One of the first things the new chief technology officer at Canadian Tire did after assuming his post earlier this month was buy a flashlight, a compass and a watch.
Eugene Roman bought the items for a senior official who will oversee a new electronic retail (e-tail) innovation centre he ordered be set up ASAP.
The centre, the first of several Roman will create, will test ways of using use Web technologies to grow the business and deliver better service to customers – say, having store staff carry tablet computers to help explain to customers how to use products.
The three gifts are symbols, he explained in an interview:
“The flashlight is to light the way, a compass to point in a new direction and a Timex Explorer watch to explore new ways of working.”
To use a cliché, Roman isn’t letting any grass grow under his feet as he settles into his new post. “I’m going to have some fun here,” he said.
His plans includes bringing in social media technologies so staff across the company can quickly share ideas, and moving the company’s data centres heavily into the cloud.
“We are going to open CTC –Canadian Tire Cloud,” he said. “Our data centres are going to be converted over time to cloud hubs.”
What he isn’t going to do is overhaul the IT operations. He’s impressed with what he’s seen. “There’s a number of things that just wowed me in terms of the ability to get stuff done digitally,” he said.
Just as important, he added, is the corporate attitude of welcoming new ideas and getting things done fast.
Which perhaps begs the question that if little is wrong, why is he needed? “Because I’m glue,” he says, answering his own question. “I see a good idea over there and I put it over here.”
A man with a degree in management studies, Roman makes sure he isn’t pegged as a chief information officer.
“Information technology as we know is quickly becoming obsolete, being replaced by Internet technologies,” he said in explaining why he wanted a CTO title. “It’s a break from the past — it doesn’t lose the past, because it still’s got technology, but its all about the next generation of solutions. So we’ll take our legacy things and turn them on the side and drive to high performance technologies to drive the corporation.”
Roman came to Canadian Tire after four years as CTO of Waterloo-based content management software vendor OpenText Corp. He left because he was spending 60 per cent of his time on airplanes. Canadian Tire people he knew asked what his plans were at the right time.
And by his telling it was the right company. As a boy he wanted to work at Canadian Tire because staff fetching products for customer propelled themselves around on roller skates.
His father insisted he go to university.
He says Ian Brown’s 1989 book on how the company overhauled its systems, Freewheeling, led him to choose IT as a career.
But more persuasive when it came time for a job interview earlier this year was being gold Canadian Tire is not interested in best, practices, but “next digital practices.”
And he isn’t a stranger to CEO Stephen Wetmore. When Roman was head of technology at Bell Canada, Wetmore ran what is now Bell Aliant in the Maritimes.
“I’m a bit of a next-generation-get-stuff-done-junkie,” he said. “I’m turning 55 in a month and I thought ‘Hey, why not put it to work at my favorite store.”
The digital innovation centres won’t live in isolation. The day before this interview Roman and staff toured Bell Canada’s decade-old Toronto innovation centre for inspiration, and he plans to bring them to Waterloo’s Communitech hub as well.
“They asked me an interesting question,” he recalls of job interview: “‘What do you need?’ and I said ‘I need your support. The rest we can figure out.’
“I never met a piece of code I couldn’t help make work. My job it to help teams step to the next level … We’re going to put in agile solution methods like the best in the world. Why? Because I think that the company, with what it can do today with that attitude, in my opinion has unstoppable capabilities.”
“We’re going to cut our operating costs, we’re going to accelerate our performance and we’re going to use digital technology to fundamentally help our customers in new and exciting ways.”
“If we can do that,” he adds, “I can go fishing and retire. This will be my last frontier. After this I hope to go teach.”