Coles Group not “ideologically-driven” on cloud
Coles Group is continuing to migrate parts of its technology environment to the cloud but won’t turn the migration into a mass re-platforming or an “ideologically-driven” exercise.
CTO John Cox told the iTnews Podcast that the retailer had “definitely migrated chunks” of its environment to the cloud – it named Azure its ‘platform of choice’ back in 2019 – but that migration remained selective.
Moreover, cloud migration is not a specific pillar of the group’s IT strategy.
“If we can do it on cloud, at the right price point, and it solves a problem for us, then we do it, but we’re not picking up and moving VMs to the cloud in the way that I think some organisations have done in the past,” Cox said.
“The way I look at this is we’re not going to be ideologically driven.
“I think some of the statements around migrating everything to cloud can be a little bit ideological, and what it can do is get you caught up in undertaking something for the sake of the thing itself, rather than for one of the three things that I always come back to: customer, shareholder, or team member.
“If moving to the cloud solves one of those three, it’s a no brainer. If it helps you get faster at deploying, it’s a no brainer and in many, many instances it does.
“So that’s the approach that we take.”
Cox said that some of Coles’ current cloud work is around workload portability, though he noted this wasn’t possible in many cases.
It would largely work for containerised microservices that did not depend on specific functionality from one cloud ecosystem in order to function.
“When you’re building at that microservices level, you can run multi-region if you need to,” Cox said.
“Not all of our services are built this way, but you could [port microservices over to another cloud] in theory.
“Say there was a big failure in one of our cloud providers – you could pick [the microservice] up and potentially run it elsewhere.
“A lot of the time, though, what you build on the cloud, you’re benefiting from the investment in the underlying cloud infrastructure.
“There’s only a few services that you need, that could be multi-cloud.”
Cox added that Coles’ thinking in this space is driven by its resiliency and business continuity planning, and by the overall aim of the IT strategy, which “in its simplest form, is really to make sure that customers can keep shopping.”
Building a new-look IT team
Cox joined Coles Group in mid-2021 from Australia Post and within the first six months had set up a new-look IT leadership team overseeing the approximately 1500 permanent team members working in technology.
“We’ve organised the team around lines of business so that they can build deep context, and then through those teams there are centres of excellence around technology,” Cox said.
He noted the opportunity to assemble a new leadership team was one that rarely came up.
“It’s not very often in your career that you get to build a team completely from scratch,” he said.
“When I came in, there were quite a few vacancies at the leadership team [level], so I’ve been able to build a team that from my perspective – and the way it’s showing up – is like a ‘dream team’.
“When I’ve selected my team, the technical skills were very important, but the human dimension of how these people would fit together, bring diversity of thought and collaborate was an important part of constructing that team.”
Coles is also continuing to innovate in the way it seeks to attract and recruit technology talent more broadly.
Cox believes the “interesting and exciting work” on offer is, first and foremost, a drawcard, backed by an annual investment that currently exceeds $1 billion a year.
The retailer is also pioneering a program called Relauncher that aims to bring technically-skilled or technically-minded women back into the workforce.
“We’ve actually doubled the number of intakes for Relauncher this year,” he said.
At the same time, Cox said that the technology organisation would take in double its number of graduates compared to usual.
“I think an organisation like Coles has a responsibility to actually build future technologists,” Cox said.
“They may not spend the rest of their career here, but with the sort of scale that we have, we want to really invest in those people and give them great experiences.
“They might go away and then come back later in their careers after they’ve got other experiences.”
Cox said that education had the potential to be transformative for people and for the organisations they work with.
“We’ve been dialling up our investments in training and making sure that we are skilling people for the future,” Cox said.
“When we’re transitioning from one technology to another, investing in the training for people on that front[end] is really important.”
Cox added that while having an IT strategy is important, so is having “the people to execute it”.
“You need the people to work through the gnarly, interesting problems, and the more diverse their thinking is, the more likely you are to find new ways of solving problems,” he said.
“I’m looking for people to find ‘choke points’ that are slowing us down or getting in the way of customers, and diversity of thought is crucial for that.”