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CIO Interview with Rick Hanzelin, Vice President of IT Infrastructure and Web Center at Peapod

Grocery delivery service Peapod is one of the few survivors from Web 1.0 and now faces competition from a whole new generation of on-demand companies. Tech leader Rick Hanzelin explains how a company from the ’90s is using technology to thrive today.

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What is your main goal in your role, which, I assume, is equivalent to CIO?

We actually don’t have a CIO title, since Peapod is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ahold. There is a Global CIO, and a CIO of the American unit… having one in our subsidiary would be confusing. 

That said, my focus is making sure people have the right access to the right info at the right time. We are a real-time business as well as a shopping service for delivery to homes and businesses, which means there are a lot of systems to make that happen. There is a lot of keeping all the systems in place to get the orders processed, and the subset goal of ensuring systems are available to get the right info sent to the right parts of the business.

What tech challenges are unique to expiration-dependent delivery?

In essence, we’ve taken a grocery store and, because of volume metrics, converted it into a warehouse. We then have to provide like a grocery store, but in a facility setting: There is a dry section for dry goods, a freezer section for frozen goods, and so on. Our challenge is, “How do we have this high level technology in place?” – like the large level of moisture needed with the produce versus the dry goods – and we have to make sure we have the IT parts in place to allow them to work together. 

The unique thing about Peapod is that we are an e-commerce company as well as a delivery company. Other e-commerce companies depend on others to deliver, like UPS or FedEx, but a grocery is quite different. A large part of our role is logistics: Having good drivers and other details to make sure things aren’t expiring and left to the elements for any significant amount of time. 

Peapod began well before the mobile revolution. How has mobile technology changed Peapod’s approach to security?

It’s a different level than everyone just browsing: People are carrying their lives around in their pocket. Mobile is vital to our future… currently 54% of our orders are touched by mobile. We now work more with protocols. What is stored in our data center is different, as we’ve moved credit cards and other vital information out of those areas for higher security.

What kind of opportunities does the Internet of Things provide for you?

Through 3rd party use of our APIs, the IoT opens up the door for us to help the consumer more, like working with a smart fridge that will understand what you have and allow easy food ordering and replacement. We actually have a partnership with a device called Hiku so you can easily say or scan an item and it will show up in your Peapod cart. With IoT, our goal is to enhance, not replace what we do.

What is the next big hurdle you think technology will solve in Peapod’s business? 

It will be expanding our ability to give broader offerings to our customers, including the types of goods available, and give more opportunities to work with other companies. Also, we see a broader base as far as delivery times to different neighborhoods. Tech isn’t necessarily all just straight computing: As we see electric and, soon, self-driving vehicles take off, we foresee even more ways to deliver.

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