It’s gotta be the shoes.

aldo-shoeThat’s the motto of another shoe company. For Montreal-based shoe and accessory retailer Aldo Group, CIO Lance Martel has a different motto – it’s gotta be the customer.

Martel first joined Aldo in 2013 as a consultant and took on the CIO role in September 2014. He came into Aldo after it had already rolled out – Salesforce’s developer platform – but he’s had a good experience with Salesforce and has increased his investment with it, including with the Marketing Cloud.

We caught up with Martel at Dreamforce, where we discussed his experience with Salesforce and his overall strategy as CIO. (Editor’s note: this interview was edited for clarity.) How do you define your role as CIO and where does your Salesforce implementation fit into that?

Lorne Martel: The role of CIO needs to evolve a lot more than it has. A CIO shouldn’t be thinking about infrastructure, or applications. These are solved problems. A CIO should be thinking about building and providing a platform for the business to build amazing customer experiences. Salesforce, which is a large technology provider, is the spot where we engage with our customers.

ITB: It’s interesting to hear you describe infrastructure as a “solved problem.” Not every CIO has embraced the cloud, how did you get comfortable with it?

Martel: We don’t necessarily have a cloud-first strategy, it’s about finding the right solution and implementing it as effectively as possible. With Salesforce, it didn’t require a big multi-million dollar project like Oracle and we could put as much data there as we saw fit. The really big hurdle for us what putting our data somewhere else. We spent a lot of time looking at uptime and maintenance windows. Every time, they were always favourable and better than what we could accomplish on our own.

ITB: What does “Digital Transformation” mean to you and how do you see Aldo’s journey down this path?

Martel: Three years ago, digital transformation was all about the omni-channel focus, and now that’s going away in favour of customer centricity. We need lots of tools and platforms that are going to allow us to build customer experiences that are effective. We need to build new apps on a platform that allows us to move as quickly and effectively as possible. It’s not that our business model has changed, what’s changing is how we make decisions and the intelligence we have around how customer behaviour is influencing our business processes. It’s about analytics, and having insights direct from the customers rather than just cherry-picking what someone else is doing.

ITB: Give us an example of a specific new project at Aldo that was inspired by your desire to be more customer centric.

Martel: We built an application for our sales associates. They can scan a bar code on a shoe the customer wants with their iPod Touch and find out if that’s available in the store, or if there’s other recommended products to tell the customer about. Then instead of having to leave the customer, they can stay with them and a runner will bring out the shoe from the the back room to try on. It’s about customer experience and making sure they’re not lost in the store. Also, think about the data we can get from those scans. What are the sizes we’re missing in the store? We can look at it from a big data perspective and see what the inventory problems are. These initiatives help us to be better, allow us to have inventory in the store when we need it.

Aldo wants its customers ecommerce experience to continue in the bricks-and-mortar store.
Aldo wants its customer’s ecommerce experience to continue in the bricks-and-mortar store.

ITB: Creating a customer-first approach takes the whole organization. How do you collaborate with Aldo’s business leaders?

Martel: It’s all about partnership. The CIO needs to be riding shotgun with the CMO. As a CIO, you have to open up the Kimono a bit and let the CMO explore technology options. It’s all about understanding their challenges and letting them be exposed to what’s out there. Don’t try to be the cop that limits conversations with vendors. We partner with SAP, IBM, Salesforce, and more. But the focus always has to come back to running an efficient IT organization. I’m also a member of a cross-functional team tasked with driving Aldo’s innovation agenda. Executives gather together for meeting and collaborate using our Google for Work tools.

ITB: What are your goals for the year ahead?

Martel: We have a major backend transformation happening with SAP over the next two years and it’s our biggest technology investment yet. We’re replacing or legacy Oracle Retek implementation, we need SAP to manage the new types of business we’ve grown into over the last 10 years. We’ll be looking at running this on Infrastructure as a Service. We’re also moving to a headless commerce model and putting gateways in place to service franchise models. Then of course, there’s the usual ongoing work of trying to simplify the stack while being innovative. These things are sometimes at odds, and that’s something I need to manage.

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