When Running IT is Like Apollo 13: CIO Interview with Wayne Shurts, SUPERVALU INC.
What is the most valuable project, program or innovation your IT organization has delivered in the last 12 months?
Here at SUPERVALU, we are in the middle of a major business transformation. We are a company in a turnaround mode and speed is very important to us. We have deliberately walked away from long “lead to value” projects, because they do not fit into our business reality right now. We have a pretty disparate legacy environment, which would take too long to fix. Rather, we are we are accepting our legacy as our reality and focusing on those guerilla projects that we can deliver quickly.
We’ve delivered about a dozen of these smaller projects, including a promotional tool to our merchants that lets them model promotions before they happen, to maximize sales and margin. That tool has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in benefit, but it didn’t require that we change the whole back end.
To help with freshness in the stores, we have developed some simple solutions like this sticker tool, which we gave to all of our store directors for their produce departments. The directors put these stickers, which have item sales data printed on them, on the shelves beneath each product item. Based on their new knowledge of how each item actually sells, they are making smart decision on how much shelf space to devote to that product. Armed with sales data, these store managers are now completely revamping their shelf sets which is driving “shrink” down and most importantly improving freshness for our customers.
"For us, IT is a little like Apollo 13: See what you can make with cardboard, a plastic bag, and duct tape."
What is interesting about these projects is that technology is not that important to the tools we are delivering. For this product, we used paper and tape. It is more about speed and the ability to do something fast with what you’ve got. Even with our legacy environment, my team is adding more real measurable value than at any other point in my career. When you have your back against the wall, you have to use what you have. It’s a little like Apollo 13: See what you can make with cardboard, a plastic bag, and duct tape.
What does your IT organization do best?
When I got here 19 months ago, we were deep into a journey of putting in a new ERP system to replace our core legacy systems. We had spent lots and lots of money, had delivered little and were only half way through with the project. We cancelled that project because it did not fit the business reality of SUPERVALU, speed was of the essence. I inherited an IT organization built for doing these massive waterfall projects that you design in a conference room and take three years to complete.
We are changing the culture to what we call “business fast and simple.” It’s all about using what you have and designing IT solutions in the warehouse or on store floor in an iterative way. We need to become the antithesis of what we were before, moving from methodical and slow to agile and fast. We are getting good at developing these quick, fast solutions, but it is happening in pockets. This kind of cultural change is a journey, and we are at the beginning.
Does your IT organization have a motto or mantra?
Business fast and simple: three words that describe everything that we want to be. It is about delivering solutions in three months, not three years. It is about not having an IT agenda, but lining up with the business agenda. We had a culture where we couldn’t deliver a solution unless it was perfect. The business would think, “I may never get another IT project in the queue, so I better load up on this one.” Now, we are saying, “If I can solve a third of the problem today, I want to solve it today. It could take me 18 months to solve the remaining two thirds, but in the meantime, I’ll get 15 months of benefit. We are trying to create “tweeners” who know IT and know the business. I know things are going really well when I walk into a meeting and cannot tell the business and IT people apart.
What is one IT word or phrase your business partners would like never to hear again?
“I need a project code before I can work on that.” I promised to fire anyone who ever says that.
What book has had a major impact on your leadership style?
Blindspot, by Charlie Feld
Open Leadership, by Charlene Li
What is the most valuable conference or event you have attended in the last 2 years?
I’m in the middle of a major business transformation. I don’t get out much.
What technology innovation or business trend are you most excited about?
The consumerization of IT -- from social media to smart phones, iPads to mobility -- is fundamentally changing the way our customers make buying decisions. This industry has been using the weekly newspaper circular for 100 years, but consumers are using it less and less often. Now, they are using their smart phones to find online coupons. This is exciting because it changes the way we can deliver information to our customers.
The CIO Paradox is a set of contradictions (IT “and” the business, for example) that prevents CIOs from delivering maximum business value. How do you know when you have broken the Paradox?
I know that I’ve broken the paradox when the business is coming to me and saying, “we’ve got this major thing going on, and we need you to help us shape it,” rather than my going to the business sand saying, “You need us.”
About Wayne Shurts and SUPERVALU
Wayne Shurts, executive vice president and chief information officer for SUPERVALU, leads the company’s information technology function and reports to CEO Craig Herkert. Shurts joined SUPERVALU in April, 2010. Previously, Shurts was the Global CIO at Cadbury plc. where he transformed Cadbury’s IT function, closely aligning it with the business while decreasing IT costs and increasing customer satisfaction. During his tenure, Cadbury successfully implemented SAP in Latin American and Europe, separated systems and infrastructure after the divesture of the beverages business (Schweppes and Dr Pepper Snapple Group) and was an early adopter of cloud computing models. Prior to being promoted to Global CIO in 2008, Shurts served as senior vice president of information technology for Cadbury Schweppes Americas.
In 2001, Shurts became President of PrinciplesGroup, a consulting firm specializing in IT driven Business Improvement Programs. Clients included Avaya, IBM and Johnson & Johnson. Under his leadership, PrinciplesGroup was named one of the fastest growing private companies in America by Inc. Magazine.
Prior to PrinciplesGroup, Mr. Shurts enjoyed a 20-year career with Nabisco. At Nabisco, Mr. Shurts gained broad functional business experience, serving in senior roles in sales, marketing, e-commerce, information technology, finance and supply chain.
Mr. Shurts holds a BS degree from Lehigh University in Finance and Management and a MBA degree from Seton Hall University in Marketing.
SUPERVALU INC. is one of the largest companies in the U.S. grocery channel with annual sales of approximately $38 billion. SUPERVALU serves customers across the United States through a network of approximately 4,270 stores composed of approximately 1,140 traditional retail stores, including 816 in-store pharmacies; 1,240 hard-discount stores, of which 890 are operated by licensee owners; and 1,890 independent stores serviced primarily by the company's traditional food distribution business. SUPERVALU has approximately 150,000 employees.