03 Nov 5 Questions with…Catherine Choo
Catherine Choo has been Chief Information Officer at Greenman since last year, a role with a lot of responsibility and a wide range of duties. However, she started her career at Greenman back in 2011. Take a moment to read the interview with her and learn more about the role of technology at Greenman, Greenman OPEN’s ESG strategy and food retail.
Catherine, could you briefly introduce yourself and tell us about your story at Greenman?
I decided to interview for a part time position at Greenman back in 2011 thinking that I might get to meet the international rugby player Jonny Wilkinson! Despite my disappointment in the interview I got the job and started designing the company and fund marketing material.
The role developed along with the company, growing as we became more successful collecting investment and acquiring new property and in 2015 I became head of the marketing department and began expanding the team to manage the PR, corporate communications, strategic marketing and brand management.
In 2020, a year of huge upheaval but also huge opportunity for us, I was offered the role of chief information officer, overseeing both our communications and also our research and technology development. My team now covers 3 main areas: communications (internal & external); marketing of the retail centres; and technology development. Quite a wide remit but linked by the way the business and people are consuming information in an ever more digital era.
What are the main challenges in your current work and the most exciting aspects of it?
The pandemic has really accelerated our digital transformation as we needed to ensure people were equipped with the tools and means to work from pretty much anywhere. However it also highlighted the need to structure and organise our data and information, to be able to provide our team with cohesive knowledge on tap, which is a goal we’re working towards.
What has become apparent as we’ve grown and expanded our digital development is that technology isn’t the only important part of digital transformation. You also need to manage the cultural aspects of change and influencing human behaviour. I believe it’s not just the use of emerging and innovative technology that makes a business successful but that the implementation and cultural change is supported from the top down and that buy in throughout the whole business is achieved. This is a huge challenge but also one of the most exciting aspects of it.
What are the most interesting trends that you’ve observed within the grocery retail industry, particularly in the past 12 months?
COVID-19 has really accelerated the pace of digitalisation not only in the office but also where we shop. While grocery retailers were lucky enough to be able to stay open throughout the pandemic we have still seen the line between digital and physical retail blur.
I believe physical grocery stores have proven their necessity during the pandemic but technology enhancements that can provide a more frictionless shopping experience, increasing efficiency for both the retailer and the customer will ensure these stores are competitive for the long-term. From something as simple as offering contactless payment options (cash loving Germany was at 40% contactless payment adoption in 2019 and has now jumped to 77%) to click-and-collect offerings, partnerships with delivery providers, in-store tech such as EDEKA’s smart trolley Easy-Shopper right the way through to Amazon Go’s fully autonomous, “just walk out” shopping and checkout solutions. There are so many possibilities to use technology to improve the shopping experience.
How would you expect the technology to evolve over the coming five to ten years in the food retail real estate sector?
Picking goods for online or click-and-collect is one of the most expensive parts of the distribution process. That and the infamous last mile logistics problem. I believe with the rise in drone technology and other forms of robotics and autonomous delivery we’ll see great advances in this area.I also expect to see new technologies for aiding healthier and greener eating habits. Covid-19 changed the way we buy, but also what we buy. Now more than ever, consumers are aware of the importance of preserving their health and that of the planet. Aero-, hydro- and aquaponics, IOT systems and vertical farm technology to help in future proofing food supply, mobile platforms to connect urban farmers, chefs and eaters. All with a focus on shortened value chains and food integrity.
Speaking about sustainability and especially ESG, how is OPEN’s ambitious goal of reaching net zero until 2040 affecting you and your team in your daily work?
As I mentioned, my team works in three main areas. We would be heavily involved communicating our ESG message to not only the financial advisor community in Ireland but also to developers, banks and other counterparties in Germany so that they understand what our strategy and long-term goals are. We would also do a lot of communication with city councils, tenants and the local communities around our retail centres in order to receive buy in and support for our projects.
Our centre marketing team are also actively engaging in social community projects on the ground in our centres. Projects such as Beezdorf, our environmental and educational beehive project in the Biesdorf retail centre, strengthens the centre’s ties with the local community, supporting local charities and giving back to the local community through educational programmes on sustainability and healthy eating.
Our technology team are helping to put the structures in place for us to be able to capture and record the additional data coming from these projects. Allowing us to better understand their impact on our centres, our tenants and the fund.
Thank you for your time Catherine!