AWS Training and Certification Blog

Kmart Group: Delivering a better customer experience through future-ready employees and infrastructure

Contributed by Michael Fagan, chief technology officer, Kmart Group (Australia)

Michael Fagan, CTO of Kmart Australia, speaks about his company’s investment in organization-wide cloud skills training for both IT and non-IT employees and its impact on their digital transformation goals.

Retail customers in Australia and New Zealand expect a world-class experience, and Kmart Group aims to deliver just that. Embracing cutting edge AWS Cloud technology has been a pivotal step in a journey that will allow us to deliver leading customer experiences. We always put our customers first, and they are telling us they want improved experiences and better services at lower prices.

It might sound cliché, but digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. It is also no longer optional. At Kmart, continuous commitment to innovation and evolving new capabilities through technology will ensure that we are poised to deliver the experiences that our customers expect.

But our commitment can’t stop at the technology itself, because the impact of technology is a direct reflection of the capabilities of those using it. It is important that we provide our employees with the skills to innovate in cloud, so that we can deliver faster technologies for our end customers.  If we look after our employees then they will look after our customers.

Empowering our people to apply innovative, cloud-first thinking to business and customer experience solutions has been a crucial step in our successful digital transformation. We knew that an evolution in skills and a shift in mindset supported by organizational structures was required. To achieve this, we invested in the AWS Training, with the aim of educating our staff on the cloud in order to instill the skills and confidence they need to innovate for our customers.

Lighting the fuse on an innovation explosion

At Kmart, we invested initially in the AWS Cloud to build our capability in several areas, including data and analytics. This led to some great successes, including being able to live stream point of sale (POS) data, and the use of machine learning to predict consumer buying habits for improved demand forecasting. We changed the colors, sizes and store locations of millions of pieces of clothing through this process, resulting in some of our best sales growth. As a result, the flame of innovation was lit, and teams across the business began clamoring to build more cloud-enabled solutions.

It quickly became clear that a new skill set was required to help the business leverage staff across teams and locations to build applications that would improve customer experiences. But how to achieve this at scale? It is notoriously difficult and expensive to hire qualified cloud professionals—plus recruiting and onboarding takes time. So, we decided instead to empower our existing staff with cloud skills and knowledge.

A close collaboration with AWS

We partnered with the AWS team to take the next step on our journey. We named our program, ‘SPARK’ and offered AWS Cloud training to more than 1,400 of our staff in Australia. I knew it was ambitious, but I wanted to push our team to excel. The target I set was to train 100 percent of our technical staff, along with 80 percent of non-technical head office employees.

Training was delivered by AWS instructors in both online and classroom settings, with each employee able to participate in more than 20 hours of training. In addition to the formal training, the program included informal events, such as ‘lunch and learns’ and hackathons. Staff also had free rein on the AWS digital training platform to explore topics and services that were relevant to them. Non-technical staff banded together to build a library of useful collateral and explanations of difficult or new concepts, and to support one another. Informal mentoring groups sprung up and cross team collaboration increased.

Permission to launch

Uptake to the program has been phenomenal, with everyone from our CEO and executive assistants, to technical staff, and even store managers, taking part in training and earning AWS Certifications. People from a range of business units, from property, to finance, merchandising, and inventory have invested their time in the training program. In one case, Edmar, a manager from a Darwin Kmart store used his new-found cloud insight to optimize delivery schedules from thousands of kilometers away, making them more efficient and cost-effective.

Innovation, experimentation and failure are inseparable siblings. We’re seeing innovation come from unexpected places. But it also illustrates that it isn’t enough for staff to simply be aware of the capabilities of the AWS Cloud, they also need to know they are empowered to use their skills. We encourage the team to innovate and validate their ideas with minimum viable products that won’t take weeks of development to build. Entrenching a culture of experimentation has been the backbone of our program—giving people permission to fail, so they can learn and more quickly get to the right conclusion.

Lift off!

For my team, the impact of SPARK has been impressive. From a technical standpoint, the digital development teams, having achieved their AWS Certification, were able to look at how they were managing infrastructure and reduced their development and test infrastructure costs by 70 percent. They did this within a few weeks of certification.

Likewise, new ideas on storage management, including incorporating spot-buy strategies, led to a 90 percent reduction in storage costs. Daily deployments increased by more than 300 percent, with a steep reduction in rollbacks. Overall when we look at our DORA metrics we are seeing incredible improvements in our digital teams—our time to release features decreased by more than 60 percent. These are great results for our business, and cost savings we can pass on to our customers.

But more than that, we’ve seen a shift in our culture. Staff across the business are expressing that Kmart is a more exciting place to work. They understand and appreciate their value to the business, and are being given the skills that will carry them—and the Kmart Group—into the future. Barriers between business and technical staff are dissipating, with everyone using common terminology and conversing more fluently in the language of cloud. It’s now easier for teams to collaborate and translate customer needs into solvable issues for technical teams, which in turn enables better solutions for customers that are deployed faster. Ultimately, and most importantly, our customers are reaping the benefits.


Contact AWS Training and Certification for more information about enterprise training.