J.C. Penney slashes CIO role

On Jan. 18, JCP named Kristen E. Blum as Chief Technology Officer and executive vice president. Her appointment resulted in the elimination of the CIO position held by Ed Robben, who left the company this month. The elimination of the CIO position was revealed in a memo sent out by Blum to the JCP IT staff.

“As our Company continues to transform, we must continue to look at the organization to ensure we have the right structures to ensure efficiency and productivity. I wanted to let you all know that as a result, Ed Robben’s position has been eliminated. I know you will join me in wishing him all the best in his future endeavors and thanking him for all of his contributions to JCP,” the memo read. JCP did not return calls and messages seeking comment.

The source who provided the memo was a JCP employee wondering “where’d the CIO go? He just got here.” Robben, according to his LinkedIn page, held the post for just over a year. He did not respond to inquiries for comment sent via Facebook and LinkedIn.

Nervousness over future lay-offs prevails in the IT department, which has been pared back over the years due to outsourcing, according to the source, who estimated that what was a 2,000-person department is now about 900-1,100.

It’s no secret that the storied but struggling retailer is revamping under new CEO Ron Johnson, an executive credited with launching Apple’s successful retail stores. Johnson has been creating his own team, has implemented cost controls and has been trying to transform the JCP brand. Indeed, the company said in January that it wants to cut $900 million in expenses within two years. That means job cuts and store closures.
For her part, Blum is a CIO in everything but name. Most recently, she was a CIO and senior vice president, chief information officer, Enterprise Transformation at PepsiCo and held the CIO post at Abercrombie & Fitch, according to the Jan. 18 JCP press release announcing her arrival.

She also directed the supply chain, international retail and global technology at Apple and served in “merchandising, planning and allocation” roles at Planet Hollywood, Walt Disney and Victoria’s Secret. “She is a member of the National Retail Federation’s CIO Council and a Governing Body Member of the CIO Summit, among other leadership roles in CIO-focused organizations,” according to the press release.

The CTO v. CIO roles have been hotly debated over the years with a general perception that CTO is more focused on innovation while the CIO oversees internal IT infrastructure.
Could going CIO-less been an idea JCP CEO Johnson brought over from Apple? That does not appear likely given that Blum reports to JCP COO Mike Kramer and Apple has had the same CIO since 1997 in Niall O’Connor.

Given JCP’s cost-cutting mood, it’s safe to assume there’s little room for both a CTO and a CIO.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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