Why CIOs Are Key To The Digital Shelf

Information chiefs play a pivotal role in data marketing and management, says Julie Marobella, executive VP of technology at Salsify.
Information chiefs play a pivotal role in data marketing and management, says Julie Marobella, executive VP of technology at Salsify.

When it comes to “winning on the digital shelf,” CIOs can greatly aid their CMO colleagues and marketing teams, says Julie Marobella, executive vice president of technology at Boston-based Salsify. She spoke with StrategicCIO360 about the information chief role, the best questions to ask about your business post-pandemic and why you shouldn’t believe anyone who tells you they have AI figured out.

What role does a CIO and their IT teams have in helping their CMOs win on the digital shelf?

CIOs should work in partnership with the marketing department to address the efficiency and effectiveness of three things required for winning the digital shelf: the company’s core product data systems, market channel connectivity and the company’s agility when it comes to responding to dynamic channel requirements.  

First, core data systems, like PLM, MDM, CRM, ERP, should support content types and data structures that marketing requires—and be agile and accessible enough so that the market-facing groups can get what they need quickly from a trusted centralized source. In addition, CIOs play a critical role in helping CMOs navigate how the company’s systems manage channel connectivity.

For retailer CIOs, this may mean support of the company’s core systems that support supplier management around item set up and enrichment. Evaluate how distributor or supplier portals or data pools can support better coverage of assortment and data quality. For brand CIOs, this includes evaluating the company’s options for each go-to-market channel, looking for ways to streamline processes for the sales or marketing team that supports those touchpoints on the digital shelf.   

Last concern is being prepared for all the changes that can impact the company’s go-to-market channels. This includes new emerging tech opportunities like AR shopping, click and collect, for example, that come up so frequently and require oversight before implementing.

Develop a clear evaluation strategy that allows the CIO and the CMO to enable teams to scope new opportunities, test and learn new technology and then determine what to incorporate long-term based on the factors that matter to each of you. 

What do CIOs working with CMOs need to build a winning tech stack for success?

Consider the bi-directional demands and stresses on the company’s tech stack. CIOs have to manage change and complexity from two places. Many CIOs are working off of a well-established legacy system that has managed product inventory for decades and the challenge is modernizing or transitioning to something that is flexible and can scale in two ways. 

First, meet needs inside the organization. There’s a lot of volatility and growth to keep pace with. There are often many stakeholders that require access to content, with a broader set of content types and variety, and CIOs must anticipate potential shifts to product line merchandising that could require changes to product data management. 

There’s external volatility as well. The company’s digital stack must stand up under the pressure of the rest of the market. There’s automated merchandising, a broadening set of channels, and a wider set of customer expectations for delivery options or response times. Invest, build and maintain in a tech stack that also allows the company to scale amid both sources of change to remain successful over time. 

What trends should CIOs keep in mind when optimizing their digital shelf during economic uncertainty or a recession?

Reality is that many people threw money or a fast fix at the digital shelf challenge to catch up and deliver ecommerce during the stressful Covid years. Now those same CIOs must take a real look at what’s going to work—and work profitably—in today’s environment. 

My recommendation is to start by evaluating the company’s current tech stack with these three questions: 

Which are the company’s most profitable go-to-market motions? Look at which channels and product lines are performing the best. Determine whether these motions are likely to remain sturdy during a recession. Then talk to stakeholders about whether these motions are running as efficiently as possible, and invest in ways to support those teams further. 

What are the areas where unnecessary manual work or disconnected systems could be slowing the company down? Symptoms often include duplicative systems or cost centers, systems that aren’t sharing data directly, places where the company has a workaround or staff time dedicated to a process that could be done in an automated way. Look for opportunities to consolidate systems or eliminate these roadblocks. 

Where is the company falling behind or losing consistently to the competition? Determine whether the issue is related to a product or market fit disadvantage or if it’s a competitive or strategic advantage the company can combat.

In other words, should the company cede to a more competitive product and instead double down on your best categories? Or is there something the company’s competitors are doing—better content, better delivery services, more interactive experiences, more responsive customer service—that the company can strategically tackle to win back a competitive edge in that market or category?

What is the No. 1 mistake that CIOs can make this year with respect to digital shelf automation?

Number one mistake in my view would be to assume that everyone else is so much further ahead on topics like AI or optimization. This year we are going to see the impact and the fallout of who leverages the power of AI and automation in powerful ways to streamline every aspect of their go to market processes. But this is new territory—and while there are going to be a lot of things to learn and adapt—your best roadmap forward will likely follow the same playbooks you’ve used for other new tech adoption.   

Don’t get swept up into the hype that there’s anyone—competitor, vendor, industry thought leader—who’s figured out the playbook that’s going to also work at your organization. CIOs will succeed by doing what they always do—evaluating the opportunities automation and generative AI provide, knowing their current organization’s gaps and weaknesses, and seeing where the two intersect so they can make investments that address your organization’s current and future needs.

The digital shelf requires constant optimization across a wide variety of channels, products, and customer portfolios at a volume and volatility that is no longer scalable by humans alone. That means automation and AI have to play a role in your process, but we’re not at a point where anyone’s able to build a system that’s automating on its own, off in a silo.

The real opportunity is leveraging the resources, people and processes that you have in place and incorporating AI and automation where it can be the most impactful, allowing for human oversight.

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