Tesco CDO: “Legacy systems are a positive thing”

“Any organisation the size of Tesco, if you’ve been around for more than ten years you have legacy,” said Thomas Nielsen, chief digital officer at Tesco.

“It comes with a bad connotation – we can’t get this done because of the legacy, it’s our Achilles heal – but having legacy is a positive thing, it means you made it and if you don’t have it, it probably means you’re no longer in business.”

Nielsen pointed to companies like Amazon and Spotify which have a “massive amount of legacy”.

“It’s a different type of legacy, as some of us may still have mainframes, but how do you keep the plane flying while you’re transforming your systems?”

He said the common mistake is to focus too much on the technology. “The customer doesn’t really care if it’s Oracle or home-grown, but can they get the right product, at the right time, at the right price?”

Nielsen spoke honestly to delegates at the eTail Europe event in London last month, saying that after 25 years spent in Silicon Valley, he knows “nothing about retail” but is “really good at shopping”.

“I’ve never really worked in eCommerce or retail, but it’s a fascinating journey,” he said. “And it’s given me permission to challenge some of the things we have done – Tesco is a pioneer in grocery, GM and a lot of digital initiatives, but over the last few years, we’ve really struggled with how we make customer experience easier and more frictionless.”

Nielsen described how as part of a programme to reduce customer friction, last year the retailer saved its shoppers three million hours.

But Nielsen said retail doesn’t move as fast as the start-ups he is used to in Silicon Valley. “The challenge these days is the rapid change and adoption in new technlolgies – a YouTube video could get 200 million views in two weeks, any marketer would kill for that.”

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