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On April 29, Steve Stone, senior vice president and CIO of Lowes, delivered a keynote speech about the importance of innovation, in good economic times and bad. He spoke at an event sponsored by the Kellogg Technology Network.

Kellogg Technology Network brings together IT executives for summit

Peer-to-peer interaction among eclectic industry leaders produces breakthrough insights

By Aubrey Henretty

5/12/2008 - The Kellogg Technology Network (KTN), led by Mark Jeffery, director of technology initiatives at the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation, held its inaugural program at the James L. Allen Center April 29 and 30. The KTN event, titled, “Driving Growth, Profitability and Efficiency through IT,” convened information technology executives from diverse industries — including healthcare, retail, government, finance and energy — to share best practices and discuss challenges unique to IT leadership.

The itinerary for the two-day summit included many group discussions. In one session, “Creating the Business Partnerships to Drive Growth and Efficiency through IT,” participants weighed the importance of customer relationship managers to help bridge the gap between IT and the rest of a company. In the panel “Selecting the Right Growth or Efficiency Project Given Resource Constraints,” experts traded strategies for expanding IT when funds are tight.

Following the first-day panel discussion “Cross Industry Best Practice Exchange,” participants attended a keynote address by Steve Stone, the chief information officer for Lowe’s Inc.

“I’m a firm believer that even in tough times, you’ve got to continue to innovate,” said Stone, who was an IT consulting manager for Ernst & Young prior to joining Lowe’s in 1992. And with the effects of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown still rippling through the world’s economy, times are tough, indeed.

“The housing slump is more than just a housing slump,” Stone said. “It’s affecting the whole economy.” As consumers buy primarily out of necessity, retail managers must find other ways to spur growth, and Stone said IT might be just the place to start.

“IT is in a unique position,” he said. “We can see things all across the company.” Citing his own experience at Lowe’s — where he oversaw the creation of a tracking system for “out-for-repair” items that saved the company hours of labor per week — Stone emphasized the importance of choosing projects that have immediate, measurable effects on the company’s productivity. “You can’t go out and target something that isn’t going to move the needle.”

Other Lowe’s IT challenges included building a skilled workforce able to answer customer questions on the selling floor and balancing employee skills with tasks assigned, said Stone. “The vision for all these came from the business, but they were all enabled by technology.”

Additional takeaways from the summit included lessons about devising and executing strategies to cut costs and drive efficiency, growth and profitability. Participants considered the advantages of communication — even of having a dedicated IT marketing function to educate others about the complexity of the technology function. Attendees also contemplated the advantages of borrowing best practices from industries other than their own. By the summit’s conclusion, participants gained an appreciation for how many of their challenges where shared by others, and how their peers leveraged different approaches to solve similar problems.