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Walmart SVP Fiona Tan: “I am particularly passionate about encouraging more girls and women to consider a career in technology”

As technology becomes more ubiquitous, it’s important that the people who are imagining and creating the tech are representative of those who are using it.


I am a strong advocate for inclusion in technology. As technology becomes more ubiquitous, it’s important that the people who are imagining and creating the tech are representative of those who are using it. I am particularly passionate about encouraging more girls and women to consider a career in technology and as the executive champion of Walmart’s partnerships with Girls who Code and the Anita Borg Institute, I provide guidance on different programs and forums as well as speaking at various conferences and events.


I had the pleasure to interview Fiona Tan, SVP at Walmart. Fiona is an exemplary leader with over 25 years of international experience. As SVP, Customer Technology, Fiona oversees the artificial intelligence, innovation and engineering execution across all of Walmart’s physical and digital footprint. Whether it be leveraging data and machine learning or building a responsive and reusable front-end experience to new cloud services and mobile apps which are deployed globally, Fiona’s team is at the forefront of the emerging technologies within the world’s largest company. Prior to joining Walmart in 2014, Fiona held strategic leadership roles at Ariba and TIBCO Software.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was born in Penang, Malaysia and my family moved to Singapore when I was 9 to give us access to a stronger education system. It was there that I discovered my passion for math and science. I was that kid who would rather work on a hundred math problems than on one English paper. Then I came to the U.S. for college, took my first class in Computer Science, fell in love with it — and ended up with a BS and MS in Computer Science and a career in technology.

I’ve always enjoyed solving puzzles and problems and I was thrilled to find a field of study that would pay me to do something I love. As I transitioned into my career, I had the opportunity to apply those problem-solving skills to develop applications to solve technology problems for enterprises. At Oracle, TIBCO, and then Ariba/SAP, I worked on applications to connect and orchestrate events across disparate systems, trading partners, etc.

When I was presented with the opportunity to join Walmart Labs, I was intrigued about the scale of Walmart and the unique challenges that come with it. I was also inspired by the ability to use algorithms, data science, and even some of the technology that I’d built at my previous companies to drive the mission of helping people save money, so they can live better. My team is focused on delivering a seamless and delightful experiences to our customers, however they want to shop with us — whether it is online, on our app, in one of our 5,000+ stores in the U.S., through voice commerce, etc. It’s been very gratifying to work on technology that impacts our customers every day and to be able to get feedback from my mother (literally) about how we are doing!

Can you please share a memorable experience you’ve had recently?

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to represent Walmart at the White House Summit on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for American Industry. We discussed AI, the future of work, and how the U.S. Government can lean in to help. The summit brought together leaders from academia, corporations across various industries, and different groups within the government to discuss the advancement of AI in different fields. It was interesting to hear how companies across different sectors are using AI and machine learning — and have an open and honest dialogue about technology and the future.

In your opinion, makes Walmart stand out?

I continue to be absolutely inspired by the scale of Walmart: 2.2 million associates globally and nearly 265 million customers each week. Wow! Working with Walmart offers us the chance to make a massive impact on the world of retail and people’s day-to-day lives. As a team, we are implementing algorithms, data science, and other advanced technologies to drive the mission of helping save people money and time — on a scale truly like any other.

Can you share share a few tips for others in your industry to help them to thrive?

Be curious and be a constant learner. While this certainly applies to tech stacks and tools, it equally applies to new skills outside the tech space, new ways of working, etc.

Be willing to take risks, understand that you are going to have some failures but use those as learning opportunities and keep pressing on. This is imperative to be able to “buck the system” and drive innovation.

Are you working on any exciting projects right now? How do you think that might help people?

One interesting project we are working on right now is using image data from shelf scanning robot, machine learning models and other data to improve associate productivity and automate operations in our stores. The Bossa Nova robot provides real-time view on-shelf merchandise availability, pricing errors, etc. which we then process and integrate into an associate-facing app that directs them to the specific area of the store requiring attention — allowing associates to be more efficient by removing mundane tasks and giving them more time to spend with the customer.

One other project that really highlights the integration between our physical stores and our digital experience is the Store Finder feature in our app which allows our customers to essentially Google Map their way to finding any item in the store.

We also have been hard at work on elevating the experience, look, and feel on the Walmart.com site with a complete site redesign that we launched earlier this year. It’s a fresh, new look and I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As the largest retailer in the world, our work at Walmart directly impacts over 265 million customers each week. We are truly passionate about creating a positive shopping experience for our customers to save money and time.

I am a strong advocate for inclusion in technology. As technology becomes more ubiquitous, it’s important that the people who are imagining and creating the tech are representative of those who are using it. I am particularly passionate about encouraging more girls and women to consider a career in technology and as the executive champion of Walmart’s partnerships with Girls who Code and the Anita Borg Institute, I provide guidance on different programs and forums as well as speaking at various conferences and events.

Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

The future of shopping will surely be omnichannel and contextual as customers expect to buy anywhere, anytime. Retailers will need to deliver a seamless experience to the customer, no matter how he/she wants to shop, combining the digital with the physical to deliver an integrated experience across all channels — in-store, online, mobile as well as to invest in newer channels such as voice, etc.

Customer experience needs to be the main focus as the retail landscape changes. Physical retail stores are getting re-imagined to serve communities as well as to become destinations for services, events, showrooms, etc. in addition to the more traditional shopping experience. Customers are also looking for retailers to provide technology that saves time and makes shopping easier. This may allow a customer to research multiple products on their mobile device before purchase. In other cases, a customer may not want to shop at all — finding ways to completely do it for them is also important.

Retailers will also need to use data and machine learning to power aspects across the business, delivering hyper-personalized customer experiences, and more efficient internal operations. At Walmart, for example, not only do we provide personalized recommendations but also use machine learning to optimize the pick path for in-store associates fulfilling online grocery orders. There are many more applications of data and machine learning that can be leveraged; although with the growth of data use cases, it’s important keep customer trust and safety as the number one priority.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Walmart Labs on Twitter: @WalmartLabs.

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