IT in the spotlight at M&S as new chairman takes over

Marks & Spencer's new chief executive Marc Bolland starts today at the high street giant, and IT-related decisions are at the top of his in-tray.

Marks & Spencer's new chief executive Marc Bolland starts today at the high street giant, and IT-related decisions are at the top of his in-tray.

Bolland joins M&S from fellow retailer Morissons, where he led its turnaround programme underpinned by a technology transformation programme that will streamline operations over the next four years.

In his new job, Bolland will be expected to repeat some of that success and increase the firm's competitiveness by boosting its online presence while sorting out the back-end side of the business.

According to analysts, M&S has been losing online market share to rivals such as Tesco, which has a well-developed e-commerce operation. Upmarket competitor Waitrose has also concentrated on re-engineering its new web platform, launched around Easter. Sainsbury's introduced major changes to its website last year as well as a new non-food range online.

Efforts spearheaded by finance director Ian Dyson a year ago sought to accelerate international expansion and improve its online set-up. Sales and traffic have grown steadily since the introduction of the e-commerce programme, which includes enhancements such as multichannel capability, international delivery, wine club and gift card redemption as well as the extension of the brand's reach into white goods.

However, industry commentators have pointed out that in order to operate a profitable web service, M&S will need to considerably expand its food range - stores have recently started to sell brands other than its own.

On the non-food front, other concerns for M&S include John Lewis, which relaunched its transactional website last year, as well as an online fashion arm. The department store is also selling a range of its non-food products through the Waitrose website as the two businesses join forces to challenge competition.

It is expected that Bolland will continue Rose's strategy to overhaul M&S's operations. This includes modernising warehouses and distribution as well as back-office IT - such as the roll-out of an SAP retail suite last year intended to improve business data and drive efficiency - and supplier rationalisation.

Both logistics and IT are led by Darrell Stein, who introduced a self-funding approach for technology, claimed to have reduced running costs and re-injected the savings into long-term investments.

Stein, who started his career at M&S in 1990, rejoined the retailer in 2006 and is part of the firm's executive committee. During his tenure, he has been concentrating on refreshing the firm's ageing food, merchandising and retail systems in favour of a more centralised approach, while customer services systems are also being revamped.

He also massively reduced the number of IT contractors and suppliers working for the firm as part of a drive to generate savings and drive more efficiency. A highlight of the rationalisation plan was the bundling of services into a multi-year deal with IT services firm Computacenter, which began in 2007.

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