One of the most important tasks of a CIO is make sure the employees love to come to work, says Lars Ruben Hansen, CIO of supermarket chain Rema 1000 Denmark and wholesale company Reitan Distribution.
He says this after building up the two companies’ shared IT department and managing it for more than 20 years. “It is very important that the employees feel the company is a good place to work, and that they feel motivated. That leads to them doing an even better job tomorrow than today,” says Hansen.
In pursuit of this goal, he shows belief in the abilities of employees. “I tell them not to ask me what to do all the time. They have to make their own choices and do what they think is best. If it turns out to be a bad decision, it is not the end of the world – they just have to make a better decision next time.”
Hansen also makes sure he is seen as part of the group. “I am open and honest, and talk a lot with the employees. Every Friday, the whole IT department has coffee together for an hour, just talking and having fun. I do not want to be seen as the boss, even though the employees know that I am the one who has the last word.”
Different approaches to IT
The fact that not all CIOs have this approach was made bluntly obvious to Hansen when Rema 1000 Denmark acquired wholesale company Edeka Denmark in 2008. “I had to merge the companies’ IT departments, and it turned out to be quite a task to make the employees from the different companies able to work together, since the mentalities were so different.”
The employees from Edeka were used to asking the boss to make most decisions for them, and were afraid to make mistakes, according to Hansen. “At first, I tried to compromise and find a middle ground, but I soon realised I needed to get the new members of the IT department into our mindset instead.”
But Hansen did not hurry the change in the former Edeka employees. “You cannot say, ‘You have to work in another way tomorrow’. You have to see where people are, work together with them to make the change, and be open and honest. They have to believe in you. If you take it easy, the results will come.”
Managing the IT estate
Rema 1000 Denmark is part of Norwegian discount chain Rema 1000, which was founded in 1979. The first Danish Rema 1000 stores opened in 1994, at which time Hansen was hired to manage the IT of the new company. “At first it was only me, but after two years I needed more people to help me, and I also became CIO.”
The IT department, located in Horsens in Denmark, now comprises 16 people, and the number of Danish stores has grown to 261. “We do not have particularly close contact with Rema 1000 in Norway. I visited it recently, but we can run our business in Denmark in our own way, as long as we are doing well. We have our own IT systems, but large IT investments have to be discussed at our board meetings, where Norway is represented,” says Hansen.
Rema 1000 Denmark and Reitan Distribution have outsourced development, but run their own servers. “We are thinking about outsourcing some of them, for example servers running Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint, but it is cheaper for us to run the critical systems ourselves, since it would be very expensive to pay an outsourcing company to guarantee the uptime we need.”
Central IT for franchised retail stores
Denmark-based Rema 1000 is a franchised discount concept, which means the company buys large quantities of a limited range of products and offers these to semi-independent owners under their own brands. “But for us at the IT department it makes no difference that we are franchise based – we would operate in the same way even if we owned the stores ourselves.”
"It is very important that the employees feel the company is a good place to work, and that they feel motivated. That leads to them doing an even better job tomorrow than today"
Lars Ruben Hansen, Rema 1000 Denmark
The IT department decides which systems are to be used, and if the stores are to get new IT equipment. “All stores have to have the same IT so we can keep complexity and costs down. That benefits our customers through lower prices in the stores, and the customer is our boss.”
Hansen hopes to be able to make the IT in the stores even easier to use, and he also wants to simplify the store owners' work through IT. “The goal is to enable them to just focus on their business. For example, if they do not sell as much of a product as other comparable stores, we want the IT system to tell them they have a problem with the product.”
The problem could be, for example, that the product is placed poorly in the store, or that the shelf is empty. “Today they have to scan all their products manually to count them, and we also want to get away from that.”
Scalable IT will support future growth
Rema 1000 Denmark does not have an internet store. “Of course we also look in that direction, but we do not feel that we have the right solution yet. But when we have something new and hopefully ground-breaking ready, there will be something on this front. We must not only satisfy our customers – we must impress our customers.”
The main goal of Rema 1000 Denmark and Reitan Distribution is to grow by opening more stores, but that goal has a limited impact on the IT department, according to Hansen.
“We hope to have more than 300 stores in Denmark soon, but since our IT systems are scalable we will not need that many more people in the IT department,” he says.
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