More Choices, More Headaches

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2004-09-03 Print this article Print

As has been said in this column before, retail IT execs have seen more technology changes in the last two years than they had seen in the last 15 or more years. While exciting, this wireless biometric laser-guided explosion is a very tricky landscape. There are unproven technologies—such as IBM systems that try to literally sniff and scan fruits to identify them. There are somewhat proven efforts—such as biometrics. We then have mostly proven options, such as Linux. And even strongly proven areas, such as CRM, self-checkout and RFID. But even the "strongly proven" technologies have the potential to be goldmines or disasters, depending on the wisdom of the IT crystal ball.
Will tagging approaches change midstream? Will the changes to barcode (a key part of that very slow transition) globally require different approaches? Will privacy laws impact CRM programs, either limiting them or possibly regulating them? Will unemployment levels change the desirability of various workforce redeployment efforts?
Is Linux facing an uphill battle in retail IT? Click here to find out. Best Buys Willett said he wants his company to take their implementation slowly and to make the initial supplier demands relatively easy and unsophisticated. Is that an example of good partner relations or of an executive keeping his options open? In 1775, Patrick Henry is reported to have told the Virginia convention: "I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past."Thats the problem with retail technology. You absolutely cannot rely heavily on past behavior to project future needs. In military and political circles, that thinking is called "gearing up to win the last battle instead of the next one." That is a very tall order. Many of these systems take so long to deploy—from concept to full customer use—that retail IT execs must project consumer and B2B needs four or five years out. But consumers and business execs are far too fickle for that. Even if IT execs could read the minds of every current and future prospect, that would still be only half the battle because most customers dont truly know what they want today and they certainly have no clue what they are going to want five years in the future. Does data create a duty? Can a CRM system be too effective? Click here to read more. That means that IT managers today must be imaginative and figure out what people are going to want to do in the future. And then force the technologies to support that vision, rather than allowing technology features to dictate strategy.Maybe theres a lot to be said for slow and steady deployments. If nothing else, it makes the calendar distance between decision and deployment a little less far apart. Check out eWEEK.coms Retail Center for the latest news, views and analysis of this vital industry.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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