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10 IT Principles When Facing A Difficult Digital Transformation

Blakely Thomas-Aguilar

The Save A Lot IT team faced a tough challenge after splitting away from its parent company. Here are the 10 IT principles that fueled their digital transformation, from SD-WAN to accelerating cloud innovation.

Discount grocer Save A Lot has a powerful vision: To be America’s most loved discount retailer by adding unmatched value to local communities.

“We’re a hard discount retailer,” says Jonathan Stewart, Save A Lot’s director of IT infrastructure and software services. “Forty years ago, (Save A Lot founder) Bill Moran said, ‘I want to provide the common folk, the people that don’t make a lot of money, with fresh vegetables and fresh fruit at a discount price.’”

Fast forward to today. Now, the St. Louis, Mo.-based retail chain has over 1,000 stores and 7,000 employees in 33 U.S. states. To keep costs low for its customers, Save A Lot economizes the size of its store and variety of offerings. This helps them keep overhead low, while providing high-quality, national and private-brand products to their customers.

However, four decades in business means the company experienced challenges common to many retailers. In 2016, Save A Lot transitioned ownership from former parent company SuperValu, Inc. to private equity firm Onex Corp., a change that ushered in significant transformation for the business.

“The business went first. We started remodeling all our stores,” says Stewart.

IT was the last part of the transformation process. We had to split from (SuperValu), and that meant digital transformation.

Jonathan Stewart, director of IT infrastructure and software services, Save A Lot

While the company since completed a business recapitalization and is now privately held by a number of large investors, including CDPQ, JP Morgan, Arbour Lane, Voya and Bain Capital, the need to accelerate change through the company’s IT and digital technologies has remained.

Facing a Difficult Digital Transformation

The Save A Lot IT team boiled down their daunting new reality into two primary challenges:

  1. Slow business processes due to legacy IT systems.
  2. Reliance upon legacy technology.

The largest hurdle? Save A Lot no longer owned a significant portion of its infrastructure. The IT team needed to migrate data, apps and processes securely and efficiently. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, they also had to equip stores with the modern technology needed to function in today’s digital consumer age.

“When I got to Save A Lot a year ago, I felt like I was walking into a time machine. We still have a mainframe. We still have AS/400. We still have batch jobs that are copying data from one database to another for no apparent reason. But all the laptops were Windows 10,” Stewart laughs. “You had all this legacy technology, and then you had Windows 10.”

Save A Lot’s IT team took stock of the legacy systems, market trends and customer demands to develop three key priorities:

  1. Take ownership of the network, particularly regarding SD-WAN.
  2. Accelerate the transition to the cloud.
  3. Reduce costs.

These three priorities resulted in the team developing its 10 IT principles to enable their business.

“Our customers’ experience translates into whether they come back, whether they say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to check out Save A Lot.’ This is key, all the way down to IT,” says Stewart. “Our IT consumers are also on the business side of things. So, we want to be customer-focused, even with our business partners.”

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