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How Super Retail Group is dealing with digital disruption

Nadia Cameron | April 24, 2014
Super Retail Group is undergoing big changes as its commitment to the customer extends from its stores to the online world where digital channels dominate the shopping experience.

If you've ever worked for a retailer, you'll know one of the first things employees are taught is that the customer is always right.

This desire to keep the customer happy is also top of mind for Super Retail Group's general manager of group information services (IS), Alan Hesketh. And for him, that commitment doesn't just cover the in-store experience, it's also extending across online interactions too.

Hesketh heads up Super Retail Group's IT team, which operates as a shared function to its retail divisions across Australia and New Zealand. These divisions are split into auto and commercial, leisure, and sports, and include well-known brands such as Supercheap Auto, Ray's Outdoors, Workout World and Amart.

IT is tasked not only with keeping operations running, but also driving better omni-channel experiences for end customers. It's a job that has led to significant transformation in recent years, as well as a cultural shift in how the business operates.

Hesketh is well-aware that the rise of ecommerce and mobile connectivity has transformed the way retailers interact with the end customer, as well as put control firmly into the consumer's hands.

"We've done a lot of work around the omni-channel experience to help our customers shop in the way they want," he tells CIO. "Whether they want to buy online, click and collect in-store or visit a physical location, we've got that capability across all the brands."

Building experience

Hesketh is no stranger to taking on ambitious projects, and his experience as an IT and business leader is diverse.

Hesketh grew up in New Zealand and completed a Bachelor of Science in Information Services at a time when mathematical operations research was required knowledge. He claims a lot of the high-powered modelling his group does today for the business taps into these early learnt skills.

After a stint in analyst programming, he joined Databank in New Zealand, a shared services provider for banks across the Tasman, working on the early support program for IBM's first relational database release, DV2.

He moved into consulting, then joined Unilever in 1990 and spent the next 10 years working with the consumer goods company first in New Zealand, then overseas.

He relocated to South Africa to run Unilever's IT for three years, then spent a year as head of IT for the Africa Business Group. The opportunity proved an eye-opening experience, and Hesketh says he visited several "very interesting places" on the job.

"South Africa was great, but anything north of there was a challenge - a lot of the plantations and factories were getting international and reliable email for the first time," he recalls.

Unilever sent Hesketh next to the UK, first to run IT for European Foods, then to set up the global infrastructure organisation. While he enjoyed the leadership roles, the travel became an issue and he made the decision to move to Sydney.

 

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