Tech startups crucial to Pick n Pay’s technology strategy says executive

South Africa retail giant Pick n Pay has in the last year worked closely with “at least” 10 startups on various projects that have been delivered into the business, says the retailer’s deputy CEO Richard van Rensburg.

“Tech startups are crucial to Pick n Pay’s technology strategy,” Van Rensburg told Ventureburn last week, in a set of emailed responses. He says over half of the retailer’s spend on innovation is with startups.

“We have recently completed re-platforming all our systems across the group , from in-store point-of-sale (systems) through logistics and distribution, buying, customer loyalty and finance. Our core business systems are up to date and stable and we now have the space to focus on new areas of innovation,” he said.

The former Ernst and Young partner, who has also run his own IT business, pointed out that for startups wanting to work with a particular big corporate, it is helpful to understand what phase of the technology renewal cycle the corporate is in.

‘Tech startups are crucial to Pick n Pay’s technology strategy’

He added that the startup sector in Cape Town is strong. “UCT, UWC and CPUT (universities) are producing outstanding quality graduates and this is attracting big tech companies to the city. This in turn supports the startup industry and it is becoming an increasingly important employer,” he added.

The fact that there is a fair amount of start-up funding in Cape Town helps stimulate the industry further, he said.

“As we enter the next wave of the digital revolution, demand for tech skills will continue to accelerate making the tech industry, and startups in particular, not only an important employer, but also an important force for change.

“Healthcare is a great example. Today the industry is expensive, inaccessible and unresponsive to the needs of the majority of South Africans. Technology will fundamentally change this picture over the next 10 years and startups will play an enormous role,” he says.

Van Rensburg is perhaps qualified to be talking on the issue. In 1996 he started an IT services company providing managed application solutions to the retail sector. “I sold out of the business in 2001 and spent 10 years in retirement growing up with my children during their school years,” he says.

He was appointed as a non-executive director of Pick n Pay in 2011 and moved to an executive role in 2012.

“The information systems division, online shopping, cellular, financial services and value-added services teams in Pick n Pay report to me. These teams together represent a wonderful arena to use technology to innovate solutions for our customers and the company,” he said.

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