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Why Walmart Doesn't Have Legacy IT

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Posted May 29, 2015 By Sean Michael Kerner     Feedback

Walmart CIO Karenann Terrell details how the world's largest retailer handles app refreshes and how it views Big Data.

As CIO of the world's largest retailer, Walmart's Karenann Terrell handles her share of IT challenges, some unique to Walmart but others – like legacy apps – that are found at many companies.

In some organizations, the idea of legacy - or older - IT systems and apps is a bad thing, and the word "legacy" has negative connotations. At Walmart, however, Terrell doesn't even use the word "legacy" to describe the retailer's older IT assets.

"We prefer to call it classic rather than legacy," Terrell said during a session at the recent Interop conference.

Walmart doesn't want to alienate people by labeling technology as "legacy," Terrell said, and using the term "classic" shows more respect for the people who are keeping the lights on.

More importantly, a continuous process of IT modernization is the new normal for IT. "We are in a continuous build-and-operate cycle now," she said. "I think there will be a constant modernization of environments."

Big Data, Privacy and More

Big Data plays a big role for Walmart. The company uses the data it generates and collects to improve its operations, Terrell stressed.

"We understand every movement of every package in our business worldwide," she said. "The ability to position inventory, what needs to go into the assortment, in which store, is incredibly valuable to serve our customers and to keep our customers happy."

Big Data also helps Walmart's IT organization deliver on the retailer's mission of providing everyday low prices for its customers.

"We are an everyday low price retailer, which means that every single person gets the exact same price, "Terrell said, adding that lowering overall cost is a key goal of Walmart's operations.

Terrell has some very specific views on what the term "Big Data" means. She defines it as multiple very large pools of data, both internal and external, that are properly aligned with Walmart's privacy policies. She said that while some might see the potential for a broad business opportunity for customer data, privacy and trust must never be violated.

"Privacy and trust are the primary commodities you have in a customer business," Terrell said. "We wouldn't violate that."

Terrell chairs a Walmart committee on responsible data use and governance that brings together Walmart's lines of business, chief merchants and customers, to look at where and how data is used.

"Service to our customers ... is the primary use that we have for data," she said.

Walmart is a technology-powered business, rather than being a business-led and IT-enabled operation, Terrell said, adding that Walmart has a "merge and converge" of technology and business. "We don't have a separation of concerns with the business telling technology what to do."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Apps Today and Follow him on Twitter

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