CIO Profile: Tesco's Mike McNamara on supplier relationships

See also: Tesco's Mike McNamara on supporting a global business

Mike McNamara’s corner desk faces out to the window and his PC sports a telepresence camera, which is used for two of every four quarterly reviews held by the CIO of retail giant Tesco.

A meeting table dominates the room. This layout tells you something about McNamara. He is warm, engaging but with a mind as sharp as the pricing on the shop floor.

McNamara has no need to hide behind a huge desk and rule the IT empire like a retail Kitchener, and at the meeting table McNamara is at home, relaxed yet totally focused and like his organisation looking beyond the nondescript Cheshunt office from where Tesco has taken on the world.

Tesco is considered to be a bit of a darling in the CIO world; after all there are not too many global corporations from this, or any, shore that have a former CIO as their CEO.

McNamara’s boss Philip Clarke formerly held McNamara’s position until March 2011 when Sir Terry Leahy stood down as CEO.

Under Leahy Tesco undertook significant expansion in the UK and overseas as well moves into banking, telecoms and the internet.

McNamara sits on the Tesco executive committee alongside the chief executives of the four regional Tesco businesses and the services business that includes the new banking and telecommunications arms.

“Philip is a brilliant retailer, not just a technologist,” McNamara says of Clarke when asked whether there are any challenges to having the former CIO as your boss.

“You don’t get much by him. He has a great sympathy for IT and he can understand what it can do to make shopping easier and better for customers and our staff.”

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CIO met McNamara as the company announced an eight-year extension of its relationship with Microsoft.
“It is a long contract. It is about as long as we would sign,” he says.

McNamara describes the deal as an “enterprise subscription agreement”.

“So we have unlimited licensing over the duration of the contract. It is important not to count them [licences] all the time when you are a large distributed organisation like us,” he adds.

Microsoft will provide its Windows, Office, SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, System Center, BizTalk and SQL Server technologies across the 14 countries that Tesco operates in, as well as to the rapidly growing Tesco banking, online and telecommunications businesses. The Microsoft Services Enterprise Strategy consulting programme is also in the deal.

Long-term partnership
McNamara explains that Tesco has had a long-standing technology relationship with Microsoft. The CIO began working with Microsoft when he was CTO of Tesco.com back in 1999.

“You have to wear down a bit of shoe leather. There are a few companies that I spend a deal of time forming a relationship with and Microsoft if one of those,” McNamara says of his vendor management style.

“We have quarterly meetings, twice a year in the US and I know I can pick up the phone to speak to Kevin Turner [chief operating officer at Microsoft] if I wanted to. You have to put the time in to relationships and I know it works for me,” he adds.

Motorola, NCR, Oracle and Retalix sit alongside Microsoft as the core technology providers to Tesco, supplying in-store mobile, self-service tills, till software and checkouts respectively.

“You end up with an ecosystem and you can encourage them to work together,” the CIO says.

“We have enough money to do what we want to do, so I have never felt constrained and during the credit crisis we continued to invest.”