Bringing Technology Beyond Thinking

Insights on technology in the convenience industry from Connexus’ Think Tank v8.0.

December 22, 2023

By: Ed Collupy, Innovation Facilitator at Conexxus

Retail thought leaders—Clifton Dillman (Family Express), Erika Dykstra (formerly Jacksons) and Donnie Rhoads (The Convenience Group)—recently came together at Conexxus’ Think Tank v8.0 to explore several topics that have been on each of their minds. Their perspectives revealed insights into technology’s challenges and the opportunities they see for their businesses.

Elements that Dykstra and Rhoads identified partnerships with other business leaders in your company and with industry suppliers who reflect similar values you have as a key way to win in the era of technology. At the Convenience Group, Rhoads wants to be sure vendors can grow with them by meeting halfway and talking about the benefits to both parties. He observed, “[in this] industry we have collaborators … so it’s a mindset you are looking for.”

Dykstra took time to address the “myriad of things that are coming at us as leaders of departments and how do we prioritize those needs across the business.” She spoke about the establishment of a project management officer at Jacksons who has helped “bring things together” and “increased the transparency within IT as to what the priorities are from the business.” The business groups have benefitted as well by helping them to realize how much capacity they have, and, like Rhoads, she commented on collaboration being an improvement they’ve seen.

While the business groups each have their own priorities, the rapport that has been built between them and the tools available helps facilitate conversations about what will come before another project. Transparency like this has helped the business groups prioritize cross functionally.

The webinar audience, much like the panel, included retailers of all sizes. Ed Collupy, the session moderator, followed up on Dykstra’s comment that they’ve kept their project management and prioritization process simple. They heard from her how “easy to follow” processes lead to each business group, including IT, having their own roadmaps. Executive review of the initiatives and roadmaps help them “approve financial investments,” and she finds they are “getting things approved in a much more timely fashion from a financial perspective.”

Dillman took on the one question that countless business leaders are asking: How can we win in the era of artificial intelligence (AI)? Being able to do more with less and getting answers more quickly is a goal he has so “employees can get on with their business and grow relationships with customers,” which is most important. Dillman pointed to a tool they’ve begun to use at Family Express that will allow employees to type in a question instead of calling a help desk and the response will be returned quickly from many operating procedures and policy documents loaded into the tool.

Dillman cautioned attendees to have in place a governance framework centered on policies around the use of AI and even suggested that tools like ‘ChatGPT’ could help draft those. He advised the attendees to use tools that are “completely siloed to your account” so nothing is integrated with public information, and you have your own ChatGPT “trained around what you trained it on.”

Ben Voss, Veritas founder and CEO, commented after the session on the “data silos and dashboard fatigue” comments, stating it was a “fantastic forum discussion” confirming that his and his retail clients’ efforts are “focused in the right direction.”’

At The Convenience Group, Rhoads spoke of being nimble when it comes to the technology choices in the wider marketplace but is aware and looks for the ease at which integration can happen. He said that if they were to consider “upping their foodservice game with delivery and/or pickup,” he would be looking to how their point-of-sale system would support this.

Think tanks often uncover trends, and our 8th Conexxus Think Tank panelists discussed how they’re reshaping and empowering their businesses. Rhoads pointed to supplier collaboration leading to more sales, cool customer experiences and data for the supplier on how their solution is being adapted. They’re “delivering on the right things at the right time” for the business, according to Jacksons’ Dykstra with their simple process led by a project management officer. At Family Express, Dillman’s goal is to provide every department with their own ChatGPT-like tool, recognizing that it will serve both consumers and employees who are customers of one another.

Rounding out the discussion, the panelists agreed that in order for the convenience industry to advance, many of the things Conexxus is working on, a data dictionary and embedded integrations for example, can help us leap frog.

As 2024 begins, watch “Think Tank v8.0—IT Leaders' Insights” and hear all that the panelists had to say to help generate ideas of your own as you bring your new year technology strategies and resolutions to life.