Meet the Agents of Transformation - Loblaw Digital

Hesham Fahmy, VP Technology, Loblaw Digital

Hesham Fahmy is responsible for the technical delivery and operations of Loblaw’s omni-channel digital experiences. These unify a customer’s online and in-store experience so that no matter how and where they might engage, the customer is always delighted.

What is your current role and how much of your work at Loblaw Digital is focused on transformation or innovation-led projects?

The retail industry is at a major inflection point, with disruption from new entrants to the market, and ever-changing consumer demands. Customers today expect a lot more – they want to be delighted by every experience. As Canada’s leading retailer, Loblaw is committed to meeting and exceeding these growing demands. From a personal perspective, I focus 100% of my time and energy looking to drive innovation across our digital services, whether it be developing and maintaining existing platforms, or exploring the latest technologies and planning where our future investments will be made.

We have to shift from being a traditional retail company to a technology company that also happens to be a retailer. It’s a big task – we operate close to 20 different grocery banners, own one of the country’s largest pharmacy chains and an apparel brand too! We also operate Canada’s largest loyalty programme with over 18m active users – to put that into context, it’s close to two thirds of Canada’s adult population. We believe passionately in the importance of evolving the online grocery experience, and making it easier for Canadians to do their shopping.

Do you have a motto or maxim that you use to inform your approach?

“Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today.” Lorenzo Snow.

I am a big believer in seeking continuous improvement, and it applies as much to success as failure. I always ask myself if something could have been done better. Even as a leader, this simple question opens you up to listening to new ideas and approaches, and ultimately creates a culture where everyone is focused on sharing and learning, and doing a better job tomorrow than they did today.

Is there a book or podcast that really inspired you on your journey to becoming an Agent of Transformation?

I really love Reid Hoffman’s (co-founder of LinkedIn) podcast series Masters of Scale, during which he coined the phrase ‘Infinite Learner’. He then published an article online called ‘Rules to Live By For Infinite Learners’. It’s a great listen and read for anyone tasked with driving innovation and scale when everything around them is changing.

What do you see as being the single hardest step that technologists need to take in order to become an Agent of Transformation?

The biggest question Agents of Transformation can answer is ‘Why?’. It’s a skill to take something complex and present it in a language that everyone can understand. So often I see technologists get stuck in the weeds, passionate about a new technology but unable to communicate the value to the business – they just end up frustrated when people don’t ‘get it’. Agents of Transformation tailor the message for each audience member, tapping into their pain points and articulating how the innovation or solution will support them on a personal level.

What are the skills or character attributes that technologists should be focusing on in order to become Agents of Transformation and drive successful innovation projects?

Firstly, be an Infinite Learner. They need to revel in their ignorance, treat nothing as sacred, and be hungry to learn new things. They should aspire to always be better and do better.

Secondly, it’s about being a great communicator. Any transformation project is all about People, Process and Technology, and in that order. Having the skills to get people onboard with a new idea or project is key – by listening you can get to the heart of what is keeping people up at night and then communicate how you can solve that issue, and the role they can actively play in the journey. Bringing people on-side in this way is critical to any digital transformation.

What advice would you give to other technologists who are looking to progress in their careers, to work on more exciting innovation-focused projects and to become an Agent of Transformation?

If you want to be an Agent of Transformation you have to take the initiative. So often people find themselves seeking out permission to work on a transformation project or approval to make a change. Or even worse, thinking that a new idea has to be fully baked and perfect before it can be shared. In my opinion, those are myths.  If you have a great idea, go ahead and prototype it, get a proof of concept going. The learnings you will make during that process will be invaluable. Either you will fail, in which case you will learn more. Or you will succeed, in which case you will get noticed, get buy in and can really push on with your idea and make a huge impact.

How can companies foster a culture where those with aspirations to be Agents of Transformation can flourish?

A culture of innovation is critical if you want to drive transformation, and freedom to experiment and test new ideas is fundamental to success. Hackathons get loads of attention, but companies seem intent on making them one-off events or competitions. Why not always work with the Hackathon mentality? When people come to me with an idea, I encourage them to go ahead and do it! By working in this way – testing small, incremental changes and improvements – when things don’t work, it’s not a huge issue. But when they do, these small, innovative ideas can have a huge impact on the business and transform people’s careers.

Research tells us that organisations need as many of 45% of their technologists to be operating as Agents of Transformation in the next 5-10 years if they want to remain competitive. What skills should organizations be looking for when recruiting technologists that have the potential and drive to become Agents of Transformation?

My key advice is to look beyond the CV and their professional experience. What have they done in life that was experimental, that proved they were hungry to learn? Perhaps it was taking on a personal challenge, learning a new skill such as languages or mastering a musical instrument, or a personal passion for a team or sport. If they do these things in their personal time too, it shows their true self.

How would you describe the role that AppDynamics is playing within your transformation strategy?

Having visibility into reliable, real-time data that you can act on is critical to any transformation initiative. We monitor the insights from AppDynamics religiously to make smart, iterative changes to our digital interfaces, and continuously improve the customer experience. The relevant metrics we can derive from AppDynamics, at both an operational and infrastructure level, and from synthetic monitoring of the customer experience, informs what we should actually be thinking about, as opposed to what we think we should be doing!

What advice would you give to a technologist that is considering AppDynamics?

Think about AppDynamics as a strategic solution that can drive improved customer experience and business performance. Be deliberate in the way you build dashboards by identifying the critical data and insight for your business that really matter, and then map the actions required in the event of an anomaly being detected. By being focused on these key metrics, and prioritising them, you reduce the noise to data ratio that is so overwhelming in business today.

How are you evolving your IT operations in response to the increasing demands of today’s consumer?

In the past, we always tried to prevent failure but soon realised that our focus really needed to shift to building resilience in our IT operations. I work on the basis that there is potential for something to go wrong at any time, so it’s critical that as a team we build and develop our infrastructure accordingly, and have the right insight, visibility and actions in place to minimise the customer impact of any performance issue.

Do you anticipate Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning taking a bigger role in your business in the future?

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will play a huge role in developing predictive models, from consumer trends and demands, to the types of personalised service and content consumers now expect, right through to identifying problems before they happen. The key for Loblaw is to adopt these new technologies and build an IT infrastructure that meets the growing demands of our customers so that we can continue to exceed their expectations.

Why are Agents of Transformation so critical to our future?

The rate of disruption and pace of change is increasing at an exponential rate. Unfortunately, many larger and well-established businesses suffer because they are too invested in doing things the way they have always been done, or from what is known as ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’, where they try to protect their turf, which in turn hampers their ability to make step-change innovations. This leaves them open to attack from new entrants to the market and we have seen many established incumbents – who once seemed indestructible – disappear overnight.

Agents of Transformation are critical because they live and breathe innovation, challenge traditional ways of thinking and bring new ideas and approaches to the table. They are fundamental in driving the transformation that is required in today’s highly competitive market.

What should organizations be doing in order to develop, nurture and support Agents of Transformation over the coming years?

People leave cultures not companies, so to attract and retain Agents of Transformation organizations must create a safe environment for these technologists to openly share ideas, have a curious mind and explore new ways of doing things. They need the freedom to challenge the status quo and to debate these changes without prejudice, and to know that failure is accepted as a learning opportunity and a natural consequence of innovation.

What are you likely to be focusing on over the next two years? Are there any exciting new innovation projects on the horizon?

Data is king, but what many companies are realising is that they are data rich but information (or rather insights) poor. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the data, so the key is to bring in the right partners and technologies to help you make sense of it all, and identify the key metrics and data that enable the business to innovate. At Loblaw, we will continue to invest in this area so that we can derive actionable insights that will improve the overall customer experience. It’s an exciting time.

"When people come to me with an idea, I encourage them to go ahead and do it! "

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