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Carrefour’s CIO explains the three key principles behind its digital transformation

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“The objective is to offer the full spectrum of options and meet the needs of customers, whenever and wherever they may be,” says Carrefour's CIO, Renaud de Barbuat.

Renaud de Barbuat, group CIO at retail giant Carrefour, is two years into a five-year digital transformation program. The initiative, which covers everything from traditional stores to e-commerce channels, is providing a platform for the future growth of the business – and Barbuat is relishing the task at hand. “It’s an exciting role because we are at the heart of what’s taking place in terms of digital transformation in modern business,” he says. “It is challenging, too – but we face such an interesting journey that myself and my team face a wonderful opportunity.”

Barbuat joined Carrefour in May 2015. The experienced IT leader, who previously held CIO role at Thales and EDF, started his career in consultancy, rising to the role of vice president at A. T. Kearney. His position at Carrefour also includes responsibility for the retailer’s French IT operation. Barbuat says the chance to join the company came at the perfect time. “I was looking to run a major digital transformation at a company,” he says. “The company has under-invested in IT in the past. I’ve been given the opportunity to turn that situation around and to accelerate digital change.”

Three key achievements

Barbuat says there are three major thrusts to his work: front-office digitalization and the development of omnichannel customer relationships; adapting legacy IT for digital transformation and system integration, and agile development across cloud-enabled platforms to enable new business processes.

When it comes to customer relationships, Barbuat says one of his major achievements so far has been to accelerate the building of e-commerce platforms, facilitated by a decentralized governance across the ten countries in which Carrefour operates. Barbuat says the aim is to boost omnichannel activity. The firm is building separate e-commerce platforms for each country. These platforms complement existing physical stores, from the largest hypermarkets to the smallest convenience stores. “Our digital strategy allows us to connect in a transversal way with the customer so that we can offer all the shopping services that people might want, such as deliveries, promotions or click-and-collect,” he says. “The objective is to offer the full spectrum of options and to meet the needs of our customers, whenever and wherever they may be.”

Barbuat says progress regarding front-office digitalization and the development of omnichannel customer relationships has been strong. The e-commerce platform for each country has been established and some countries, such as France and Spain, are further down the line in terms of offering the full spectrum of online and offline services. There has also been significant progress in Barbuat’s second key area of work around the back office, focusing on digital transformation and system integration. He says eight of the 10 countries in which Carrefour operates have consolidated their systems. In addition, Barbuat and his team are developing strong big data capabilities.

“We traditionally have a loyalty card program in each country, with a sizeable customer database,” he says. “In France, we hold the details of about 14 million customers. What we’re doing now is adding a combination of a 360-degree view of the customer and a data management platform to capture customer information. What we’re developing is a fully digital approach to dealing with our customer, both online and offline.” Barbuat says he believes Carrefour is uniquely positioned in this respect. The retailer can make a strong link between online activity and in-store purchasing. As many as three million French customers shop in a Carrefour store every day. “We’re developing a very interesting database of buying patterns across food and consumer products,” says Barbuat.

When it comes to the third key area of work around agility and on-demand IT, Carrefour has established a hybrid cloud strategy. Barbuat says the approach – which draws on public cloud and private data centers – helps IT build a scalable platform for future business growth. “In the long-run, we need to avoid being tied to a single provider,” he says. “I want to build applications that are able to run on a range of cloud platforms. We also believe that a portion of computing requirements will have to be local or close to the store. This is what many experts are referring to as edge computing, and it will help us to implement applications and to power quicker decision-making at the store level.”

Long-term aims

Barbuat, therefore, is building a strong base across the front-office, back-office and the cloud that will help his business cope with future change. Two years into this five-year digital transformation program, Barbuat recognizes that key milestones, like building omnichannel customer relationships, have already been reached but he also understands the need to stay aware of potential challenges. He points, for example, to cultural aspects and says change management can be complex. Barbuat says he must pay attention to the mindset of key individuals to ensure business aims are articulated and understood. Operational excellence is crucial, too. Barbuat says successful digital transformation stretches beyond the IT department and impacts business operations.

“The bar is moving upwards all the time in terms of agility and operational excellence,” he says. “The disruption created by digital transformation not only affects business models, it also impacts the organization and its ways of working. Agility at scale requires a mix of clear direction in your roadmap and flexibility in your execution.”

With this consistent and agile approach, Barbuat expects to be able to successfully deliver the digital transformation his board requires. To this end, he has clear expectations of the achievements that will have been made by 2020 – and Carrefour will look very much like the retail business of the future. “By 2020, I will have a real-time interaction with customers and I will be able to personalize the offers we make,” says Barbuat. “I will benefit from access to a very flexible supply-chain to execute the delivery of products in an end-to-end way. We’ll have an integrated supply-chain that combines economies of scale and granularity of delivery.”


This article forms part of our Bullet Train Thinking series, run in partnership with Tanium.