On Monday, Dillman spoke at the Forrester IT Forum but gave no hint of the looming changes.
Dillman's presentation, billed as an insider's take on the future of IT, offered few insights into what's coming down the pike.
Dillman did, however, give attendees a glimpse of the extent to which Wal-Mart brings its suppliers into the loop, a management practice some say will be Dillman's legacy at the world's largest retailer.
After joining Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart in 1991 from Hewlett-Packard Co., Dillman catalyzed the radio frequency identification movement by mandating the use of RFID by Wal-Mart's top suppliers.
Like founder Sam Walton, who is said to have "never trusted computers," Dillman understood the importance of bringing suppliers into the fold. In her era, that meant making suppliers part of Wal-Mart's ultra-sophisticated Internet-based operations.
Wal-Mart makes proprietary data available to suppliers -- 583 terabytes of its data warehouse. In any given week, more than 411,000 queries come in from suppliers -- more than 21 million a year. More than 17,000 suppliers have access to information such as Wal-Mart's daily sales, shipments, returns, purchase orders, invoices, claims and forecasts.
Access to that data gives companies such as Gillette the ability to "identify opportunities" to promote its products. As a result, Gillette increased sales of a product by 19%, said Dillman.
Walton may not have been an advocate of technology, but his philosophy of a common systems approach to retail made Wal-Mart the largest retailer in the world, with sales of $312 billion in 2005. The company's IT infrastructure follows the same philosophy, Dillman said. The key is centralized information systems.
"The cost advantages are huge," said Dillman, who referred to the central IT repository as "tribal knowledge. "When one country has a great idea, we bundle it into every system."
These types of executive moves are not uncommon at Wal-Mart, which has a practice of exposing high-level executives to various areas of the business.
"Wal-Mart has always been very definitive about putting business ahead of IT, and the fact that they feel that they can interchange people between business and IT roles speaks to their level of commitment to this concept," said Nikki Baird, senior analyst, consumer markets at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Baird said moving Dillman from an IT-specific role into a broader business function role and moving Ford, a line business person, into an IT role seems obvious.
Naming Ford as the new CIO says more about where the company has been, Baird said. "Wal-Mart has been a tremendous force in supply chain efficiencies, and technology has played an important role in that -- everything from RFID to retail link."
Wal-Mart also announced a number of other promotions and senior leadership moves. Lawrence Jackson was named president and CEO of its global procurement division. He previously was executive vice president of the retailer's people division, responsible for all human resources functions for the world's largest private workforce. Susan Chambers, previously executive vice president of risk management and benefits administration, was named executive vice president of the people division, responsible for human resources functions and the Office of Diversity.
Shamus McGillicuddy contributed to this article.
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