How Retail Business Services uses collaboration to remain at the top of tech
Retail Business Services was launched in January 2018 to support Ahold Delhaize USA’s consumer-facing grocery retail companies and online grocery retailer, Peapod. Retail Business Services provides innovative solutions by leveraging scale and expertise to ensure the company’s partners can focus on developing their local brands. “Since our first day,” Scorza says, “IT has had a seat at the table of the leadership team. That’s enabled us to successfully support these brands.” Paul Scorza is the Chief Information Officer and Executive Vice President of IT at Retail Business Services, having previously worked as the CIO and EVP for Ahold USA prior to the merger between Ahold and Delhaize in 2016. He brings with him 32 years’ experience at IBM, a job he took immediately after graduating college and in which he performed several software and service-related roles.
The merger, he says, was an opportunity to confirm the company’s power of growth. While it did demand lengthy rationalization, bringing together the two IT systems, was a successful endeavour. The key was finding synergies. The merger ultimately allowed the corporation to increase investments in IT infrastructure, apply innovative initiatives, and bring new technology into its physical stores. “Ahold Delhaize USA recognizes the value of IT,” says Scorza.
Collaboration is at the centre of success at Ahold Delhaize USA and Retail Business Services. “You can’t get anything done without good partners,” affirms Scorza. From partnerships with local brands to collaborations with other tech companies, these are an integral part of Retail Business Service’s business strategy. To ensure a strong partnership with local brands, Retail Business Services created the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role, an account manager that works out of local brands’ headquarters, attending staff meetings, and feeding information back to developers and service providers so the IT team can have a good idea of what the brand represents. Retail Business Services develops tech in house whenever the market fails to supply. Among this is frictionless checkout, which allows customers to shop in-store without having to pay at a checkout lane. Using a mobile phone or scanner, they have a preselected payment method associated to their loyalty card and can leave through a special lane as soon as they are finished picking their goods. Scorza compares it to using an EZ pass when driving on toll roads.
Partnerships have allowed Retail Business Services to keep on top of IT innovation. “One of the things you do as an IT organization is staff all the work you have to do,” he says. “You want a flexible workforce so that they can bring in skills that you may not have. I generally run 15-20% of my workforce using that flexible resource.” When it comes to project management needs, Retail Business Services turns to Apex and Sevenstep. To run a data center to support the applications for Giant Food, GIANT/MARTIN’S and Stop & Shop, both for application maintenance and support, Retail Business Services relies on DXC. Itself the result of a merger, DXC has a decade’s long relationship with Ahold Delhaize USA companies that has evolved over the years. Getronics and Toshiba have been important to Retail Business Services both from a POS system and manufacturing standpoint. Toshiba runs point on the system for Giant Food, GIANT/MARTIN’S and Stop & Shop, while NCR focuses on Food Lion and Hannaford. Getronics and Toshiba helped develop the customized code Retail Business Services needed within the loyalty scheme that gave customers points off gasoline. When legacy company, Ahold USA, needed to change over POS systems six and half years ago, Getronics was closely involved. “I watched them install everything,” says Scorza. “Getronics was truly a partner in the implementation and cared about our business as much as we do.” The company also works with Salesforce on its IT infrastructure. “Salesforce is another great IT partner,” affirms Scorza. “We have used their Mulesoft software for data integration and each brand has access to their Marketing cloud platform. Both tools provide access to key information to drive business at each local brand.” Retail Business Services also works with other key partners, such as Wipro for support and development resources with key tools, like Kronos.
When Retail Business Services wanted to develop a dual lane system that could double as a self-checkout or associate checkout lane, it partnered with Toshiba and Getronics. Toshiba provided software development and hardware engineering expertise; Getronics brought software test capability and project management. Ultimately, after prototyping, lab work, and in-store pilots, the project was a success. It is in 145 retail stores and 380 lanes. “This was a good success story. No one was wedded to a ‘must be invented here’ mentality,” says Scorza. “People stepped up as trusted partners.”
The goal, Scorza says, is to ensure customers have a good experience when they visit the stores. To keep up with innovation, Retail Business Services uses a “fast follower” philosophy as well. “We don’t always want to be leading edge,” explains Scorza. “Sometimes we let other people do the cutting-edge stuff, spend lots of money, and then we follow closely behind with something we know works more efficiently and at a fraction of the cost.” Retail Business Service’s lunchbox frictionless store is similar to Amazon Go. Customers walk into a store, scan in using an app, pick what they want, and leave; no scanning of products required. UST Global was a key partner in the development of the frictionless pilot store technology.
The world’s relationship with IT has changed in recent years, says Scorza. When trying to implement wireless capability in-store half a decade ago, he was met with some resistance. “In 2013, we created any kind of innovative solution because you couldn’t get the stores to adopt it,” says Scorza. “The industry just wasn’t ready. I was always trying to push solutions out there. However, knowing this was coming, we partnered with Verizon to put wireless capability into all Ahold USA stores. This was their first entry into a grocery store and Verizon did a great job partnering with us to make it happen.” It’s completely the opposite now. It’s a pull versus push. There is a pull now where the stores are asking for innovation. Customers are demanding tech.” This change has allowed Retail Business Services to shift its focus to creating an omnichannel experience. Artificial intelligence is the next step, Scorza affirms, prediction models that customize in-store experiences. “We’ve got a bright horizon here,” believes Scorza. “There’s so much technology in areas you’d never expect there to be. You get out of college with a computer science degree and start looking for IT companies. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would enjoy IT in a retail company. It has been incredibly exciting here.”