Founded in 1924, Woolworths is one of Australia’s most fondly-revered brands, with businesses in supermarkets, liquor and e-commerce spanning more than 10 million customers.
However, as with many traditional enterprises, the brand affectionately known as Woolies found their growth ambitions increasingly hampered by their ageing data and technology stacks.
“About a year ago, we really started to talk about big data and what it really means for us as an organisation,” said Woolworths IT and business intelligence general manager Angelo Clayton. “Data is an asset that we can unlock. What could we achieve with this data asset. We quickly realised we did not have the right platforms in place to support that ambition.”
Speaking during Google’s Next conference in San Francisco, Clayton explained how up until this time last year, most of Woolworths’ data lay siloed across numerous data warehouse.
“The leaders said to me: ‘We have all of this data; we just can’t get our hands on it,” he said. “The data sat in so many business units across the organisation. It was so siloed and it was just impossible to bring it all together in a trusted reliable fashion.”
More importantly, for Clayton, the company needed to “future-proof” its stack for the next five years, while enabling the entire Woolworths’ workforce to use its data capabilities “without coming back to IT every time”. For the company’s CEO and CFO on the other hand, priorities primarily focused on cost and efficiency.
No other name but Google
Yet with all that on the table, Clayton initially believed, any migration could take four years to complete. "[We had] multiple data sources, tons of integrations and we would have to do visualisation capability on top of that," he added.
"We thought it would be a long journey. [The leaders] asked me if I could do this by the end of the year. I said ‘Would you like my resignation now?'”
Fortunately for his bosses, Clayton did not in fact resign but turned to Google Cloud Platform through partner Tata Consultancy Service (TCS) just as the technology giant began stamping its mark on Australian soil.
“There was no other name that came to us but Google,” he explained. “It has the largest data set in the world and it just made sense to engage with them. We’re comfortable with GCP but more circumspect about [Google’s cloud data warehouse] BigQuery.”
Before hedging his bets on BigQuery, Clayton decided to set Google Cloud a little entrance exam.
“We set a challenge to see how quickly Google Cloud could process all of hour data,” explained Clayton. “We gave them 80 billion rows of data. They loaded it on the platform.
"Typically on our on-prem platform, the queries we run by that data set takes between 45 minutes to an hour and a half. When we ran on Google’s platform, it came back in 2.3 seconds. That was the start of the journey when we said this could support our businesses ambitions."
By June last year, Woolworth first began running proof-of-concepts on Google’s cloud platform and then began setting up the data infrastructure.
Two months later, the retailer was live on GCP and by November, it had placed its core retail data - two years worth of history - into Google Cloud and “ready for the business to be able to consume and work with it,” according to Clayton.
“It has been a phenomenal effort by ourselves, the Google team and TCS our partner,” he said. “Projects like this normally take you two years. For us to be able to do this in four months was amazing.”
Going forward into 2019, Clayton said he hoped to use the company’s reinvigorated data analytics system to localise the range of products carried by its stores, offer personalised promotions and prices to consumers and optimise its value chain. “We are super excited about the value we can unlock,” Clayton added.
Eleanor Dickinson attended Next '19 as a guest of Google Cloud.