GMG CIO on decoding digital leadership


January 25, 2022 | By Zubina Ahmed

GMG has grown from a single retail store in Dubai to a multinational operation that now operates 550+ sports retail stores globally, with the potential to reach more than 700 million consumers. The retailer recently embarked on a wide-ranging digital transformation project to enhance its operations across various business divisions such as food, health, and more.  During the pandemic GMG underwent an aggressive review of its IT policies and infrastructure and adopted a continual process of using digital technologies and strategies to fundamentally change the organisation’s culture, business & operating processes, optimizing ROI, improving productivity and serving it’s customers efficiently and profitably.

Leading the digital transformation initiatives is the Group’s Chief Information Officer, Sunil Nair. Keeping pace with the changing times has been key for this veteran retail sector CIO, whose focus off-late has been on developing flexible, cost-effective, and scalable solutions to power their global growth. From GMG’s overarching digital strategy to its digital transformation journey, he ultimately supports the company, its partners, and its principals to create business value through advanced technologies. Sunil has been a driving force behind significant technology transformations that have delivered cost reductions, efficiency gains, and competitive advantages for businesses “I am passionate about emerging and disruptive technologies, applying over 26 years of experience to my role as Chief Information Officer at GMG. I am a technology evangelist, and I thrive on developing and executing strategies that power the next generation of digital and omnichannel transformations at GMG,” he said.

Functions and functionalities

While digitalisation was always considered imperative for an organization’s growth, the pandemic greatly underscored the importance of a CIO. During this period, the CIOs had to take the reins to ensure minimal disruption to business processes and output while ensuring that they were scaling and accelerating digital operations almost overnight. CIOs are now increasingly in charge of charting the foundation for business growth and strategy.

Additionally, the role of a CIO is also to be the custodian of digital transformation and Sunil has been at the forefront of this. The CIO investigates how the organisation can use its technological prowess, speed, and customer service to outperform rivals. This typically involves both building a digital platform and adjusting the organization’s operating model. When leading a digital transformation, you can either be implementing multiple initiatives at once or just untangling one complicated knot at a time.

“Successful digital transformation should start with your top business objectives and being inclusive of all stakeholder viewpoints. The most important question that a CIO should ask is, ‘What are we hoping to achieve with our Digital Transformation Initiative?”

“GMG’s digital transformation strategy revolves around the simple philosophy of daring ourselves and others to deliver greatness to partners and customers. At GMG, we constantly challenge ourselves to look at innovative ways to bring added value to our partners and customers. The use of advanced technologies is fundamental to this ambition”, added Sunil.

All on the Cloud

As a part of its company-wide digital transformation, GMG has adopted a cloud-first approach. It is leveraging advanced data-intelligence solutions, including big data and analytics, to drive innovations, and product development would be the next step. “We are currently focused on upgrading our ERP systems and revamping our infrastructure and cybersecurity to meet the challenging demands based on tomorrow’s needs. NextGen technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented reality (AR), and new social platforms for customers will also be a part of our strategy going forward”, he stated.  The digital transformation will enable GMG to capitalize on new business opportunities at a time when the company is ramping up its expansions globally through its four key verticals – GMG Sports, GMG Health, GMG Food, and GMG Consumer Goods.

Bolstering omnichannel retail strategy

In order to gear up for the continued surge in e-commerce demand, GMG deployed an expanded omnichannel ecosystem that enhances customers’ accessibility to the leading sports brands under its portfolio through digital and mobile-commerce platforms. “Our omniverse ecosystem includes a cloud-first strategy and integrates AI capabilities from Einstein, enabling us to hyper-personalise customers’ experiences. The GMG Sports vertical brought new technologies and investments into three key areas: the customer journey, access to inventory across stores, and customer care. This enabled us to further enhance e-commerce shopping for our customers”, he noted.

With the pandemic-induced disruptions faced by the retail industry over the past 18 months, the future of the retail sector will be defined by a “multi-channel approach” where online and offline channels will not only compete but also support each other. The rapid pace at which technology is developed has a major role in the transition of retail from brick-and-mortar stores to more online-focused shopping. “Retail 4.0, multi-channel or omnichannel, will pick up pace as retailers try and adapt to the new reality. Retailers will also see more traction for better digital payments, RFIDs, connected stores, actionable insights driven by data and deep learning, biometric security, seamless workflow, automation and integration, personalised customer experiences”, he said.

Data for Unified Commerce

Retailers that bridge their silos of data across the organisation are the ones that are truly set up for achieving a competitive advantage. More importantly, they can enhance their ability to better understand their customers, enabled by technologies such as the cloud, predictive and cognitive analytics, IoT, and artificial intelligence. The customer is the true custodian of change, and every customer interaction should be data-driven. “The game of retail has changed. Retailers need to make educated decisions to position their brand for success. The key to making informed decisions is based on data”, said Sunil.

Data in clearly redefining the retail industry and GMG has seamlessly adopted this. “GMG’s digital strategy is data-driven, and our data strategy is consumer-driven. In 2021, GMG transitioned towards Unified Commerce through a customer-first approach to bring together the front-end experience and back-end applications to better organise and analyse data to derive meaningful customer experiences. The next step in our journey would be to incorporate AI, ML, and big data in our architecture to better understand our customers’ needs and deliver solutions that fit their demands.”

Blockchain technology in Digital transformation

Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Advanced Analytics help companies to expand with the growing times. “There is certainly merit in the way blockchain technology has evolved and would be part of our digital transformation journey. Fintech and supply chain are the two areas where we see huge traction for blockchain technology,” he said.

Retailers collect lots of data to better understand customer profiles, from point-of-sale transactions to inventory levels. The immense volume of data can be overwhelming. However, what businesses do with their data will be the differentiating factor between them and their competitors. Essentially all are at different stages of maturity, but one thing is certain – retailers need to improve the speed and quality of data mining that eventually support decision making.

“One of the factors that make a digital transformation successful is the inherent entrepreneurial culture. We know we must always keep evolving. That requires taking risks and being at the vanguard of new technologies. Our technology and business teams live this culture and are empowered to make bold decisions and to learn from those, even if they don’t work out the first time”, he added.

Looking Ahead

2021 was a landmark year for GMG. The group embarked on a new corporate strategy that included restructuring their existing business units, unveiling a new brand identity, and a new purpose-centric vision for GMG to inspire people to win in ways that make the world better.  GMG is set to open more than 100 sports retail stores in Egypt within the next five years. The entry into Egypt follows a major GMG expansion into Asia in December 2020 when it acquired multi-brand sports retailer Royal Sporting House (RSH). In April 2021, the conglomerate also expanded its footprint in Saudi Arabia with a new headquarters and mega-warehouse located in Riyadh. By 2025, GMG aims to double its global workforce through acquisitions, developing fresh concepts, and entering new geographies.

“Digital transformation and change management would be the core agenda going forward at GMG. The retail sector has been undergoing a massive transformation in the past few years, and this trend seems to continue. We recognised that the industries we operate in are experiencing significant disruption, whether through climate change, rapid digitalisation, or other forces, including the Covid-19 pandemic”, stressed Sunil. Undoubtedly, the retail industry will combine the physical and digital worlds to offer a more immersive customer experience. “As we look ahead to 2022, there is a lot more social commerce and live streaming which is already getting big. At GMG, we will always strive to deliver seamless customer experiences and introduce tools and platforms that will enable us to do so” he concluded.

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