Five years in five months: the leap from traditional to digital operations

The largest food retailer in Brazil, Carrefour, managed to accelerate its transformation in order to face the challenges of the new world. Learn their strategies and key learnings.

A woman in a grocery store wearing a mask holding a lemon
Posted on Aug 7, 2020

You are going to read:

  •  See how they transformed their mindset and operations from a traditional company to more like a start-up
  • Learn how about their digital culture and how they uncovered opportunities
  • See how IT leaders have become the protagonist of change


Carrefour is the second largest retailer in the world and the largest in Europe. It’s known as pioneer in Brazil. Since 1975, it has grown to 72,000 employees and 498 stores distributed in 26 states in the country, making it the largest food retailer in Brazil. 


CI&T has been Carrefour’s trusted partner since 2016. Following successful initiatives, CI&T recently helped Carrefour with their digital transformation journey.


Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen how Carrefour's teams have shown its responsiveness to meet new consumer expectations in a complex, uncertain, and fast-changing environment. In just a matter of days, the company managed to set the structures needed to manage a completely remote workforce of about 27,000 people. All of this was possible thanks to the digital transformation process that was already underway, with an increasing focus on the consumer and a culture increasingly focused on collaboration and experimentation in search of delivering more and more value to its customers. 


CI&T CSO, Bob Wollheim recently joined CI&T CTO Bruno Simioni, along with Carrefour CIO, Paulo Farroco on our podcast. We’ve highlighted some of their discussion.  


Five years in five months

 "We are living in a moment that we joke about calling VUCA 2.0. Because it's super intense, super uncertain and there's a lot going on. I believe that we accelerated five years in five months. There is a strong acceleration and a very large business transformation, a transformation in customer behavior that is also very large and many opportunities are emerging. All businesses are in full reinvention."

Paulo Farroco, Carrefour CIO

Among the industries that has had to go a shift because of the coronavirus pandemic is retail. Mandatory closings of commerce, services, and offices were and continue to be a challenge for Carrefour and many other companies. Retail companies are finding themselves navigating and dealing with the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world. In order to meet the demands of this new world, companies alike have found that digital have continued or unexpectedly came knocking on their doors. 


Challenges have only accelerated at staggering speeds as the pandemic has made things uncertain. As Carrefour had no time to implement new practices to meet the changing customer needs, it knew that it had to act on real-world facts. Carrefour executives knew that focusing on solving customer challenges and addressing new demands were paramount, therefore, they quickly increased the number of squads or autonomous multidisciplinary teams to solve different issues ranging from improving digital communication and sales channels to creating new solutions so that stores could maintain functioning properly.   


" I say that Carrefour became a startup in a few days. In other words, decisions were made much faster, the cycles for decision making were shorter and the number of people who were involved in each of this decision-making was much smaller. It was necessary for this to happen in the very short term and the decisions were much more collective and the responsibility of each team with a clear purpose. We really put the safety of our customers and the safety of employees in immediate attention. "

Paulo Farroco, Carrefour CIO


The startup approach was seamless for Carrefour since working in squads and the culture of rapid experimentation were already part of the company's operating design. The partnership and work between Carrefour and CI&T in recent years has proved to help prepare for the current times. Its readiness allowed Carrefour to innovate with speed and bring pioneering and effective solutions. 


"Carrefour was a pioneer in many things in Brazil. With squads, we began to clearly internalize these concerns with customers and employees. We started measuring the temperature of customers in the store, we were the first to start cleaning the shopping carts, installing acrylic barriers between the cashier and customer for the protection of everyone, and demarcating the distance between customers on the floor... These things were all happening very quickly."

Paulo Farroco, Carrefour CIO


Digital culture and new opportunities

Carrefour truly wanted to help its customers and its community so they set out to determine their most pressing needs. As a result, the company made 40,000 masks for its community, as well as, prepared baskets with food and necessities that were distributed to the communities in need. 


"Today, we are no longer just placing the customer in the spotlight, but genuinely as a strategic center for the company's digital transformation." 

Paulo Farroco, Carrefour CIO

Making sure that everyone’s challenges are addressed, Carrefour implemented special measures for the elderly community. The squads responsible for e-commerce developed a feature to prioritize people aged 60 and over; in addition to creating a new type of service in the Contact Center, prepared to guide and assist these people in their online purchases. 


"This solidary process, with an empathic look, changed several fields of the company. It changed in the physical world, it changed strongly in technology with super short-term actions and it expanded our field of community and social attention."

Paulo Farroco, Carrefour CIO


Technology professionals as protagonists of change

The technology and those who implement these technologies are usually behind the scenes which is no longer the case. IT teams and leaders have gained a seat at the table and contributing to strategic decisions.


"The pandemic created a huge space for the technology professional to be a protagonist because he/she is the most capable of bridging the gap between business impact and engineering strategy. Even more so in a world now 100% driven online. This is the professional who can provide support for the shopping experiences, for the user's online journeys. He/she has to be at the strategy table and the decision-making table".

Bruno Simioni, CTO of CI&T


No longer are IT professionals only "technological problem solvers". Now, they take the lead not only with regard to the implementation of tools and solutions, but also in the study of opportunities and action planning. 


 "It is this professional who is able to determine what field of play I have, what I need to implement an architecture strategy, a Cloud strategy, from DevOps to run, to make releases more often, to talk about this new world of technology. I think that the movement was very accelerated for the main technology executives. For me, the main learning experience, especially in our field, is this new playing field that is now very fertile in an unprecedented way. "

Bruno Simioni, CTO of CI&T


" I would advise our professional colleagues to seize that moment to effectively win a permanent seat at the strategic decision-making tables. This is a great opportunity for the IT professional whose contribution was instrumental in a very short-term strategic transformation. "

Paulo Farroco, Carrefour CIO


And following the forecast of Mark Andreessen, founder of Netscape, who said that in the future, the whole company will be a technology company. As a great example of this new vision, Carrefour has already taken the lead and put into practice one of the great teachings of management philosophy: "learning by doing." 


" I believe that Carrefour, in order to be successful and long-lasting, has to become a technology company too. We have to make technology an area for attracting and retaining talent. For that, you need to effectively practice the technology in a much more updated, modern way using the tool that is at the top of the line to attract this talent and to be recognized in the technology market. My personal desire is to help Carrefour to be recognized as a company in which technology permeates the areas and makes the areas have a much faster delivery speed. "

Paulo Farroco, Carrefour CIO