Interview: Rob Fraser Sainsbury's CIO and BCS/Computing CIO of the Year 2011

By Derek du Preez
10 Jan 2012 View Comments
Rob Fraser is CIO at Sainsbury's

Rob Fraser is not only CIO at one of the largest retailers in Europe, Sainsbury’s, he also won the CIO of the Year award at Computing’s 2011 UK IT Industry Awards.
Fraser says winning the award has given him a “great platform” to talk about his IT department’s success, adding that he was humbled to win against what was a “great shortlist with some great achievements”.

Further reading

Sainsbury’s is one of Britain’s oldest retailers. Founded in the 1860s, it now generates nearly £20bn in annual revenue, has 1,000 stores and handles around 22 million customer transactions a week.

Working at the supermarket giant isn’t Fraser’s first experience in retail. In the past he has worked for high-street chemist Boots and Marks & Spencer, which he describes as two of the UK’s great “heritage” retail companies.

Since joining Sainsbury’s in 2009, Fraser has seen capital investment in IT more than double.

“We have a new capital investment plan, a measure of how much capital we plan to invest in new systems going forward, which has increased by 2.5 times since I started,” explained Fraser.

Fraser says the increased investment in IT followed discussions with the board exploring how technology could be better used in retail.

“When I first joined we held a board session on technology. I asked one of our partners to come in and run a meeting with our operating board to discuss what was happening both within our industry and other sectors to assess how we should be investing in technologies for the future,” he says.

“These talks led to us seting up the Sainsbury’s Digital Board, a team of people who think about our future technology investments. The 2.5 times increase in capital that we have seen is a result of their belief in the importance of technology in how people shop.”

Some of this investment was made possible by creating efficiencies and making savings through renegotiating supplier contracts.

“We work very hard to try to drive efficiency year on year. Over the past two years we have saved in excess of 15 per cent on our operating costs, mostly through negotiating better deals with partners,” says Fraser.

“At Sainsbury’s, two-thirds of our spend is externally partnered. We look to that two-thirds to drive the efficiency savings when contracts come up for renegotiation,” he added.

“We have been rigorous in IT when we have come to reset relationships with some of our partners. It’s a great opportunity to say to them we not only want you to deliver more to us, but we want you to do it at an even sharper price point.”

An example of Fraser striking good deals for Sainsbury’s is the recent partnership with IBM, which he describes as “very compelling” and “competitive”.

IBM will provide all future hardware and storage for the retailer, gradually replacing kit from Sun and HP.

“With hardware, you name it, we have got it. When you have been in IT as long as we have you end up with quite a lot of different vendors. IBM will now be our chosen partner for this. What we will do is progressively move all our work onto IBM kit,” says Fraser.

“This isn’t a services contract, so we haven’t given them a firm commitment for a set number of years; they are simply our preferred partner. As long as the deal stays competitive, it is open ended. We reserve the right to market test it at any point.”

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