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

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 […]

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 please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Iwas 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 one English paper. Then I came to the US 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 and 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 WalmartLabs, I was intrigued about the scale of Walmart and the unique challenges that come with it, and 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 experience to our customers, however they want to shop with us, whether it is online, on their app, in one of our 4500 stores nationwide, through voice commerce, etc. It’s been very gratifying to work on technology that impacts our customers every day and to get feedback from my mother (literally) about how we are doing!

Can you share the most memorable experience that you’ve had since you started your career?

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to represent Walmart to discuss AI in American Industry and how the US Government can lean in to help at the very first AI summit hosted by the US Government at the White House. 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 there were good discussions all around.

How would you characterize what makes Walmart stand out?

I continue to be absolutely intrigued by the scale of Walmart: 2.3 million employees and over 270 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 people save money in order to live better.

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

  • Be curious and be a constant learner. While this certain 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?

One interesting project we are working on right now is using image data from a shelf scanning robot, machine learning models and other data to improve associate productivity and automate operations in our stores. The robot provides real-time view on-shelf merchandise availability, pricing errors, etc which we then process and integrate into an associate facing app which directs them to the specific area of the store that requires attention.

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

We also worked on elevating the experience and look and feel on the Walmart.com site with a complete site redesign which we launched earlier this year. It’s a fresh, new look and I encourage you to check us 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 270 million customers each week. We truly are passionate about creating a positive shopping experience for our customers to save money and live better.

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?

  1. The future of shopping will surely be omnichannel and contextual as customers expect to buy anywhere anytime and retailers will need to deliver a seamless experience to the customer, no matter how he/she wants to shop. Retailers will need to seamlessly combine 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.
  2. Customer experience needs to be the main focus as the retail landscape changes. Physical retail stores are getting re-imagined to serve their 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 makes shopping easier and saves time. This may include skipping the checkout line in a physical store or using augmented reality to 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. Retailers will want to explore ways staples such as groceries can be replenished automatically right into a customer’s IoT fridge or pantry.
  3. 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, though with the growth of data use cases, retailers should remember to keep their customer trust by using their data responsibly.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Walmart Labs on Twitter: @WalmartLabs

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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