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AiThority Interview with Todd James, Chief Data & Technology Officer at 84.51°

Todd James, Chief Data & Technology Officer at 84.51°

Hi, Todd. Welcome to our Interview Series. Please tell us a little bit about your journey and what inspired you to start at 84.51°.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with CIO Influence.

In terms of my journey, I’ve spent my career working across line business and technical roles, at the intersection of data, technology, and their application to drive value for the business. The path is a bit non-traditional in that I’ve spent a career “in and out of” technology, versus a more linear path “in” IT.  For me, the diversity in my journey has helped me deeply understand technology from the business leaders’ point of view, while still being grounded in the technical aspects of the CTO role.

To answer your question on what inspired me to join 84.51°, it was the opportunity to join a group of professionals embarked on a mission to use thegrocery industry’s most robust first-party transaction-level data set to make people’s live easier. The more I learned about the people, culture, and company, the more I got excited about being a part of the journey.

You have been part of many high-profile strategic business teams in data science and intelligent automation space. Could you tell us the most exciting/ challenging aspect of working in these domains and staying on top of your game?

We are in the midst of a once-in-a-l******* global re-platforming that is accelerating transformation in business and across society. I’m particularly excited about how were are leveraging data to make people’s lives easier. No matter where you look – from more relevant shopping experiences, to medical advances, and safer and more efficient transportation networks – data and artificial intelligence are simplifying and amplifying shoppers’ lives.

The pace of change is incredible, staying on top of the trends is harder than it has been at any point in my career. For me, it’s about looking outside the organization and keeping my finger on the pulse of change by actively engaging a broad range of experts in business, the start-up community, and academia. Fortunately, I’m finding that this type of engagement is welcomed, leading to many productive discussions and new connections.

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What is 84.51° and what are your core offerings?

84.51° is a retail data science, insights and media company. We help The Kroger Co., consumer packaged goods companies, agencies, publishers and affiliated partners create more personalized and valuable experiences for shoppers across the path to purchase.

Powered by cutting-edge science, we leverage first-party retail data from nearly 1 of 2 U.S. households and 2 b****** annual transactions to fuel a more customer-centric journey utilizing 84.51° Insights, 84.51° Loyalty Marketing and our retail media advertising solution, Kroger Precision Marketing.

Please tell us a little bit about your IT stack and how it has evolved in the last 2 years to support your data science operations?

At 84.51°, our technology stack is built to activate data through analytics, at scale and speed. We are constantly evolving it, restless with the status quo;our focus is around continuing to ensure that our architecture is positioned to support our ability to deliver and activate insights, while also providing flexibility and agility to the 84.51° and Kroger businesses.

We are focusing on three pillars: (1) composable architecture, (2) analytics evolution, and (3) data modernization. Through our focus on composability, 84.51° is increasing speed to market and business flexibility as we enablegreater levels ofreuse, scale, and reliability. It’s about rethinking our architecture and how we build software. Our analytics evolution is about extending upon a strength of 84.51° by continuing to deliver more advanced sciences that drive insights to action, hindsight to foresight, at scale. We are investing in ML Ops platforms and capabilities to speed and enable science. Additionally, we are rethinking how we present insights to be more predictive and prescriptive, engineer analytics solutions to scale, and leverage data to activate decision points. Our data modernization work is about enriching our robust data asset, which includes data from nearly 1 in 2 U.S. households. Our continued focus is around data discoverability, making data easier to access and use, scaling data governance, as well as ongoing efforts to diversify and enrich data in a way that enhances experiences for our customers.

What kind of IT infrastructure does a CIO of a data science company need today to excel in business? Your take on advancing technologies in Edge computing, AIOps and IT security:

At 84.51° we are focused on activating data through analytics. As such, our infrastructure is oriented to being able to ingest, manage, and activate large volumes of structured and unstructured data.  We’ve invested in a robust data science platform ecosystem allowing us to support the diverse needs of our business portfolio, at scale.

Emerging technologies that focus on the collection, processing, and presentation of data and insights are focus areas for us at 84.51°. In particular, we see opportunities with video analytics, IoT, edge compute, and variety of emerging experience technologies.

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How do you use big data for retail analytics? What is the role of Big Data analytics in building a sustainable future in the retail and CPG markets?

Data plays a central role in the retail and CPG markets, one that is likely to accelerate over the coming years. For instance, 84.51° usesshopper data from 60 million households representing  1in 2 U.S. households to attain a deep understanding of consumer and purchase behavior, both in-store and online. With this understanding, we inform and activate decision points across every aspect of the customer, client, and associate experience. By capturing 96% of sales through our Kroger loyalty program, we help CPGs meet shoppers where they are with what they need. We leverage over 10 PB of data in our personalization services, simplifying the shopper experience, making it more relevant and valuable to the shopper. Additionally, data and science are being used to drive decisions, simplify work, and amplify the capabilities of Kroger associates through millions of automated algorithms and roughly one trillion forecasts per year. Simply put, data is enabling and transforming our industry.

Please tell us about the major milestones you manage to achieve in 2022.

For us, 2022 was a year of significant growth and evolution.  We’veevolved our approach to delivering solutions, which has enabled us to increase the yield on our data asset, unlocking greater levels of value.

You lead the 84.51° Innovation Lab. What AI initiatives are you currently focusing on and why?

We launched 84.51° Labs in 2022 to bring additional rigor to disruptive, over-the-horizon innovation for the benefit of our customers. To ensure that we are driving value through the Labs, it is structured as a risk weighted i********* portfolio to drive a targeted return. A year into the effort, Labs is off to a f******** start, unlocking measurable value through innovative science enabled capabilities.

The portfolio spans a range of initiatives supporting innovation in 84.51°’s commercial businesses as well as within Kroger. It currently includes the use of advanced science to simulate and optimize ecommerce order picking, pricing and promotion optimization, dynamic advertisement placement, campaign optimizations, and much more. For example, Labs developed an automated, science-enabled, price optimization capability that, by leveraging cutting-edge optimization and machine learning techniques, can incorporate the complexity of execution across our ecosystems. Consider a scenario where there are 10 products across 4 weeks, with 5 pricing points for each product per week. In this example, there are roughly 540 possible combinations. Which one is right? Well, the science can answer that question and is already being used to make millions of pricing and promotion decisions a year and you can see the value of analytics in transforming work and driving better outcomes.

Please tell us more about AI-powered smart picking strategies and how it could solve the problems in last-mile delivery models for retailers and CPG brands?

Efficiently executing the last mile of eCommerce at scale while maintaining a great customer experience is a pervasive challenge across grocery retail. Our AI-powered picking capabilities are allowing Kroger to pivot labor in real time to optimally balance customer experience and business constraints. We focus on creating reliable, scalable, and reusable components that will allow us to drive efficiencies throughout the eCommerce experience, including delivery, through a single capability. For example, creating an optimal picking operation requires state-of-the-art demand forecasts for labor planning, a real-time optimization platform that can adapt to an evolving order stream and supply chain constraints, and seamless data integration to ensure that decisions are consistently made with full context. 84.51° Labs, by partnering with fellow innovators across Kroger, is accelerating the development of these components to ensure that our customers get the best possible delivery and pickup experience.

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What is the future of data science in retail business?  What are your predictions on the future of Cloud-based retail management and analytics platforms? What role do you foresee for a company like 84.51° in this area?

Data science is opening up opportunities to better understand customers and their behaviors, to deliver more relevant customer journeys, and to simplify and amplify associate experiences. It is, in the simplest of terms, using data to make people’s lives easier.

We are already seeing a convergence of capabilities across cloud-based retail management and analytics platforms, which I expect to continue. Additionally, I anticipate that these platforms will continue to expand into embedded predictive and prescriptive offerings.

At 84.51°, we are restless with the status quo and always looking for ways to use data and science to create more personalized and valuable experiences for shoppers across the path to purchase.. With powerful and informative analytics, built on the #1 grocery retail e-commerce data and largest grocery data set in the U.S., we are well positioned to continue to innovate our offerings as we deepen our understanding of customers along their path to purchase.

Thank you, Todd! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

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As Chief Data & Technology Officer, Todd James paves the way for the continued growth of 84.51°, building on its rich data, science, and technology capabilities.

A driver of digital transformation, Todd spent 15 years at Fidelity Investments where he held a variety of key  strategic leadership roles. An innovative leader, he built the global data and analytics organization   for Fidelity’s Workplace Investing and Health Care business units. He also led efforts to modernize           servicing and operations through applied artificial intelligence, automation and directed Fidelity’s Cross-Enterprise AI Center of Excellence (COE).

Prior to Fidelity, Todd led a strategy consulting practice at Deloitte, directing strategic engagements with global Fortune 500 and government clients. As a director at Resource Consultants, Inc. he built and led a technology services business unit while also overseeing corporate IT. Prior to his business career, Todd was an officer in  the U.S. Coast Guard where he held leadership roles in IT, information security, and shipboard operations.

Aside from a B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Todd also earned an MBA from The College of William and Mary, and a M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois. He is an editorial board member for CDO Magazine.

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84.51° is a retail data science, insights and media company helping The Kroger Co., consumer packaged goods companies, agencies, publishers and affiliated partners create more personalized and valuable experiences for shoppers across the path to purchase.

Powered by cutting edge science, we leverage 1st party retail data from nearly 1 of 2 US households and 2BN+ transactions to fuel a more customercentric journey utilizing 84.51° Insights, 84.51° Loyalty Marketing and our retail media advertising solution, Kroger Precision Marketing.

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