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CIO50 2021 #26-50: Phil Coster, Mitre 10

  • Name Phil Coster
  • Title Chief Information Officer
  • Company Mitre 10
  • Commenced role 2014
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 90 staff, six direct reports
  • The home improvement industry has been slower than other retail sectors to embrace ecommerce, mainly due to the complexity of the product offering (eg multiple permutations of timber supplies, difficulty of shipping plants, bespoke paint tinting etc). Recognising opportunity, Mitre 10 chief information officer Phil Coster and his team developed an omni-channel strategy designed to deliver a frictionless customer experience and formed cross-functional teams to execute the roadmap. 

    This strategy enabled the business through a modern ecommerce platform and high-performing development team, increasing customer reach and inspiring nine out of ten Mitre 10 customers to go online. The omni strategy directly influenced a material increase in both bricks and mortar sales and ecommerce revenue year on year pre-COVID.

    COVID-19 response

    The arrival of the Covid pandemic transformed the role of ecommerce within the business and amplified its importance overnight.

    Anticipating a spike when the government signalled a move to Level 3, Coster says the team responded accordingly. Over the course of just a few hours, the AWS infrastructure was scaled to allow for unprecedented website load. Level 3 resulted in an instant and sustained traffic increase at exponentially higher levels than previously experienced.

    The changing Covid levels also brought increasing complexity and order volumes. Coster says the web team worked tirelessly developing functionality that enabled one-hour click & collect with bookable time slots, a personal shopper service to support customers looking for products that weren’t available online, and solutions to allow customers to see where products were in stock and available fulfilment options.

    “While investing long hours to build and implement new technologies in response to many challenges, we were able to optimise revenue and cost-savings using cloud infrastructure, while keeping the business operational,” Coster says.

    Another business improvement was the introduction of new SmartMate account solutions which enable trade, business and commercial customers to shop across the network. This was a complex exercise, given Mitre 10’s co-operative business model, Coster says.

    “The uptake was strong and created a high workload for the team to on-board these new customers in a timely fashion. Using a low-code approach, with Microsoft's Power Automate and an RPA tool, we greatly reduced the time taken and increased data accuracy of the customer on-boarding process. This resulted in a 77% reduction in the time taken to onboard customers.”

    Automation drives efficiency

    Coster says a notable efficiency driver and significant cost-saver was the development of an automation process to clear cut product images for the ecommerce website. Using an AWS serverless event-driven architecture in the prepress process allowed the designers to drop raw product images into a folder for automatic processing. The benefit to the business was a 95% cost reduction to produce web-ready images.

    “Successful projects such as these have reduced cost, removed risk, enabled/refocused team members with smarter tools, and delivered more insightful analytics on customer and product behaviour. Supply chain optimisation processes and mobile tools have reduced operating costs and enabled retail floor teams,” Coster says.

    Cybersecurity boosted

    Coster’s team increased our cybersecurity capability by building a central security operations service across all stores. This included implementing new AI based anti-malware prevention tools that could learn, quarantine and selfheal IT systems. This provided immediate improvements over the more traditional definition-based end point anti-virus products that had been in use as they could see and trace all new attempts and then have the platform deploy updated policies and controls across the entire distributed network to prevent similar attack vectors.

    “We believe we were the first major retailer in New Zealand, possibly the Asia-Pacific region, to implement SD-WAN, and were invited by Cisco to present the process and outcome at several global conferences,” Coster notes.


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