C&S modernizes with wholesale shift to the cloud

Some CIOs approach technology modernization by deciding on a cloud platform, designing a blueprint, and executing it with their own IT staff, C-suite funding, and the hypervisor’s vertical industry experts.

Other CIOs hand over most of the project to consulting firms: the old throat choke.

There is no right or wrong way to proceed.  

Whichever path is chosen, enterprises that are outsourcing their computing infrastructure to the cloud need a wide array of technical and business experts to exit the data center.

The consumer-packaged goods (CPG) industry is somewhat behind other industries in the race to modernize but supply chain bottlenecks and the pandemic’s unprecedented disruption have accelerated their need to digitally transform.

Take C&S Wholesale Grocer, for example. The $27 billion, 100-year-old grocery wholesale distributor has seen the light on the importance of the cloud for modernizing its operations. And although C&S has a talented, ample staff of IT professionals, the distributor opted to last year to sign a 7-year deal with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to manage its digital transformation to the Google Cloud Platform, complete with advanced analytics, associated data lakehouses, and AI-driven supply chain forecasting.

One year into the process, C&S is relying on TCS to implement its sophisticated cloud platform in a manner that benefits the company and its partners quickly while bolstering the bottom line — a tricky goal given the heavy cost of the partnership and the migration. But it’s the only way to step up and compete in a changing industry, says Sudhakar Lingineni, CIO of Keene, N.H.-based C&S. 

“I think the wholesale industry has been lagging in investment in technology. Let’s be honest,” Lingineni says. “But the investments we have seen in the last three to five years, we’ve never heard of these kinds of investments before.”

Modernization begins with migration

C&S is no novice to the business benefits of IT. Its internal IT team developed its own data warehousing solution, a “data lake” based on Oracle databases, and implemented advanced forecasting using business intelligence and data visualization tools such as Tableau, says Lingineni.

Sudhakar Lingineni, CIO, C&S


In addition, the wholesale distributor operates 35 warehouses using advanced automation and robotics. It uses UiPath for robotic process automation (RPA) and Alteryx for analytic process automation (APA), and its IT staff has built basic AI apps using Python and R, as well as a forecasting app called Pulse.

But scalability has always been a limiting factor. To achieve modern business optimization and take analytics, automation, and AI to the next level, Lingineni long knew a major migration to the cloud would be necessary.

C&S’s partnership with TCS began April, as did its migration to GCP.

“We’ve just started our journey … and there is a long list of things we want to do,” Lingineni says. “The big challenge is to scale at speed, scale resources, scale skills, and that’s what Google Cloud brings us.”

Partnering with a large consulting firm is expensive. But the vast array of industry experts with real world expertise that such a partnership offers can accelerate the process and ensure key structural considerations are considered, the CIO says.

For example, TCS identified three key transformation facets: the data center exit, the mainframe modernization, and data modernization, says Nidhi Srivastava, vice president and global head of the Google Business Unit at TCS.

As part of the blueprint, Srivastava identified a migration from Teradata to Google BigQuery serverless data warehouse as an essential part of the data modernization upgrade C&S would require to execute the ‘what if’ scenarios and pricing and forecasting optimizations at scale.

“BigQuery has concurrency, and the speed at which it brings data is one of the fastest,” Lingineni says. “We want to be able to leverage that move from analytical reports to doing some prescriptive and predictive analytics. Supply chain is a very important aspect of what we do and optimizing forecasting and how we buy plays a big, big role in determining the quality and speed of how we work.”

The tools and scale available in the cloud will help C&S establish AI-driven supply chain operations — essential for keeping on top of the change-fueled, connected supply chain of today. In the past, companies could use forecasting models for weeks or months, but the speed of data available about factors impacting supply chains, such as weather or transportation strikes, or a decision to raise the cost on an item by one cent, can change forecasting models by the day or hour. 

In addition to being able to unify and exploit disconnected, disparate data better in the cloud, deploying cloud-native tools, such as TensorFlow for machine learning optimization and Google Apigee APi management, is another significant piece of the long-term plan for C&S, TCS’ Srivastava says.

A year in, C&S has the core foundation in place and has “lifted and shifted” a portion of its 200 applications to GCP, with others in Kubernetes containers and still more in true cloud-native installations.

Building on the cloud foundation

C&S is also making investments in edge computing and computer vision technologies to facilitate speedier decision-making about product selections, allocation, and protection during transport.

And being on GCP will help C&S establish the IoT platform necessary to do that. “We do have sensors today on refrigerated trucks when they go check them,” Lingineni says. “But this will help us get the data and be more responsive.”

The ability to access and exploit the data from the beginning of the process — purchasing — to delivery, will enable C&S to produce better, more profitable outcomes for the 7,500 supermarkets it serves, as well as the food producers it partners with and the company itself.

“Once we can connect all this data, then we can know the impact on merchandising and supply chain decisions on warehouse operations and transportation,” says Lingineni. “We can connect the dots and predict what’s going to happen and figure out where the bottlenecks are.”

C&S still has a way to go but the migration to the cloud foundation and workload migration is moving very well, Lingineni says, adding that the cloud has enabled C&S to build a unified, integrated customer-facing portal that supports both vendors and suppliers. In the past, the company had separate portals for its B2C and B2B customers.

Another big benefit C&S is counting on with its move to GCP has less to do with pure P&L, Lingineni says.

“Once we have our data center exit, it’s also helping with sustainability,” he says. “We generate a lot of CO2 because we have more than 100 servers in our data center. So, this is moving us towards the green, green revolution.”

Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation