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From crisis to catalyst: How Sysco navigated the pandemic and fueled digital transformation

Updated: May 16

May 29, 2023 | Sysco | Transformation | CIO | MIT CIO Summit | By Kapil Nagpal and Priyanka Nagpal

How Sysco transformed for success amidst global turmoil

Sysco, the world's largest broad-line food distribution company with over 600,000 clients from nearly 350 worldwide facilities, needed to adapt and reinvent itself to support its restaurant customers in the challenging times of lockdowns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Tom Peck, Executive Vice President & Chief Information and Digital Officer at Sysco faced a critical situation to leverage technology and steer the 70 billion dollar company with a presence in over 90 countries and 14, 000 trucks beyond business continuity toward long-term success when the entire world came to a stand-still.


The Challenge

Restaurants, which were Sysco's major customers were forced to close their doors or operate under strict limitations, and the demand for traditional food distribution services dramatically declined. This situation posed a serious threat to Sysco's revenue and required immediate action to support its restaurant customers and ensure business continuity.

Business continuity


Sysco had to quickly find ways to assist its restaurant customers in transitioning to alternative dining options such as takeout, curbside dining, and delivery services, ensuring they could continue to serve their customers while complying with safety regulations.




Growing need for secure and efficient ordering systems


With the closure of physical dining spaces, restaurants heavily relied on online and contactless ordering methods. This required Sysco to implement innovative solutions to streamline the ordering process and ensure the timely delivery of goods to their customers.


Shifts in consumer behavior


There was a notable rise in the adoption of online ordering platforms and mobile apps. Consumers sought digital channels to place orders and make payments, reducing physical contact and adhering to social distancing measures. The shift revolved around a preference for off-premises dining options, increased reliance on online ordering and delivery services, and a heightened emphasis on health and safety considerations.


Heightened health and safety protocols


Sysco had to address the growing concerns around safety and hygiene in the food industry. The company had to implement stringent measures to ensure the secure handling and delivery of food products, adhering to strict health and safety protocols as health and safety concerns became paramount for consumers during COVID-19.





Transforming operations

Sysco turned adversity into an opportunity, they not only managed the COVID-19 crisis but used it to fuel digital transformation focused on better-serving customers and differentiating from the competition.


Enabling unparalleled customer experience drives tangible outcomes

Every restaurant has a different order and urgency of delivery. Sysco was able to seamlessly cater to different customer needs by leveraging technology to enable efficient and effective delivery processes.

Sysco turned their trucks into "computers on wheels"
Sysco turned their trucks into "computers on wheels"
"Sysco turned their trucks into "computers on wheels" with telematics and routing technology. Revolutionizing the efficiency and effectiveness of their delivery processes.", says Mr. Peck.

Allowing for optimized routes, real-time tracking, and streamlined operations enabling timely delivery to support business continuity during lockdown.


The end consumer behaviors were changing during Covid, heightening the challenges for Sysco's restaurant customers in already turbulent times of economic downturn. Sysco prioritized the development of customer digital platforms, such as Sysco Shop and CRM tools, to improve order entry processes and enhance customer service.

Sysco levered these platforms to offer custom pricing and custom services for each of the 1000s of restaurants. They also launched a loyalty program offering benefits focused on deepening customer relationships and enhancing engagement.

Elevating sales effectiveness and customer-centricity

Sysco restructured its sales approach, leveraging data and analytics to identify customer sales prospects, resulting in improved customer support and increased sales of premium products, even amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic.

AI-based tools for better customer insights and order recommendations.
AI-based tools for better customer insights and order recommendations.
Sysco made a strategic shift in its sales force by adopting AI-based tools for better customer insights and order recommendations.

These tools provided valuable customer insights and order recommendations, enabling the sales team to better understand customer preferences and offer personalized recommendations.


Recognizing the CIO's efforts

The 20th annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium announced Tom Peck, Executive Vice President & Chief Information and Digital Officer, Sysco as the winner of the Annual MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award.

Tom Peck,  Executive Vice President & Chief Information and Digital Officer at Sysco, the winner of the Annual MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award
Tom Peck, Chief Information Officer at Sysco, the winner of the Annual MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award
"Digital dexterity is the ability of the organization to adopt and embrace, with skill and grace, technology and digital tools.", - Tom Peck, Sysco.

Mr. Peck delivered on the responsibility of expediting Sysco's expansion by implementing customer-centric technological solutions, enhancing eCommerce capabilities, establishing agile supply chains, and modernizing and securing computing capabilities.


Snapshot of Sysco's investment thesis:

17% share of a $300Bn+ U.S. Market


Expected to grow 1.5x faster than the total market by the end of fiscal 2024.


Conclusion

Sysco's ability to adapt and leverage technology ultimately contributed to its lasting success during a time of immense disruption in the food distribution industry. Sysco's digital transformation success story is an inspiring example of how a global leader in food distribution can embrace technology and drive significant improvements in its operations and customer experience. By leveraging advanced analytics, e-commerce solutions, automation, agile and employee upskilling, Sysco successfully optimized its supply chain, enhanced inventory management, and streamlined online ordering processes.


This transformation not only improved operational efficiency and reduced costs but also resulted in a seamless and personalized customer experience. Sysco's commitment to digital transformation serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative potential of technology in driving business growth and innovation.


References

MIT CIO Summit Panel Discussion - "CIO as Chief Transformation Officer: Strengthening Digital Dexterity across the Entire Organization" - https://mitcio.com/


Panel: CIO as Chief Transformation Officer: Strengthening digital dexterity across the entire organization



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