Eugene Roman at CIO PF 2016: Exhilirating, Exhausting, and Encouraging

Eugene Roman entertained the lunchtime audience with an exciting overview of Canadian Tire’s digital transformation journey.

He began his presentation with what he described as the “digital” catalog, which is a hard copy traditional catalog that Canadian Tire has produced for decades but with a “hover and discover” capability. A smart phone app viewing the paper catalog can provide much richer information such as whole product description, availability, upcoming sales, and nearest store location etc.  Eugene suggests that this capability is the first in the world and is one step that Canadian Tire is taking to compete with the digital retail giants such as Amazon.  He quotes the importance of the smart phone as a fundamental capability for every young person, which allows omni-retail to be realized at Canadian Tire.  In the typical Canadian Tire store every person has a smart phone and can see a product anywhere in the supply chain.

Eugene mentioned that Canadian Tire’s digital journey relies on three innovation labs in Canada (two in Waterloo, one in Calgary) and a fourth lab in the Ukraine. The goal of digital transformation is to create a seamless physical/digital retail model. Last year Canadian Tire experienced 350 million electronic visits, this year they expect over 1 billion.  He used the term “shopper-tainment” to describe the importance of pre-shopping, shopping and post-shopping, where both the retail store and the online store must deliver a unified customer experience. He talked about “A– business”: anywhere, any time and automatic.  The goal of the digital transformation is to build “loyalty fascinators” that excite the customer.  As he said “we want to be as good as Disney” to win the mind of the consumer with neural shopping, where we can anticipate and delight the consumer.

“If companies don’t figure it out, they are gone.” “There is no choice, to sit still means we die.”  He cited the competition (Amazon-ians, Wal-Mart-ians) as challenging but not necessarily the best practices. Canadian Tire is now searching the world to find the next digital practices for retail.

The digital transformation journey has been a $400 million project to leap forward.  The program is powerful, exciting, adaptable and kinematic (PEAK).  People have been the secret success to the digital transformation; for example many have been hired from Blackberry, setting up a digital innovation lab in Waterloo working with Communitech.  Canadian Tire is committed to building their own talent pool and not relying on the big consulting firms.  Eugene has had to change the culture, there is no old IT, there is no business versus IT: “we all work together.”  He mentioned that 45% of the people who were wedded to the old IT have left Canadian Tire, and hundreds of people have been hired across Canada and around the world as “digital warriors”.  A Canadian Tire cloud service center has been built in Winnipeg with high-capacity processing that can guarantee two second response in any of the Canadian Tire properties.  Winnipeg happens to be both the geographic center of Canada and a hotbed of over 500 gaming companies and talented entrepreneurs.

The transformative journey is mostly complete, and the next three year program to leapfrog the competition is being established.  Mr. Roman wouldn’t provide the details other than to say he would use “triggers, traps and tricks” to get people to think differently, and to use a “hive” principle to encourage anti-hierarchical organization and open communication to get the job done.  Eugene describes his job as the Chief Talent Officer to bring constructively creative people into Canadian Tire to improve “the neural plasticity” of the organization.

Listening to Eugene Roman’s presentation was exhilarating, a bit exhausting, and encouraging to know that the iconic Canadian retailer is going head-to-head against global competitors on home turf, and is winning.