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How CIOs can drive change by setting a vision

Brian P. Watson | March 31, 2017
Sysco IT chief Wayne Shurts has a long track record of rallying his troops around a vision for change.

The initiative, dubbed “Superfusion,” was hobbled. The business leaders, CIO and head of merchandizing who had launched it had left the company. That left the IT organization “wandering,” Shurts says.

“There was a lot of passion around it to start, but it kind of lost its way,” he adds.

Superfusion was millions in the hole and way behind schedule. So, six weeks into his tenure at Supervalu, Shurts killed the project. With it went the idea of spending a year or more to roll out improvements. Instead, Shurts’ team would embrace the legacy systems and build actionable applications on top of it. And they would do it in short sprints—not projects that would take a year or more—that would cost less and deliver benefits faster.

The new manta was “business, fast and simple.” “Fast” stood for how rapidly they would act, where “simple” meant how easy it would be for business partners to collaborate with the organization.

This went right back to the importance of setting a vision, and also understanding the criticality of valuing people over projects. “‘Business, fast and simple’ gave them a mission and meaning,” Shurts says. “It wasn’t a cute, manufactured phrase — it had deep meaning to the work and the situation that was actually around us.”


Modernizing and innovating

Since Shurts joined Sysco, the company has undergone a significant business transformation. At its heart, Shurts says, are two major priorities: Leveraging the company’s size and scale to benefit customers, and to present “one Sysco at every location”—essentially making operations more consistent across an enterprise that has more than 70 operating companies.

On the IT side, Shurts employs a combination of bolstering powerful legacy systems and investments in new technologies and techniques. The company had looked at overhauling some of its bigger legacy systems, but Shurts says they found that modernizing them would be more valuable. “We believed that our legacy systems have some real secret sauce that’s made Sysco as good as it is,” he says. “Why we’re the leader is no accident.”

One example is Sysco’s Warehouse Management System (SWMS, pronounced “Swims”). During acquisition integrations, there’s no question which warehouse system will be used going forward, Shurts says. Many people have told him it belongs in the top quadrant of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant rankings.

Another is Sysco’s Uniform System (SUS), which automates monitoring of daily operations. Shurts says the system, built more than 20 years ago, has valuable intellectual property and data in it that is a competitive advantage.

For 2017, customer experience is Shurts’ top priority. Key initiatives in this area range from improving ecommerce tools that allow customers to order, view balances, process credits, and access value-added services online, to providing tools that improve the product-receiving process for restaurants.


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