By Peter High, published on Forbes
Clay Johnson has worked at a number of iconic brands, from FedEx to Boeing to General Electric. Roughly a year ago, he joined yet another icon in Walmart. In so doing, he joined a company with 2.3 million associates, 5,000 stores in the U.S. alone, and a complex mix of technology. His priorities in the early days were to meet as many people as possible, to learn the business, and to understand the projects that were ongoing.
He has begun to enact a cultural change within the IT department, and he indicates that the four steps he has followed have been to be transparent, to foster open debates, to push everyone to speak up, and to incorporate a fail-fast approach to work.
Now that he has a year under his belt, he sees his big priorities for the year ahead as developing a product model for IT to facilitate end-to-end ownership of different product areas created, as well as process automation, facilitated at least in part through artificial intelligence. He discusses all of the above and more in this far-ranging interview.
Peter High: Can you please describe your purview as Walmart’s Chief Information Officer and Executive Vice President of Global Business Services?
Clay Johnson: When I joined earlier this year, we consolidated the Internal Technology and the Shared Services teams. Technology encompasses anything that runs internally for the company, from server security and corporate systems to machine learning [ML], analytics, and artificial intelligence [AI]. We split out e-commerce and customer-facing staff to Jeremy King, who is our CTO. Everything else that runs inside the company falls under me. A lot of that is supplier facing rather than customer facing.
Combining these two teams has been incredibly powerful because it enables us to drive end-to-end ownership and use technology all the way through a process. I predict you are going to see a trend of more companies doing this.
High: I know part of the intention was to have a unified view of the associate experience. Could you describe how that is enhanced through digital technologies?
Johnson: The key is a relentless focus on the customer, and my customers are the internal associates of the company. Walmart has over two million associates, which is a huge number. At that scale, any time you can help productivity numbers or improve interactions with the different tools and services that we have, that will result in a massive productivity improvement.
If you look back ten years ago, business technology was better than consumer technology. However, that has now flipped. A lot of the technology that employees use in their personal lives is better than what they have at work. People now expect that when they come to work, the technology will be intuitive like social media and smartphones. They want everything on mobile and at the tip of their fingers. The goal of the Internal Technology and Shared Services team is to provide everything associates need when and how they need it, from tools to analytics.
High: Given this mandate, how much have you had to change in terms of the skill mix of your team? To what degree are you adding new employees, retraining existing employees, or creatively using external parties?