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A coffee catch up with Starbucks EMEA IT director Robert Teagle

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez August 21, 2014
Teagle will be speaking IP EXPO in London in October and ahead of the event he took ten minutes to tell us what is at the forefront of his mind when it comes to digital innovation.

Robert Teagle heads up the IT in EMEA for one of the most recognisable retail brands out there. Founded in Seattle in 1971 by three friends that met at the

University of San Francisco, Starbucks is now a household name across the world, with its coffee available in over 23,000 stores across 65 countries.

Teagle is largely responsible for the technology in over 2000 of these stores in the EMEA region (with some exceptions because of franchising), plus all the back-end infrastructure and applications used by the business.

Ahead of his keynote speech at IP EXPO in London in October, Teagle took time to outline some of the key issues he plans to address and provide some detail about the digital challenges he faces in providing technology in a retail environment that relies heavily on a bricks and mortar presence.

Teagle's approach to technology is clear – ensuring that the company introduces innovation whenever it can, wherever it can. He said:

It's all about innovation - managing innovation and how it relates to us in the retail world. Really thinking about how we at Starbucks think about innovation, how we think about it internally, how we think about it in terms of our customers, bringing innovation to everything we do.

Whether that's a product, or whether its in the technology, we try to bring innovation to the fore.

Starbucks EMEA currently has approximately 60 percent of its technology managed in house, with 40 percent handed over to external suppliers. Teagle argued that he and the rest of the technology team at the coffee maker don't want to spend their time and efforts working on and managing technology that doesn't prove to be a differentiator in the eye's of the customer.

Teagle said:

The general rule that we have is that if it is a commodity type service then we at Starbucks don't need to become experts. Good examples of things that are outsourced include our help desk, our data centre and our managed network across the region. The stuff that doesn't give us a leading edge in our world.

We are in charge of things that add to the Starbucks experience, adding innovation, making sure we can do things around digital – that's much more valuable to me than having a team of people that are running a help desk or a data centre.
Although Starbucks most certainly operates in the retail sector, unlike many other shops out there thinking about their digital challenges, it can't forget the importance of its bricks and mortar presence. Whilst others are moving the focus to online, Starbucks continues to drive in-store technology investments that better the experience for the customer.

For example, way back in 2010, Starbucks was one of the first retailers to offer its customers free Wi-Fi – something that customers were demanding and something that keeps drawing them back into the store. This is exactly the sort of investment that Teagle is interested in. Another recent example has seen stores introduce charging matts for customers to charge their mobile phones. Teagle said:

Anything that we can use to enhance the experience for our customers –  you most likely have to go to the store to experience it. You can't do much with our business at home. It's more about going to the store, so it's more about in the store technology and when you walk in the door what you can do when you are there.

We are not like other retailers, where they can have a digital first, incredible omni-channel experience – we don't really have that because you have to go to the store, it's not something we can send to the house.

However, we are also investing in elements [mobile/social] that the customers can then take into the digital world, so they can take their experience with them once they have left the store.

However, Teagle isn't assuming that bricks and mortar are always going to be the top priority for Starbucks, given that we now live in a world where a mobile app can disrupt an entire industry in a few months. This means that Teagle and his team are trying and testing all the time to ensure that customers have their latest digital needs fulfilled. This is his biggest challenge. He said:

If people are starting to do less bricks and mortar type shopping, what does that then mean for our business? Do we need to change the way we operate our stores? Do we need to change the offerings in stores? What can we do in the digital space when you are not in the store that makes it easier for you?

That's the unique challenge. We could just take a broad brush and say we will open as many stores as we can, everywhere we can, and just flood the market. But I think we have found that that just isn't necessarily the right thing to do either.

I think that's where innovation comes in. I think you have to try some things out and you learn what the customers like, what tthey don't like and you see how things work. Many of those things we are trying, many of those things we don't know yet, but we are figuring out what it makes it interesting for the customers.

diginomica is a media partner of IPExpo at which Robert Teagle will be speaking. More information here: 

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