Four years ago, the role of Chief Information Officer didn’t exist at Jetro Restaurant Depot. Since then, the wholesale food service provider has seen a complete root-and-branch transformation of its digital space.

It has been a revamp that is helping the US-based company deliver what matters most to its customers – offering high-quality, fresh foods at a good price.

In doing so, the company strives to provide extraordinary service to independent foodservice operators throughout the US.

Driven by an inherent passion for programming and all things technical, this job is in the capable hands of Andres Cubero, ‎the company’s first-ever CIO. Recognizing the importance of digitization, Jetro Restaurant Depot has made significant strides in its technology department and it is these steps which have helped the company distinguish itself from its competitors.

“We have made substantial investments in our technologies over the past several years and that has really given us a competitive edge,” observes Cubero. “It has allowed us to provide products to our stores in a timely manner, and keep our costs down. That's been a great operating model for us – putting the right data in the hands of our buyers and our personnel to keep the inventory fresh and in-stock.”

Technological overhaul

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Focusing on the company’s infrastructure and bandwidth, Cubero and his team have worked diligently to prepare Jetro Restaurant Depot for the digital age. One such initiative that Cubero is passionate about is the company’s plans to implement wi-fi in its warehouses. Over the next 18 months, Jetro Restaurant Depot is set to launch a series of web initiatives. These include a refresh of the company’s, website with the potential of providing delivery services in some of its regions, and a pilot concept of in-store pick-up services.

“It’s a big initiative for the team,” says Cubero. “By the end of this year, we should be in more than 130 locations, and each one of our warehouses is on average, about 60,000 sq ft. It's a lot of square footage and there’s a lot of equipment that we'd be looking at deploying for a wi-fi installation. It’s a huge initiative for us to cost justify. The challenge for my department is to create return on investment to justify the investment.” 

However, this is not just a short-term vision for the company. In the future, Jetro Restaurant group is hoping to implement a series of omnichannel initiatives to help provide its customers with a seamless and integrated shopping experience.

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Transforming the customer experience

One initiative that Jetro Restaurant Depot is exploring is the concept of self-checkout. By using scanner devices, customers could scan and collect their products and then present the data to the sales team. Through this program, the food wholesaler hopes to quicken shopping times, improve efficiency and overall, enhance the end-user experience.

“These new technologies aim to transform the customer experience,” Cubero says. “We're unique in this space because we are a true brick-and-mortar, cash and carry wholesaler. This allows us to provide good quality products, at better prices, and at lower costs.

“However, the nature of our shopping experience is much different than a traditional grocery store environment: our customers are pushing very large wagons with cases and cases of product,” he continues. “It's a very heavy load that's going through the front-end and really kind of a challenge for the cashiers to scan. Our goal is to really enhance that customer experience.”

Data analytics

The US company is implementing a series of data warehousing and store system solutions and, like many companies, Jetro Restaurant Depot is tapping into the power of data analytics to streamline its operations and bring its technologies to the next level.

However, in an ever-evolving industry, Cubero and his team don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead.

“We have a rich amount of data that we're collecting right now, and so the challenge is being able to provide the data in an easily consumable way to the people who need to make those decisions, who need to look at the data,” says Cubero.

“Having the right kind of presentation tools or the right database environment to allow our decision makers to use the data in an ad hoc fashion is really a challenge that a lot of businesses face, and we're not alone there. However, thanks to our latest digitization strategies we have a high degree of comfort about tackling these challenges.”

Dealing with technical debt 

As technology continuously reinvents itself, legacy systems can build up quickly. When Cubero joined the team as CIO, the company had a technology footprint that was over seven or eight years old. As a result, tackling the company’s technical debt was perhaps one of the most challenging hurdles Jetro Restaurant Depot has faced. 

“Like a lot of retailers, we had fallen into the trap of putting together a technical blueprint for our stores, but then didn't revise it and change it,” explains Cubero. “When I became CIO and saw what we had been doing, I realized we really needed a revamp.

“It’s been a challenge sometimes because of the cost involved, but we’ve seen a significant transformation. One of the very first things I did was implement a hard refresh policy, where any equipment that's five years or older in our warehouses goes through a hardware refresh - that includes servers, point-of-sale terminals, printers, the whole kit.”

As well as this, the company did a point-of-sale refresh where it upgraded its point-of-sale equipment and introduced new scanners that reduce waiting times. On top of that, Jetro Restaurant Depot has been working closely with partners such as Modern Systems to transform its ERP system. “That’s a major project for us because it's been a bottleneck on the technology for the last several years,” comments Cubero. “Through this partnership, we should be able to get off that framework and take our systems to the next level.”

Strong industry ties

The team at Jetro Restaurant Depot has played no small part in this impressive transformation. With a small IT team of 20, split evenly between field support and developers, the company has firmly cemented itself as a key player in the food wholesale space. Collaboration has been a key part of Jetro Restaurant Depot’s success and Cubero believes that this philosophy should also extend to the firm’s strong supplier relationships.

“For us, it’s a team effort with our partners,” observes Cubero. “On the infrastructure side of our transformation, Dell has been a big partner of ours and from a consulting and data center perspective, Marcum Technologies has been really key. Illinois Wholesale has also been a really key player for our point-of-sale initiatives, and looking at mobile devices and handheld units for some of our initiatives.

“I think it's very important for CIOs to look at the landscape of vendors out there and really explore their options. It’s worth the extra research time to pit the vendors against each other, look at what their offerings are, and make the best decisions for the company from both a technology and cost point of view. That's been my tactic. It has exposed me to a lot of different vendors and different solutions, and I find that effort has given me the chance to learn more about the latest technologies and trends.”

On track for growth

Jetro Restaurant Depot has made a strong name for itself in the wholesale food market, offering high-quality yet cost-conscious products for independent restaurants, caterers and non-profits alike. 

“Looking forward, I predict we will see substantial changes internally,” he says. “We're going to be revamping our business practices by adopting agile project management concepts because it’s vital that we make that transition forward to kind of change and respond to market needs quicker. With our upcoming initiatives, I see our customer experience getting even better. For us, it’s about maturing our practices overall, whether it's in the cybersecurity space, or the project management space, or the software development practices as a whole.

Over the past several years, Jetro Restaurant Depot has completely renovated its technology platform and elevated the firm to new heights. The company’s entire IT infrastructure and legacy systems have been overhauled, but perhaps its greatest achievement was its mammoth culture change.

“I will say that the biggest challenge that I've had in this role has been sort of breaking the mold of IT,” reflects Cubero. “It’s important to bridge the of gap and see IT not as a service-only function of the business, but as a key decision-making partner.”

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