by Divina Paredes

CIO50 2019 #26-50: Ashley Colyer, Miles Fordyce and Damian Barr, Foodstuffs North Island

Mar 28, 2019
Big DataBusiness ContinuityCloud Computing

“When the business decided that it wanted to be a digital business – focused on our customers – we knew that our established ways of working would not scale to the digital age.

“Based upon this, we set an ambitious goal to be able to operate in the digital layer in a reusable, fully automated and scalable way.”

This is how some members of the ICT executive team at Foodstuffs – Ashley Colyer (acting CIO), Miles Fordyce (operations and enterprise services manager) and Damian Barr (strategy and architecture manager) – describe the backdrop of the technology enabled change that’s ongoing at the supermarket group.

They explain the group’s adoption of digital and agile approaches to solution delivery is revolutionary at Foodstuffs North Island.

“Moving away from traditional waterfall approaches required a total rethink for how we work,” they explain.

Foodstuffs used the service of external consulting and technology organisations to jumpstart the process and to train and upskill the Foodstuffs team.

This was paired with a recruitment drive to bring skills in-house for digital architecture, as they worked to deliver the solution.

“This approach was a key enabler for a rapid transition out of project-oriented and into a product-oriented continuous improvement programme,” they explain.

Over the past year, the team has worked on a range of e-commerce projects for the retail and wholesale business.

iShop New World is a next generation shopping application allowing a superior experience for online shopping. This will become increasingly personalised and customisable over time, they state.

This was released and deployed to all North Island New World customers and nearly 100 stores with full logistics setup, and integration to backend and payment systems.

We pushed the boundaries on user interaction with the iShop New World App by adopting a virtual shelf metaphor – this provided a very functional and physical interface for our customers to shop with that is unique in the country,” they explain.

“We think it has successfully allowed our customers to order at times and places that suit them – particularly on small form-factor devices such as mobile phones.”

Since the successful launch of iShop, Foodstuffs has rapidly deployed both online shopping websites for New World and PaknSave. This is a testament to the ability to scale at speed upon their new platforms, and for the logistical aspects of the business to support these systems to also rapidly deploy.

Their adoption of microservices for master data and omnichannel e-commerce support has dramatically impacted how Foodstuffs delivers customer facing solutions.

“We were until recently a traditional ERP centric organisation with mature processes that delivered solutions in a classic waterfall method. Foodstuffs realised they were not well positioned to meet the needs of 21st century customers at digital speeds.

“Critical to this was the freeing up of core data by consistent standardisation, and decoupling from our core enterprise systems at the heart of our business,” they state.

The containerisation of microservices, meanwhile, was crucial to delivering projects at high speed. The ICT team adopted Docker and Kubernetes for this purpose, and it has enabled them to abstract away from the underlying platform. “This means we can run these services wherever we like, in the cloud, on premise, or even in the retail store if we so choose.”

Foodstuffs has adopted an end-to-end approach to building much of their digital layer infrastructure, on premise or in the cloud, in a fully automated way, they state. “This is a significant undertaking and is a multi-year programme for an organisation of our scale.”

The team also created a highly available platform, built on AWS – but also on premise.

“This facilitates the distribution of workloads with the end goal of achieving cloud workload independence,” they explain. This approach also brings significant cost optimisation and compute flexibility, as well as enterprise grade DR and system availability.

“Overall, the approach taken has freed the developers up to focus their efforts on their applications, rather than having to struggle with the complexities of servers, networks, and other infrastructure,” they explain.

The next goal, they state, is to simplify the developer experience by automating and abstracting further – giving developers a simple resource request UI and having the system provision their new environments where and when they are required.

Smart shopping baskets

Foodstuffs has a significant interest in AI, machine learning and advanced analytics.

“We have worked with local partners to develop analytics engines that suggest relevant customer offers to present to the customer,” they state.

Foodstuffs is in early development with a shop and scan technology that provides low-cost self scan trolley capability and scan/payment capability to allow frictionless checkout and payment. This will be integrated with iShop and the customer loyalty/personalisation programme.

“This provides a new level of shopping convenience and opens up the potential to have a real-time interaction with our in-store customers while they shop,” they state.

“Given the scale of Foodstuffs, we are very proud of the relative short timeframe that we have been able to transform our IT digital delivery capability,” says the ICT executive team.

“This was and remains a very complex and challenging problem; nonetheless, it all works, and we continuously strive to improve.”

They say having a supportive executive team who were willing to invest in new ways of working as much as the solutions themselves was critical to this success.

The three ICT executives say culture has also been a significant focus of the team over the past year.

“We have listened to our teams and worked hard to develop a number of programmes to enhance and build our overall team culture and engagement.”

“The cadence of weekly meetings, quarterly management offsites, social activities and team events have all helped drive a culture of collaboration,” they state.

The team is actively encouraging diversity and growth of individuals.

They have set the goal of filling 50 per cent of roles by existing staff from other team and have also started bringing in summer interns and graduates for work experience – many of them securing full-time positions.

They also assigned an IT leader as a key liaison with the management team of each business unit.

“This has driven a close understanding and link between business and technology, not just at the executive layer, but at the tier three as well.”