Sat | Sep 18, 2021

GK refreshes digital transformation strategy

Published:Wednesday | July 29, 2020 | 12:24 AMKarena Bennett/Business Reporter
Steven Whittingham, chief operating officer of GK Financial Group and new head of digital transformation for GraceKennedy.
Steven Whittingham, chief operating officer of GK Financial Group and new head of digital transformation for GraceKennedy.

A digital transformation programme started by the GraceKennedy conglomerate three years ago has been elevated within the group as a strategic priority.

Not only has GK set up a Digital Transformation Steering Committee, chaired by Group CEO Don Wehby, but the company has also named strategist Steven Whittingham to a new role as head of digital transformation for the group.

Given the changing imperatives for how business is done due to the pandemic, with the focus increasingly on e-commerce and online transactions, GraceKennedy wants to incorporate digital technologies across all its business lines.

Before the pandemic, GraceKennedy had began offering online transactions to remittance customers, a move that paid off in improved revenues, even as the coronavirus was wreaking havoc. That experience cemented the strategic value of digital services.

But with lessons learnt from the roll-out, and later discontinuation, of its mobile money service, GK MPay, GraceKennedy is seeking out consultants to ensure the new digital initiatives it designs don’t derail down the line.

“There are some initial discussions with a consultant, but we might look at doing a request for proposal to get more than one application, and then we will determine which works best for us before we make a final decision,” Wehby told the Financial Gleaner.

Once contracted, the consultancy is expected to run for 18 months. Meanwhile, GraceKennedy is doing digital upgrades to its systems and will roll out digital services before the year ends.

“The sandbox guideline from the Bank of Jamaica will also assist us in our digital transformation journey. That guideline basically aims to provide a platform to encourage innovation in financial products and services, and it incentives digitisation,” Wehby said.

The fintech sandbox was rolled out post COVID by the central bank in collaboration with the Office of Utilities Regulation.

GraceKennedy, a 98-year-old food and financial services conglomerate with operations in multiple countries worldwide, was tight-lipped on the full suite of digitally refreshed services under consideration, but Whittingham told the Financial Gleaner that in the first phase, focus will be placed on the group’s financial services business, the Hi-Lo Food Stores supermarket chain and GK’s international food business.

“One of the things that we have recognised is that there is a lot of friction in how customers have to do business in Jamaica and we want to ensure that across all our businesses, we use digital tools to eliminate that friction as much as possible,” said Whittingham, who is also the chief operating officer of GraceKennedy Financial Group, GKFG.

“In the financial services business, a lot of the friction comes from KYC [Know Your Customer] requirements, and one of the plans we have is to continue the streamlining with the use of digital tools to ensure that we are compliant and customers have greater efficiency,” he said.

For the retail business, the future of the Hi-Lo chain includes online sales and kerbside pickups.

GraceKennedy is still tallying what the total budget for the transformation will be, but says it hopes to lower the transformation cost by drawing on expertise from among current staff.

“We believe that this transformation will enable our customers to receive better service, and we expect that our employees will end up with a greater level of work-life balance,” Whittingham said.

The programme also aims to make the transition to new technologies as seamless as possible for staff.

Whittingham, who will step into his new role on August 1, in addition to his job as GKFG chief operating officer, is now looking across the group for individuals with combined expertise in various areas of the GraceKennedy’s commercial business and digital technology to form of team of digital creatives.

Initiatives coming out of the digital team will be reported to the steering committee, which itself is overseeing the advancement of the digital agenda across the GK Group, locally and internationally.