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When I joined Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC) in 2012 as Chief Technology Officer, the top priority was to address the tech infrastructure and to help turn CTC into a world-class digital organization. Our 93-year old company had conflicting and obsolete technology systems across our banners and we needed to catch up fast.  Applying “best practices” was the safe approach but we concluded that it would take us too long to get where we needed to be.  Instead, we focused on creating “next digital practices” – and our first step was to build a new and appropriately skilled technology team and put in place a tactical playbook  that included both heritage systems, quantum improvements and new world of retail digital technology and processes.  By prioritizing critical areas, we put into action a three-year strategy called Operation Leapfrog, which helped us turn digital disruption of “brick retail” into a “clicks and bricks” opportunity.  Operation Leapfrog demonstrated our ability to create a valuable and interactive customer experience, enabled by technology throughout the entire buying process; be it before, during or after the customer decision to purchase.

Digital transformation, through the use of leading edge technology, requires sound operational expertise, enterprise confidence and credibility, effective organizational communication and executive support. The full support of our CEO and executive leadership team enabled us to move rapidly from a traditional IT shop to a strategic weapon delivering highly useful digital firepower to grow and evolve the corporation.  This support continues to be a critical part of our success as we test, learn and innovate.

To fuel our digital strategy and foster an “intrapreneurial” culture, we combined deep retail tech talent latent in the organization and searched for the best “next generation” digital talent in Canada – people who have grown up digital and who spark new ideas to help us further connect with our customers.

In 2013, we strategically partnered with Communitech in Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario, giving key employees a chance to work alongside some of Canada’s brightest young minds to improve the online and in-store shopping experiences using “next in class” technology. Since then, we’ve developed two more digital centres – our Digital Garage facility in Kitchener/Waterloo and Winnipeg Data Centre – and continue to grow our team. We moved away from a waterfall approach and adopted an ‘Agile’ delivery engine which has enabled our teams to respond rapidly, collaboratively and to achieve our deliverables in an unpredictable environment.

Building a strong, stable and responsive infrastructure was a critical and necessary step to ensure all digital assets could deliver the workloads needed.   We had to resolve several outdated data centres which led us to one of our most significant digital endeavors –  The Winnipeg Data Centre (WDC).  Our WDC is the largest hub for digital retail in Canada, featuring a high performance private cloud infrastructure. The combination of traditional computing with a next generation cloud service engine provides us with ultra high performance computing and network firepower while offering exponentially more computing power and network bandwidth than our previous technology infrastructure.

We wanted more than just a Data Centre. On site at WDC there is an Advanced Gamification space and Digital Media Hub called the “NEWcleus” and all of our banners are able to leverage this facility and use the power of the experts to offer innovative digital services to Canadians every day.  The applications we develop here are enhancing the in-store shopping experience for customers, turbo-charging their interaction with CTC’s brands online, and provide great improvements to the company’s back-end operations.

As Canada’s Store, we know that our customers are shopping differently than they were five years ago and believe the future of retail is ‘phygitail’ – the physical and digital retail that enables customers to shop anytime, anywhere and in the manner they choose. We believe that bricks and mortar stores are here to stay, but digital technology will continue to play an increasingly important role in the click driven retail space.  This is most evident in our online presence and through our digitally enhanced stores.

We’ve now moved into our next three year strategy, Operation PEAK, which stands for Powerful, Agile, Exciting and Kinematic (changing when change is necessary).  The future is moving away from IT in the traditional sense.  It’s all about interactivity and positive design, both of which allow us to apply the behavioural science of ‘neuroshopping’.

This is our challenge — one that has to be met at an unprecedented velocity unique to retail.


 

This piece was written by Eugene Roman for the CIO Peer Forum 2016 Digest. Please join us at for our 2-day conference in Toronto, April 20-21, 2016 where Eugene Roman will be presenting the closing keynote for Day 2. Learn more and register for the CIO Peer Forum 2016 here.