CIO of the Year Awards Winners Announced

Tim Denman
Editor in Chief
Tim Denman profile picture

The eighth annual CIO of the Year Awards honors the industry’s most influential and inventive retail technologists. These retail execs are the who’s who of retail and are leading their organizations in new and exciting directions thanks to their innovative use of technology.

The awards were presented at the Retail Experience Summit, which was held at the Grand
Del Mar in San Diego, October 2-4. Awards were presented in four distinct categories, and for the first time ever the scoring was so close RIS presented two awards in a single category (customer experience). In addition, RIS inducted one long-time retail technologist into its Hall of Fame.

RIS congratulates all of the award winners for their well-deserved accolades, and lauds them for their trailblazing use of game-changing technology.

Ben Pivar

CIO of the Year

Ben Pivar, Chief Information Officer, Carter’s

Ben Pivar is instrumental in driving Carter’s vision for its store of the future. Throughout his multiple-role tenure at Carter’s, he has implemented systems that have enterprise-wide impact and is the driving force behind the technological modernization currently underway at the 800-store chain. He joined Carter’s in 2015 and was key in driving supply chain costs down by implementing the Anaplan platform, which improved supply chain capabilities and inventory handling.

Following his initial success on the supply chain side, he oversaw the rollout of a cloud-based POS that was much more robust than the retailer’s previous system. The upgrade enabled a bevy of omnichannel solutions, such as, endless aisle, save-the-sale, and buy-online ship-to-store. The accelerated rollout, which used a novel remote-install process to ensure on-time program delivery, allowed the onboarding of 100 stores per week.

“It’s been an interesting experience over the past few years,” Pivar says. “We embarked four years ago on a POS upgrade. But it wasn’t just a POS upgrade. We incorporated a number of capabilities we didn’t have previously around digital omnichannel.”

Next up for Pivar and the Carter’s IT team as they continue to innovate the future store concept is radio-frequency identification, integrated in-store marketing, workforce management, digital signage and further development of its unified commerce platform. To power all of this next-gen tech, Carter’s partnered with Hughes to implement an aggressive store infrastructure modernization improvement program, which has resulted in fewer network outages and significant cost savings.

“We are constantly working on new ideas,” Pivar says. “It is important to create a culture in the IT department that enables us to look at new things and not be afraid to fail. I really encourage the team to test things out in a small way with a lot of vendors to see if they will work. Then when we find things that work we take them to the business and get them excited about it. A lot of times we wind up deploying those new technologies.”

Sherri Browning

Tech Leader Award, Innovation
Sherri Browning, Director of IT Portfolio Business Planning, 99 Cents Only Stores

Under Sherri Browning’s leadership, 99 Cents Only Stores implemented a new human capital management solution that streamlined operations and produced significant savings in both time and investment across the enterprise. Before implementing the next-gen solution, all human capital management functions at the organization were 100% manual and paper-based.

With 390 stores and over 17,000 employees, including 14,000 part-timers, managing labor and high turnover rates were a challenge across the chain. A completely paper-based approach limited the company’s visibility into labor costs and impacted stores’ ability to manage their employees effectively. 99 Cents Only Stores was managing over 1,000 time away from work requests each week without the tools to help managers, HR and executive leaders to schedule, forecast or track labor. HR was also managing up to 1,400 monthly new hire and termination activities manually and payroll processing was overly complicated and cumbersome.

“Our initial work in the people arena has created the foundation to manage an environment that has constant employee change,” Browning says. “Paper processes generated over 80 pages per hire to be printed, signed, and faxed for each new employee. We did not have the ability to take on additional programs for hiring, such as background checks or other required surveys valuable for the business without adding headcount and large administrative labor overhead for both HR and stores. Error rates, lack of information visibility and access at all levels and high volume calls continued to slow progress.”

To address these challenges, 99 Cents Only Stores adopted Ceridian Dayforce. The implementation of the platform resulted in all stores being fully integrated across human resources, workforce management, benefits, and payroll. The retailer made the critical shift to automation, self-service, and on-demand reporting, and has pushed out activities that used to require large administrative overhead. This brings a new data-rich environment to 99 that is part of its future roadmap.

The retailer saved over 20,000 man-hours annually through self-service processes, while at the same time providing instant access to information for its employees. The self-service functionality of the platform also sped up the process for adding new hires and processing terminations by 75%. The implementation has resulted in a streamlined human capital management approach, more efficient labor management, and consistency in the employee experience across stores.

While the project produced numerous benefits for both the enterprise and its employees, 99 Cents Only Stores continues the journey for continuous improvement. “We will continue to
implement enhancements that have been identified by business users and HR teams to bring value to the organization,” Browning says. “The next big step is the implementation of
better workforce demand planning, advanced labor scheduling, and continuing to focus on our 99 associates.”

John Jordan

Tech Leader Award, Customer Experience
John Jordan, SVP of Customer Experience, Total Wine and More

John Jordan is dedicated to leveraging technology to improve the omnichannel customer experience, better support and inform staff, and more efficiently address inquiries by customers. To inform both staff and customers about the retailer’s vast product array, Jordan brought vital product information to the store by integrating video story telling at all Total Wine and More locations.

More than 60 hours of proprietary video content features interviews with wine producers, breweries, and distilleries and offers educational information and best practices. Total Wine and More is leveraging this content to not only educate customers, but also to issue various calls to action. Customers engaging with the 500 in-store televisions around the country are encouraged to try a new product, or engage with employees to learn more. In addition, online shoppers have access to the video content and its supported recommendations.

“I like to label this project as a seven-year overnight success,” Jordan jokes. “It is one of those things that took time to build. Very early on my department was charged with figuring
out how to tell the story of our producers. The best way of course was with video. We started from scratch and built out a large library of video and leveraged Hughes technology
to control the programing schedule across the entire store network.”

Early in his tenure at Total Wine and More, Jordan developed the enterprise’s first virtual customer care center. The system utilizes an intelligent voice response unit and an ACD
to field and route calls with the objective being first call resolution. Last year, he integrated an ACD (Five9) with a CRM (Oracle Service Cloud) which enables screen-pops with key
customer information displayed to staff while handling customer calls.

As of August 2018, Jordan is the former chief customer officer & SVP for Total Wine, and continues to help organizations who desire to put the customer first in all that they do.
His mantra is “let the customer decide!”

Al Lettera

Tech Leader Award, Customer Experience
Al Lettera, Vice President, Enterprise Applications Development, Tractor Supply Company

Al Lettera and his team are critical to the implementation of the Tractor Supply Company’s roadmap as it executes on its ONETractor strategic initiative, which is focused on delivering
a robust and engaging customer experience. Lettera leads the application development team, driving the development of ONETractor capabilities.

Since rolling out its strategic vision last year, Tractor Supply has delivered several capabilities that are moving the company forward, including buy online pickup in-store, team member mobility, seamless in-store returns and subscription ordering. The delivery of these capabilities, which directly affect the customer, are a result of Lettera’s leadership and ability to produce results quickly and effectively.

“At Tractor Supply everything is about the customer experience,” says Lettera. “What we have done as a company is really try to understand our shoppers. Our customer base is in rural communities and they need specific access to products and services that truly meet their needs. We have integrated a buying experience between online and in-store, leveraging things like mobility and kiosks, coupled with functionality within our merchandising, supply chain, and marketing systems.”

Lettera directed the migration of crucial customer data to an in-house solution. He led the development of a robust loyalty engine to support the Neighbors Club loyalty program, which has more than 6.8 million members. He has also lent his expertise to the design of the ONETractor concept stores. These stores allow TSC to introduce functionality nonexistent in farm and ranch retail. The team developed capabilities such as self checkout, buy online pickup in-store lockers, and seamless in-store ordering of the retailer’s expanded assortment.

“We like to empower our team members to do whatever it takes for the customer,” he says. “By doing that we were really able to understand their needs from a technology perspective.”

Lettera helped further TSC’s omnichannel vision by implementing the same knowledgeable advice that customers find in stores on the retailer’s e-commerce channel. He is laser-focused on all aspects of the retailer’s web presence, from speed to the customer experience, to features that differentiate TSC from the competition. Under his leadership, Tractor Supply has delivered capabilities that are new among competitors, while also merging the customer experience across channels.

​​​​​​​Ed Wong

Tech Leader Award, Strategic Impact
Ed Wong, SVP Supply Chain and CIO, Smart & Final

Ed Wong spearheaded a multi-year data consolidation project designed to remove the complexity and inefficiency of running multiple data sets. In order to drive his vision, Wong created a new foundational data integration layer, which allowed Smart & Final to run all of its downstream ERP applications on one standard data set.

“We consolidated three disparate data stores into one master data,” Wong says. “That in essence becomes the center hub of all that matters. Data is at the center hub of everything. Whether it is product data, customer data, store data, vendor data – that center hub powers all the other business applications.”

Under this innovative model, instead of duplicating data, a single set of data is now shared with applications based on business needs. Prior to the project, Smart & Final had more than 50 applications running simultaneously. Now it is running five integrated platforms. This has delivered operational savings and reduced the total cost of ownership.

The benefits of running one data set are numerous: decreased errors, reduced order to shelf time, increased on-shelf availability, improved service levels, and reduced spoilage. In
addition, enabling store-level inventory data for omnichannel servicing of customer needs streamlines the path to purchase and produces measureable cost savings.

The mult-year, multi-phase project will be felt throughout the enterprise. Following the construction of the foundational layer, Wong and his team unleashed their consolidated data sets on the merchandising and supply chain application suite to help streamline operational efficiently.

“The focus initially was really on transactional execution,” he says. “To make sure that business workflows get executed efficiently with speed and with very light overhead from a workload perspective. As we go into subsequent phases we will introduce key components of analytics to leverage this center hub of master data to drive predictive forecasting as well as inventory management capabilities, pricing and promotions.”

Under this new strategy, the organization is more nimble and reactive to the constant changes in today’s ultra-competitive market. Prior to the implementation, when Smart & Final introduced a new item, it would take four days until that item was orderable. With this new system, time to shelf has been cut by 75%, meaning that new items are made available to customers much faster. With centralized data, the retailer can now manage its inventory in near real-time. In addition, the improved monitoring capabilities allow Smart & Final to receive immediate feedback on forecast accuracy.

Bob Graham

RIS Hall of Fame
Bob Graham, VP IT, CIO/Warehouse Operations, Beverages and More

Bob Graham is a true retail technology innovator. He is a leader who leverages advances in game-changing technologies including cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics to improve the in-store experience and enterprise operations.

He is a life-long technologist having spent nearly two decades at NCR before entering the retail side of the house with long stints at Smart & Final and Peek Aren’t You Curious. Currently, he is the CIO of Bevmo!, a position he has held the past eight years, a mentor at the Plug and Play Tech Center, and a long-time member of the NRF CIO Council. As an early adopter of cloud-based technology, Graham transitioned Bevmo! away from traditional data centers, resulting in significant cost savings while simultaneously improving performance and business continuity across the enterprise.

“When we want to make things happen we can make them happen quickly,” Graham says of BevMo!’s private cloud approach. “We can spin up servers usually in a few days, versus a few weeks.”

Currently, he is working with Fellow Robotsn the pilot of an artificial intelligence powered robot (BevBot!) whose capabilities support inventory management, customer engagement,
associate support and business intelligence. The cloud-based data/AI platform allows Bevmo! to nimbly and efficiently aggregate customer and store insight enabling store operations and management to effectively serve their customers. A key aspect of the platform is the ability to respond to and interact with customers in real time.

“The real power in the robot is servicing the customer,” says Graham. “Getting them to put one more bottle in their basket. That is where we have potential for a huge return. Recently, we stationed the robot at the front of the store to announce itself and ask customers if they needed any assistance. When we made that change usage jumped quite a bit.”

Tasked with various duties throughout the day, BevBot! can check in-store inventory availability, alert staff when products are out of stock, capture images of products, identify shelf tags, and most importantly provide a differentiated customer experience. BevBot! can respond to voice commands and questions, educate customers on different products,and even help customers and associates select and find products throughout the store.

“The power of AI is really about engaging the customer on their terms,” says Graham. “Often when we have this conversation it is all about millennials and the digital natives. But what has been exciting is the adoption across all ages. While not every customer will use it, those that choose to engage generally have been quite pleased with the outcome.”