According to Chris Hjelm, the common theme across all of his company's recent strategic business initiatives — from digital coupons to online ordering with in-store pickup — is the fact that each is driven by technology innovation.
"It's about delivering and helping build a successful business, and I always encourage IT professionals to be business leaders and thinkers first so we can build relevant things that create value for our customers and our company," he says.
Hjelm, 54, executive vice president and CIO at The Kroger Co., the country's largest supermarket chain, cites several examples.
One is a new electronic monitoring system that measures the temperature in each refrigerator and freezer unit and notifies store officials if readings deviate from desired levels.
Another innovation, now being piloted, enables customers to scan and bag items as they shop.
Then there's digitization of stores. Kroger is piloting a system called EDGE — for "enhanced display for the grocery environment" — which replaces the paper labels on store shelves with small computer screens. Hjelm says EDGE is mainly used to display ads and prices today, but in the future it will highlight items based on preferences that customers pick on the store's mobile app.
Kroger is also experimenting with video, robotics and other technologies, and Hjelm expects IT innovations to continue transforming the company and the customer experience.