The need for constant IT upgrades

Nurdianah Md Nur

bernard chew CIO of NTUC Fairprice
Bernard Chew, CIO of NTUC FairPrice. Credit: NTUC FairPrice.

With a network of over 120 outlets — comprising FairPrice supermarkets, FairPrice Finest and FairPrice Xtra — and 160 convenience stores — known as FairPrice Xpress and Cheers — across Singapore, NTUC FairPrice is inarguably the largest supermarket chain in the republic. While this implies that ensuring a smooth operation is no easy feat, it doesn't mean that it can't be done, as evident by Bernard Chew's efforts over the past 13 years.

As NTUC FairPrice's chief information officer, Chew is responsible for formulating IT strategy and policies, as well as governance and control over how information assets are deployed and used.  He also oversees all IT implementations including point of sales (POS) systems, the FairPrice Online eCommerce Portal, and FairPrice+ mobile app.

Even though NTUC FairPrice has embarked on numerous IT projects, Chew believes that there is still a need to continue investing in innovative solutions that will improve both the front and back end of the company's operations. In an interview with us, Chew talks about his company's past and future IT projects, as well as provides advice on how to be a good CIO in today's world.

What is your key objective as NTUC FairPrice's CIO?
As CIO, my objectives are aligned with that of NTUC FairPrice, which means providing the optimal technology infrastructure, manpower and systems to ensure that FairPrice can fulfill its mission to be the best place to work, best place to shop and best corporate citizen.

This means providing IT infrastructure that enables staff to work efficiently and achieve optimal work-life balance; provide customers with an enjoyable shopping experience, unhindered and unencumbered by the technology that underpins modern retail trade; and ensure the integrity, security and reliability of our IT infrastructure that is so vital to modern commerce.

NTUC FairPrice has embraced e-commerce and mobile commerce well by allowing customers to shop via your website and My FairPrice + mobile app. What challenges did you face when embarking on these projects and how did you overcome them?
The entire process from conceptualisation, development, integration, testing, training, launch, and maintenance of both our FairPrice + mobile app and online portal is a rigorous and ongoing process. We are constantly improving them to provide a better user experience for users.

Apart from the development of the app and web portals and backend integration, we had to also ensure proper coordination and alignment across various departments and external vendors. Much resource also went towards training and troubleshooting to iron out the bugs.

Security is another important issue that caused many sleepless nights as we had to ensure a robust online security system in place for online transactions and that customers' personal details are well-protected. Our FairPrice + App, for example, requires two-factor authentication (TFA) for account registration.

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