The internet and ubiquitous consumer technology have radically reformed the seller-consumer relationship.
Today’s consumers are well informed, expect high levels of personalised service online and instore, and are prepared to go elsewhere if the retail experience on offer isn’t up to scratch.
Retail sector organisations which fail to transform themselves run the risk of being the canary in technology’s coalmine.
But Scentre Group is instead soaring on the wings of technology, transforming itself and the relationship it has with both retailers and consumers. Today the organisation’s leading edge digital transformation is setting a high watermark for other retail sector companies both locally and internationally.
Formed in 2014 from the merger of the Westfield Retail Trust and Westfield Group in Australia and New Zealand, Scentre Group owns and operates 39 shopping centres across ANZ. These centres are home to more than 2,500 unique retailers, around 11,500 retail outlets, and generate sales of more than $22 billion. It has a development pipeline worth more than $3 billion and more than 2,500 employees who are focussed on delivering a cutting edge retail experience.
Signalling just how important technology is to the ongoing success of Scentre Group, Andrew Clarke, was appointed Director of Finance and IT of the organisation at its inception. “One of the key reasons that we incorporated IT into my role is (we are) bringing IT closer to the broader business and ensuring IT is more aligned to the strategy of the organisation.”
Clarke has steered Scentre through a fundamental technology refresh designed to deliver strong foundations for the future with Windows 10 and cloud computing leading the charge.
“Our company purpose is to create extraordinary places, connecting and enriching communities,” says Clarke – places where people go to shop, meet, dine and be entertained. Customer expectations however are continually shifting, spurred by technology, and Clarke’s intent is to leverage technology to meet or exceed those expectations.
“The real opportunity we see comes back to the focus on customer experience. Customers are much more sophisticated in the way they shop. We are making our shopping centres even more experiential,” he says.
Doing that requires Scentre Group and its employees to have instant, anytime-anywhere access to information, to tools that can boost their efficiency and productivity and the ability to leverage technology to enhance the customer experience.
“We have an online searchable mall which our customers can search for products before they visit the shopping centre. We have services like ticketless parking, parking guidance systems, net promoter systems and more recently we’re piloting a rewards programme.
“Within the malls we have a digital smart screen network – more than 1,200 screens across 39 shopping centres for advertising and media so our retail partners can showcase products and excite customers to visit their store. And we’ve rolled out the largest wifi network across Australia and New Zealand,” says Clarke.
Mark Bloom, Chief Financial Officer of Scentre Group notes the organisation; “Has always been focused on technology as a differentiator. The way I describe it is that each piece of technology advancement that we make is another building block towards the future and, once you’ve got those building blocks in place, it allows you to take the next step. If you don’t put the building blocks in place, you can never jump to that future state.
The initial catalyst for the project was the formation of Scentre Group and its separation from the international Westfield Corporation. “But we didn’t want to just deliver a back of house, technical project. We wanted it to create end user benefits,” says Clarke.
“That’s why the Microsoft component was really important. So we’ve leveraged off something which was really a technical network split and converted it into something that creates a significant amount of benefit for our employees, retailers and customers.”
With an eye on the need for a sustainable platform for the future, Scentre Group has transitioned to Windows 10 which offers an enhanced user interface and boosted functionality. Importantly says Clarke is the fact that as a result of the upgrade; “Security is improved and cybersecurity is obviously extremely important in the current environment.”
Besides Windows 10, Scentre Group uses Office 365; Exchange Online; Intune for mobile device management; Skype for Business; SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online.; Azure Active Directory; and One Drive, while Surface Pros have proven a popular hardware selection for many employees.
Alison Pearson, Scentre Group’s Regional Manager Centre Experience explains at a practical level that means; “We use Office 365 on a daily basis. We use Yammer to connect with our retailers and with our internal staff, contractors and suppliers. We use OneNote and obviously, in terms of Surface, that enables us to actually get out and be with the people that we need to be with and be mobile and actually engage with them as we’re going about our business on a daily basis.”
In addition to boosting security and stripping out complexity for users, the move to Windows 10 paves the way for the Group’s planned adoption of more cloud based solutions.
Clarke says; “We want to leverage off the cloud, where it makes sense commercially, from a risk perspective and from a functional perspective. Moving more to the cloud reduces the complexity of what we have. It reduces the need for us to manage systems internally and allows much faster deployment of new functionality, when it comes about.
“It really starts to change the dynamic of IT and the value add of the in house IT team, because they have to do less technical work and can be more focussed on leading business initiatives and strategic technology initiatives,” he adds.
“We’re cloud first, cloud fast.”
The approach also supports Scentre Group’s ambition to be recognised as a workplace promoting diversity and flexibility. Having mobile, anytime anywhere access to information systems frees employees from their desks, delivers greater workplace flexibility while allowing staff to work in malls, in retail outlets talking to retailers and customers, and collecting insights that can support future transformative initiatives.
“We’re big believers that a flexible workforce is a more productive workforce and a big enabler for a much more diverse workforce. We absolutely believe that there is value in diversity. So this all connects back to giving people the right tools to be able to do their job,” says Clarke.
Alison Pearson agrees; “We’ve got over 11,000 retail outlets that we’re connecting with on an hourly basis, so we need to make sure that we’re able to do our work efficiently, and there’s a seamless transition between being at a desk and also being out in what we would call centre experience and out in the field.”
Mark Bloom says the transformed technology landscape also enhances what staff are able to achieve. “I think it’s important for our staff to feel that they have the tools they need to optimise the work they’re doing and also to make sure that other people know what they’re doing. This is not just individuals working in isolation. It’s about teams focused on delivering the output that we’re trying to achieve.”
Working with Microsoft Partner, Dimension Data, the transformation of Scentre Group’s technology foundation means the organisation is now well positioned to support its staff as they add strategic functionality that will resonate with retailers and their customers translating into tangible benefits for the business, now and well into the future.