The J.C Penney Company (JCP), a $20 billion company, has opted for a CTO instead of CIO. 

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. 

For the vast majority of companies, the CIO title is just fine. It’s a you say `toMAHtoe’ and I say `toeMAYtoe’ proposition. But there is perception that CTO scouts new technologies and is more focused on innovation. A bit retro, the CIO tends to the home fires, namely enterprise infrastructure. We have robust discussion on CIO v. CTO based on a Quick Post I did last September.

And a good tick list on the these differences can be found in a 2008 TechRepublic blog post. CIO: “Serves as the company’s top technology infrastructure manager.” CTO: “Serves as the company’s top technology architect.” 

So is this the message JCP intended to send – that Blum would be more focused on innovation than IT infrastructure? Will Penney floor personnel soon be checking out customers on iPads instead of stationary cash registers? Does the elimination of the JCP CIO position portend a trend we regularly read about?

Well, we’re left to speculate. JCP media did not return several calls to comment on the story, but the memo was sent to me by a JCP insider 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.

But it’s no sceret that the struggling retailer is revamping under new CEO Ron Johnson, a hotshot executive who is credited with launching Apple’s fabulously 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 Jan. it wants to cut $900 million in expenses within two years. That means job cuts s and store closures.

For her part, Blum is a CIO in everything but name only – a CIO’s CIO if you will. Most recently, she was a CIO and SVP, chief information officer, Enterprise Transformation at PepsiCo and held the CIO post at Abercrombie & Fitch. The word “transformation” alone strongly suggests she will adopt the role of chief innovation officer more than chief infrastructure officer.  

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 announcing her hiring at JCP.

You can’t get much more CIO than that. Perhaps, she wanted a new title or someone at JCP wanted her to have one. `ToeMahtoe, ToeMAYtoe,’ I say. She has her work cut out for her. 

One other thing I wondered is if Johnson maybe brought the going CIO-less idea from Apple. That does not appear likely given that Blum report to JCP COO Mike Kramer and Apple has had the same CIO since 1997 in Niall O’Connor…now, that’s CIO longevity!

Given JCP’s cost cutting mood, it’s safe to assume that there wasn’t room for both a CTO and CIO. 

If only the JCP folks would call me back and clear it all up for us!?

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