Who on Earth is Brian Kilcourse?

Brian Kilcourse, co-founder and managing partner of Retail Systems Research (RSR), is a frequent contributor to Essential Retail, and will be moderating a panel discussion on payments at RBTE 2014 (Retailer Payments Theatre, 12th March, 15:30). The panel will include Patricia Bateson, vice president/senior business leader mobile POS at MasterCard, Raja Ray, director of products and solutions at VeriFone, Jens Münch UK managing director for iZettle, and Peter Keenan, CEO of Zapp.

Brian has spent the majority of his 45+ year career in and around retail. He began his retail journey at Joseph Magnin, a San Francisco-based woman’s fashion retailer, and after a few years working as a programmer at an aerospace manufacturer and a logistics company, joined Longs Drugstores, a California-based chain of over 400 drug stores that operated principally in California and Hawaii. “By the luck of the draw – or because no one else was foolish enough to take it on” (as Brian puts it), he became the project manager of the retailer’s first foray into in-store computing in 1983, leading the development and rollout of a prescription customer order management system.

The experience of rolling out hardware, software, and services proved to be invaluable, and Brian (by 1989 the director of business applications for Longs) oversaw the roll-out of the next generation of in-store systems, “front end” point of sale and the associated wide area network. As part of that effort, Brian managed the retailer’s implementation of credit, debit, and check authorisation systems, which included a central switch processor from Shared Financial Systems on a fault-tolerant Stratus computer. This was Brian’s head-first dive into the world of payments, and throughout his tenure at Longs, Brian was the executive sponsor of all payment initiatives.

In 1992, he became the chief information officer, and led efforts to modernise the company’s merchandise management and supply chain systems. “Because of the extreme level of local merchandise decision making”, explains Kilcourse, “we were forced to innovate in ways that might have seemed risky at the time. So we were an early adopter of data warehousing technologies, category management, automated replenishment, and price optimisation systems. By today’s standards, it was all very primitive, but it worked… thankfully!” Brian sponsored the company’s “e-store” initiative in 1998, which included full integration of an eCommerce website with the store-based prescription ordering systems.

During his tenure as CIO at Longs, Brian became one of several prominent IT leaders to push technology companies towards industry standards and away from proprietary schemes. It was in these efforts that Brian met Richard Mader, the founder and director of the Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS), a division of the National Retail Federation (NRF) in Washington DC. Brian and his team were early contributors to the development of the ARTS data model, a standard which now is pervasive throughout the industry. As a result of his work at Longs, Brian was honoured as a “Premier 100” CIO by CIO magazine in 2001, and his shop was chosen as “#1 Retail IT shop” by InformationWeek in the same year.

Brian left Longs in 2002, as he explains, “for the usual reason – my boss of 20 years, the CEO, left the company, and the new one wanted a different team”. Deciding that he’d been CIO for “long enough”, Brian advised technology companies in and around famed Silicon Valley for two years, focusing mostly on mobility and network technologies and RFID for retail. But by 2004, Brian missed the retail world, and joined up with the Retail Systems Alert Group (RSAG), where he became the CEO in 2006. RSAG was a successful B2B publishing and events company, and during Brian’s time there, ventured into the UK with a series of conferences called the Retail Systems Alert Leadership Forum (RSALF). It was at the RSALF meetings that Brian formed a (still continuing) friendship with Peter Cox, the retired IT Director of Waitrose and author of Spedan’s Partnership, the story of the John Lewis Partnership.

In 2006, as the CEO of RSAG, Brian and his team developed the research concept for what would become RSR. In 2007, Brian and the research division, which by that time included future partners Paula Rosenblum, Nikki Baird, and Steve Rowen, split off from RSAG to form RSR. “The rest is history,” as Brian says.

Brian describes himself as “the worst kind of Californian – someone from the East Coast”. He has lived and worked near San Francisco since 1968 (when he moved there to attend University of California Berkeley). In his “secret life” he is a lifelong rock’n’roller, having played in bands both professionally and “post professionally” since the ‘60s. He explains: "I saw the Beatles in 1964, and decided that I just HAD to do that.  I’m still working on it."

Brian will also be presenting a session called 'Mobile Payments from the Retailers’ Perspective' at RBTE 2014.

You can read some of Brian's latest articles, below:

NRF Big Show: All roads lead to… the store

The CIO's role in the retail business

Retail technology: a view from the US