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Inside Coles' technology transformation

Nadia Cameron | July 10, 2014
Coles CIO, Conrad Harvey, is an advocate for helping your business peers see technology as an opportunity to drive transformation.

Embracing change has become a mantra for CIOs looking to take a more strategic and innovative position within their organisation today. But for Coles group manager of IT, Conrad Harvey, true business transformation comes from getting others to want it and lead the way.

"You've got to make someone really want the technology and see how it's going to add value to them and to their mission, as well as deliver for the customer," he says. "Then they will lead the change because you helped them see the opportunity."

Harvey has had plenty of occasions to both influence and instigate innovation at the Australian supermarket giant during his 10-year tenure.

He was initially brought on as a program director for a merchandising systems refresh project, before taking the role of general manager of IT strategy, architecture and program delivery in 2004.

Following Wesfarmers' acquisition of the Coles Group in 2007, Harvey became IT group general manager across a team of more than 700 staff. He was heavily involved in the transformation under Wesfarmers and has maintained a high-profile and impactful role during and post-acquisition.

Prior to joining Coles, Harvey worked for Accenture delivering projects across South Africa, the UK and Australia, largely in the retail sector.

One of the key drivers for the IT function is to "live and breathe the important values at Coles" — a focus Harvey readily admits wasn't there when he joined the group. He describes his time at Coles in two chapters: The first as head of the Coles IT unit; and the second as a core business contributor.

"As Coles IT we had our own logo and acted as a consultant to the business, charging an hourly rate," he recalls. "Since I have been able to take the team under my wing, we focus very much on being part of the business, rather than a service provider.

"As team members, it's about how we can help innovate in areas that matter to both our customers and the wider team. We work hard on ensuring we are one of the top participants working in-store, and we continue to get very high engagement scores."

On the list of Harvey's biggest customer achievements in the last five years is deploying automated replenishment, which he claims materially improved the availability and efficiency of Coles' supply chain.

"This means we're getting products through to our store fresher and in a more timely fashion," he says.

"We have a large number of our stores on assisted checkouts and are constantly growing new models of those checkouts, which allows us to offer new options to our customers.

"In addition, there are obvious things you can do around leveraging the loyalty and Fly Buys programs, which are both exceptionally great value for our customers. On top of that, we've changed the digital interactions. The online sites, social media space and mobile phones are each a different touch point where we can change the customer experience.


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