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Building IT value with Midwestern values

Dan Roberts and Brian P. Watson | June 4, 2015
Chris Hjelm is a unique CIO, primarily because of two accomplishments: He's found success in several very different industries, and he's ascended the role itself to take on not only additional internal responsibilities, but also an appointment to the board of a successful public company.

'Kroger Technology' becomes a unified focused team

That's why he asks such tough questions of his people. If you're not willing to help drive the change he's mandating, then a change will certainly come. And it did. Hjelm's organization is delivering services much more efficiently, so much so that his focus today is aimed at doing what he came to do: turning Kroger's technology unit into an innovation engine that would become the most valued in the retail business.

It's a lofty goal, he admits, and a tough one to measure. But that mission has become gospel among the IT ranks — and, as Hjelm points out, it's also resonating with the rest of the company. He rebranded the organization from an ambiguous "IS&S" to "Kroger Technology," a clear, straightforward name that has further unified the team around that mission.

And they're delivering. Some of Kroger Technology's notable accomplishments include QueVision, a system that has reduced checkout wait times to a mindboggling 30 seconds; and ZigBee, a sensor network for refrigerated cases and freezers that has increased food safety and store efficiency.

Hjelm's accomplishments — not to mention his service on the board of Kindred Healthcare, a $5.7 billion provider of post-acute care services — have garnered him even more responsibility at Kroger. He currently oversees the company's "small-store" strategy, a new group of stores aimed at helping customers complete their fill-in shopping. These stores — smaller than a supermarket, but larger than a convenience store — are expected to increase customer loyalty, grow identical-store shares, and boost wallet share among shoppers.

Hjelm has conquered two of his main objectives: building a culture of excellence and returning Kroger Technology to its legacy of innovation. And no doubt there's much more to come.

 

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