Retailers go shopping for staff

Static budgets and the increased adoption of outsourcing are slicing into the numbers in the retail industry's IT departments.

Outsourcing is a growing solution when retailers want specialist skills, according to the Gartner's Retail Technology Study released last week.

IT execs acknowledge some skills are hard to find and said customer-facing projects are a top priority in retailing for which many companies seek outside consultants.

George Malachrist, IT manager at UH&D Holdings, agrees outsourcing has contributed to a decline in staff numbers.

"We decided to concentrate our skilled IT staff on improving service and efficiency that directly affects the customer and because of that we have outsourced some services," he said.

A company's attitude to training is also a factor, with Glenn Taylor, CIO at Gray Mercer, saying the shortage depends on the size and orientation of the business.

"The apparent skills shortage is relative to how [the business] is run; their requirements and needs play a huge part in this decision," he said. "Moreover, many of these companies complaining about a lack of experienced IT staff won't train them, because they think they will switch jobs [once they are qualified]."

This claim mirrors the Gartner study which found retailers reluctant to train more than one employee, with many suggesting it is a waste of resources. Leading Solutions IT manager, Rex Galley, said IT staff numbers at his company have remained static.

On the technology front, respondents to the study cited a lack of analytic tools (37 percent) as another obstacle to in-house skills, while 40 percent plan to upgrade their sales forecasting capabilities in the next two years.

Other projects earmarked in the retail industry include voice and data convergence projects, in-store wireless LANs and higher bandwidth to stores. Last week more than 15,000 attendees converged on the National Retail Federation show in New York with BEA Systems launching its AquaLogic High-Performance Workspace for Retail, a platform designed to help retailers make store operations more efficient and more consistent across multiple properties.

On the hardware front, Symbol Technologies unveiled a prototype of an RFID-enabled forklift. The lift features an on-board mobile computer and RFID reader so employees can collect and receive supply chain data in real time, whether they're in a warehouse, on a loading dock or in a freezer. - with Ann Bednarz

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