but have some visibility over the budget as IT and marketing converge. We're trying to get colleagues to spend budgets more wisely."

One area that is receiving attention at Pizza Express is mobile as Fagan says it can not only benefit customers in terms of ordering pizzas for delivery when they are on the move but also for employees to be able to access their wage slips and book holidays.

Paul Lyon, chief technology officer at Go Outdoors, who was also on the panel, agreed mobile is fertile ground for IT investment and reveals he is investigating introducing tablets into stores: "We could use them to see stock levels in order to then drive sales – of higher margin goods. For out-of-stocks we could order for click & collect or delivery to the customer."