by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2016 #26-50: Rick Coenen, Sussan Group

Nov 24, 2016
Technology Industry

As CIO at Sussan Group, Rick Coenen is accountable for the women’s fashion retailer’s ‘Connected Retailer’ project to replace 25-year-old in house legacy systems with packaged software. This includes all centralised core retail systems and full POS hardware and refresh across the group’s 3 brands and 500 stores.

The project is one of 3 objectives under a ‘future retail strategy group’, which was established under Coenen’s direction. Under its second ‘digital’ strategy, the retailer has rolled out omni-channel offerings including ‘click and collect’, online redemption of VIP vouchers and rethinking how the group delivers customer services in a 24×7 world.

Under its third strategy, the retailer has ensured that strong leadership – inside and outside the IT team, including at the executive level – help drive the digital changes to its business model.

“There have been major operational, structural and cultural impacts both inside the IT and business teams and our stores,” says Coenen. “Shifting from legacy systems while at the same time, looking to exploit digital and e-commerce opportunities has meant an enormous shift in the culture of the entire organisation is required.”

And when Coenen says ‘legacy’ he certainly means it. Old point-of-sale systems ran on a character-based Linux OS so stores never had the ability to use basic communication tools like email and an intranet.

“Instead, we would print memos and documents and send them in mail bags. Asking for information from stores was equally tedious.

Creating a cultural shift has been achieved in part by good leadership and a ‘cultural change working group,’ says Coenen.

This group was tasked with encouraging the everyday use of technology, especially amongst our executive teams. This included a ‘business technology productivity’ coaching program, he said.

The Connected Retailer project is unique in that it is an end-to-end transformation of the group’s core retail systems. It has fundamentally changed the way stores process transactions through an up-to-date Windows-based POS system, while managing people and wages through scheduling and time attendance systems.

The take up of the “click and collect” – which lets customers order online and pick up in store – has been outstanding, says Coenen. This idea progressed through workshops run by the future retail strategy group.

The IT function is recognised as a strategic group at Sussan and is at the table for CEO and executive meetings.

Coenen says the digital age has made people in our businesses far more tech savvy, including at the executive table and boardroom. As a result, the hunger for innovation in tech and digital is high, Coenen says.

“CIOs must move fast to not only implement more but ensure that a dog’s breakfast isn’t created in terms of IT infrastructure, security, architecture and cost blow outs,” he says.

Byron Connolly