Barnes & Noble Education’s CIO on digital transformation in the book industry

13 Mar 2020

Image: © AlesiaKan/

Stephen Culver, CIO of Barnes & Noble Education, discusses his role at the company and how his industry must adapt to the evolving needs of students.

Stephen Culver is CIO of Barnes & Noble Education (BNED), where he oversees the company’s IT operations. He joined BNED in 2005 after working in a range of leadership positions in the public and private sectors, including the role of CIO at Giorgio Armani Corporation and running his own IT consulting company.

Here, he discusses the development of new tech resources for students, and how the traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore has become a “digital ecosystem”.

Stephen Culver is smiling into the camera against a white background.

Stephen Culver. Image: BNED

Describe your own role in BNED and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

As CIO for BNED, I oversee all aspects of business-enabling technology services for the company, with a focus on student and customer expertise.

The college bookstore industry continues to evolve, and technology services are helping to lead this change. The traditional college bookstore has transformed into a social hub on campus that reflects the school’s values, traditions and mission of supporting student success.

In support of the bookstore’s operations, BNED has deployed an array of technologies and systems that provide course materials, technology, supplies, school spirit apparel, gifts, convenience and café services on the campuses we serve.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

At BNED, our IT focus remains on enhancing the faculty and student experience. IT efforts address the entire student journey from orientation to graduation and keeping alumni connected.

Current projects focus on improving the process for faculty to discover and adopt course materials, student choice and affordability of required materials, student study and writing aids and online enhancements to personalise the shopping experience.

Additionally, we’re continuing to enhance Bartleby, our student success hub, to provide students with a digital learning tool that gives them 24/7 access to step-by-step textbook solutions and a searchable Q&A library, as well as a writing centre that helps build better habits by assisting with spelling and grammar, plagiarism detection and citation assistance.

How big is your team? Do you outsource where possible?

Our IT team is comprised of a wide variety of talent across the globe. The team includes governance, operations, networking, DevOps and Agile development squads, quality assurance, cybersecurity, compliance and support.

Outsourced partners are often engaged to augment the team and provide specialised expertise. IT team alignment is critical to their success, allowing for continuous delivery and operations of the systems.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?

Digital transformation must be a part of the IT team’s DNA. The vast majority of the customers we serve are students and they are accustomed to technology that provides convenience and choice across an array of devices.

To best serve our students, the IT teams leverage cloud services and SaaS products so that IT resources can focus on user experience development cycles to distinguish BNED’s value in the market.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

The big trend in technology I see in the world is the shift to cloud services from on-premise systems, as well as the use of AI across image, voice and language to engage customers and harvest the terabytes of data that help understand shopping behaviour and personalise the experience.

The bookstore industry trend of providing course materials is rapidly changing to a digital format. To meet this challenge, the bookstore has become a digital ecosystem that brings the student’s digital course materials into their learning environments.

As we continue to see students’ interest in digital learning tools evolve, we’ll also see the industry transform with it. For example, at BNED we’ve found success in marketing digital solutions within brick-and-mortar stores to better meet the needs of today’s student.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

Cybersecurity is an ever-growing concern for companies as more bad actors emerge and more businesses conduct transactions online.

Cybersecurity and compliance are at the core of all IT services. To combat the growing threat, BNED has deployed an array of policies, procedures and countermeasures to deter threats.

The use of AI security services and appliances emerging on the market are being deployed to further enhance the company’s cybersecurity portfolio.

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