Tesco IT boss leaves after US expansion

Tesco IT boss leaves after US expansion

Possible new challenges include the public sector or financial services

Tesco IT director Colin Cobain is leaving the firm after successfully expanding retail operations on the other side of the Atlantic.

The culmination of his seven-year tenure at Tesco was the opening of the firm’s first 12 “Fresh & Easy” stores in the US this month.

Cobain’s focus on launching the US operations prompted his decision to seek a new challenge.

“My next role will probably be something other than retail, so I am taking the time to have a look at other industries and the public sector,” he told Computing.

The most significant challenges of the Tesco role were the creation of a Bangalore service centre with a staff of 2,600 and the US expansion.

“What is most valuable about what I have achieved during my time at Tesco are the projects for which there is the creation of an operating model which will eventually go group-wide,” said Cobain.

“I am happy with the job we have done in the US because we have introduced a whole new suite of processes in a brand new business.”

The most innovative technology to have taken hold since Cobain started at Tesco in 2000 is RFID barcoding. But the project that has had the most impact on customers is the implementation of cameras to monitor checkout queues.

“The cameras are linked to a system which then loops round to our checkout scheduling system to ensure queues never get too long,” he said.

Cobain started his career in the manufacturing industry at Mars confectionery before spending eight years at retail giant Kingfisher.

He does not yet have another role lined up. But, whatever it is, it will need to offer the right scale of challenge.

“I have had other experience alongside the technology roles, such as running supply chain, distribution, business development and setting up a wholesale operation,” said Cobain.

“I want to go into an area that has a significant problem to fix and which has a degree of reliance on IT for its operations.

“Financial services might be interesting because there is a huge IT component, but I am keen to explore all industry sectors.”

The biggest challenge for all IT professionals is the need to get past viewing problems as purely technology-related.

“Most of the challenges I have faced in the role of CIO are to do with the processing side of things, rather than technology,” said Cobain.

The shift is emblematic of the changing role.

“Technology doesn’t drive the changes in the CIO role, but rather it is a function of what you are trying to deliver to the business,” he said.

Another significant challenge is generating the right level of confidence in the business.

“CIOs absolutely need to understand that what they are delivering is business change, not technology,” said Cobain.