CTO Gerri Martin-Flickinger talks innovation at Starbucks

CTO Gerri Martin-Flickinger talks innovation at Starbucks 600 434 C-Suite Network

Innovation at Starbucks isn’t just about technology; it’s also about language, the coffee company’s executive vice president and CTO Gerri Martin-Flickinger said at the recent Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Fla.

For example, there is no IT function at Starbucks; it’s called Starbucks Technology.

“[Once we rebranded IT,] we started thinking about ourselves a little differently,” Martin-Flickinger said. She said by taking off the artificial restrictions they had in their thinking about what IT was and what it could become, they became something bigger. “But it wasn’t just how we felt about it; it was also how our business partners felt about it. They started thinking about us differently.”

Another word change: There are also no “employees” at the coffee giant, only “partners.” It’s all part of Starbucks’ internal rebranding that started a couple of years ago and includes a revamped workplace culture, technology investments and mission statement all centered on providing digital engagement on a global scale.

“The best technology is the technology that actually enhances human connection,” Martin-Flickinger said. “I can’t think of a better brand than Starbucks that believes in the human connection.”

The star of the company’s digital lean-in position is its popular Mobile Order and Pay app, introduced in 2015. Since its rollout, the percentage of mobile-order transactions has continued to grow each quarter. At peak times, at least 2,000 stores are seeing more than 20% of transactions coming through this channel.

But Starbucks’ digital transformation goes beyond just an app, according to Martin-Flickinger. She offered a glimpse into the present state and future of innovation at Starbucks, which includes a cloud-based platform, collaboration tools, virtual reality (VR) and conversational computing.

Starbucks doesn’t have a unified point-of-sale environment, a single inventory system or a single supply chain system around the globe, Martin-Flickinger said, explaining it would be incredibly difficult to enforce a standard across all of its stores and systems. Instead, some stores are deeply connected on a consistent technical stack, but others are only loosely coupled.

These concepts are not far-fetched. Everyone in this room probably has technologists who could put that together.
executive vice president and CTO at Starbucks

To manage this technical complexity, the company is building a cloud-based platform that will allow for integration and…