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Checking Out: Scott Emmons

This information technology expert runs Neiman Marcus’ Innovation Lab, coordinating in-store technology with the demanding standards of the entire enterprise

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What was your introduction to technology?

Both my parents worked in IT, and I swore I wouldn’t do that with my life. It seemed boring and horrible. And then my mother, who worked for IBM, brought home one of the first IBM personal computers. I was hooked.

Which led to your career choice?

It led to my studying for a general computer science degree. What kick-started my career was when my school switched from using Apple computers to PCs. I understood the technology, so I got a job that day as a paid lab assistant and never looked back.

But retail was nowhere in your plans?

Not even close – [my plans were] always IT-related. I came to Neiman Marcus as a consultant on a business intelligence project. It turned out well, and I discovered I liked retailing just fine. I was invited to stay on as an associate on the data and business intelligence team. Then I was invited to start the enterprise architecture team, which put me on the path to this innovation lab.

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To do what, exactly?

We needed to modernize our in-store digital capabilities. When mobile technology and the smartphone revolution took place, we realized we had to get our stores ready for the new digital world.

What did you have to learn about retailing?

I spent a lot of time here in the IT division learning about products and sales, and how the retail calendar works, but without much exposure to the customer herself. It was relatively easy to focus on making sure our systems were reliable, stable and cost-effective, because there were others focusing on the customer. With the iLab, my focus had to become the customer, rather than back-end IT systems.

What was your biggest learning moment?

At Neiman Marcus you can’t just slap anything you want into a store. It has to fit into the visual aesthetics. When we were upgrading our Wi-Fi capabilities in the store, we had to put new access points on the ceiling. They couldn’t be placed above the ceiling because that reduces the signal strength. So we had to work out something that wouldn’t be visually distracting. I worked with our hardware providers to make covers that would blend in with the ceiling.

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Design and IT collaborating?

Yes. I had to learn about the Neiman Marcus view of store design. But the design people had to learn something about IT, too. It has become a good partnership.

What exactly is the function of the Innovation Lab?

First and foremost, it is about solving problems for our customers. It has also brought IT out of the shadows and more into partnership with the business; to play a bigger role in ideation and strategy; to be involved earlier in the game.

From where did the term originate?

When I was working on the enterprise architecture team, we were introducing iPhones and iPads, as well as other mobile technology, into the store. So it seemed natural to call this an iLab. I think it resonated with the other Neiman Marcus associates, who saw it as something that would help them do their jobs better.

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