Loading TechTalk Retail 2024: insights from candid e-mails by Artie Debidien and Jon Higgins

Artie Debidien (1972) serial CIO & multi supervisory board member, has been shooting for the moon and climbing the corporate ladder from a young age starting as an engineer. Instead of taking on a new serial C-level role with organization-wide business transformation again, she will now hold her three supervisory board positions. The freed-up time will finally make her bucket list wishes possible this summer. Or… that was the plan. She can’t help herself. Artie is once again engaged in energetic endeavors. Yes. Plural. As we speak she is in London, for the Business Transformation Europe Exchange as chairperson, moderating panels with CEO interviews. And coming fall, on September 26th, Artie will be the moderator at TechTalk Retail 2024. She and Wehkamp CTO Jon Higgins are preparing for the Webhelden-event via e-mail, as they are both travelling. Their convo got cheeky really fast. Because this is exactly what you – our guests – can expect on the 26th of September, we decided to let you in on it.

From: IAM Debidien <amdebidien@shootforthemoon.com>
Sent: Monday, June 17, 2024 5:27:05 PM
To: John Higgins <jhiggins@notpimagnum.com>
Cc: Stephan Bosman <sbosman@techplusretail.com>;

Subject: Innovation, Digital and Automation in turbulent times for retail industry.

Hi Jon,

Hope you are well. Funny story; remember how you left the venue at the Webhelden Dinner right before dessert? Since you and I had such elaborate talks together, none of the other guests had a chance to get acquainted with you, they said. So, I proposed to do a ‘John Higgins presentation’ and they agreed. After a brief introduction I gave of your CTO position at Wehkamp and your unique points of view, I shared your people-oriented leadership style. I also said you should not be mistaken for the private investigator Magnum’s butler from the television show Magnum with Tom Selleck. Simply by coincidence, you have the same name as him, Higgins! Of course, some of them do not know this 80s TV series, which was a quick reminder of how blended and diverse the table was. We had a great laugh about it.

In preparation for the TechTalk Retail 2024 event, what keeps me thinking is the ‘catch 22’ retailers are in.

As CTOs, we all know that the universal problems and scrutiny retail players are facing will increase even further; competitive advantage in such a fast online world, profitability under pressure, and scarcity with tech talent.

On the other side, solutions can be found in innovation, digitalisation, and automation, and in finding new business models by use of technology. Digital and AI have a 30% potential to unburden resources and present savings. All these efforts can attract, retain, and develop people with such new use cases. In the end, talent wants to be challenged.

At the same time, we know that investing in new technologies or even in crucial IT foundations or cleaning up the clutter programmes are difficult conversations with boards. How do we get the funds and where is the capital? Zooming out, the ongoing concern activities are keeping us hostage. Let us not forget that our retail customers demand from us a real-time 24/7, omni-channel integrated, hyper-personalised digital interaction with a human-like feel.

How are you handling all this at Wehkamp, Jon? Does this all make any sense? How do you influence your stakeholders?

Curious about holistic business transformations and an aligned way of working to tackle all this. Technology is running through the veins of the entire company, so a scattered approach will only present suboptimal results. Do you agree, or how do you see this?

Having been in multiple transformative CIO positions, my preference has always been to thoroughly assess the environment first to understand the appetite for change, the need and urgency or pain if you will, then form a compelling vision, mobilise people, and do the heavy lifting together. Aligned and with a purposeful but sport mentality. In all incremental steps, I dare to check and reformulate or re-steer if need be, building agility to respond to matters in real time. On the metrics and measurements side, I have seen great results with OKR methodologies and joined accountabilities with clarity on benefits tracking. The capital I had to find myself: save more to invest more strategies. It was always vital to make a clear distinction between talent that goes the extra mile compared to people just showing up. Hybrid working is challenging but a great solution to bring more quality of life and autonomy into people’s lives. The more you give each other a reason to engage and collaborate together, the more people prefer to be with each other whether in physical, online, or hybrid interaction.

Copying Stephan Bosman in, he’s going to join us in September.

Have an excellent day and hope to hear from you.



The Netherlands is heading towards a major problem due to labor market shortages (source: McKinsey, June 2024). Part of the solution lies not only in continuously retraining employees but also in increasing the use of digitization, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI). According to McKinsey, this can take over simple tasks in several sectors, thereby increasing productivity. On average, 15% of work could be taken over by automation, enough to boost economic growth from 0.4% to 1.8% per year. The use of AI still faces many hurdles. Earlier this month, a survey by the employers’ association AWVN revealed that employers are still hesitant about the application of artificial intelligence.

Straight forward questions for commerce brands:

  1. Is there enough digitization, automation, and innovation taking place?
  2. Who should be concerned if this progress is insufficient or too slow?
  3. For whom is falling behind a solution?
  4. For whom is it a problem?
  5. What will drive change in the future?

From: Jon Higgins <jhiggins@notpimagnum.com>
Sent: Tuesday, June 18, 2024 9:27:05 AM
To: AM Debidien <amdebidien@shootforthemoon.com>
Cc: Stephan Bosman <sbosman@techplusretail.com>;

Re: Subject: Innovation, Digital and Automation in turbulent times for retail industry.

Hi Artie,

It was indeed a lovely evening at the Webhelden Dinner, and it was such a shame I had to leave early and miss dessert! I think it’s very kind of you to suggest that “Magnum” was a 90s show, whereas I remember it as being from the early 80s. I think that shows my advancing years. As an aside, despite the fact that I share my name (Jonathan Higgins) with the butler in that TV show, I actually have more in common with Tom Selleck, who played the detective, as we were both pretty decent volleyball players when we were younger.

As you know, I’ve been at Wehkamp for almost two years now, having spent 30 years at Tesco, the UK supermarket, and then quite a few years after this, consulting for some other UK omnichannel businesses. Finding myself at a pure-play online retailer does make me miss the excitement and opportunities that retail stores bring, but as the McKinsey article says, there are indeed many threats and opportunities right now, especially in light of the difficult economic situation that is pervading the world alongside rising costs and lower consumer confidence, particularly in the Netherlands around discretionary spending.

Being a pure-play, Wehkamp is a relatively small business, but at 70+ years old, it comes with some inevitable legacy (heritage!) issues. We’ve been good at building a product-led, platform engineering, and agile delivery approach across all our tech capabilities. I’ve also spent time with the extended leadership in the business to establish strong agile terms of reference and culture. I used the VFQ model at Tesco and have instigated this at Wehkamp (Value, Flow, and Quality replace Cost, Time, and Scope). It’s a big mindset change, but whether this or another model is appropriate, it’s essential.

Just on your earlier point, a solid platform engineering approach is, in my view, the best way to attract great engineers.

I’ve always believed that the right IT strategy is to avoid big bulky systems and contracts and build a systems landscape that is granular, composable, and embraces change as willingly as the organisation that owns it needs to. Alongside this systematic flexibility, it’s vital that the entire organisation and its culture also see change as incremental and are engaged at the right levels. Probably we’ll talk a little bit about composable commerce in September? Because, as you say, to be competitive, it is vital to be able to react quickly to the customer, to trends, and to the market and the rapidly changing landscape of costs. I will talk about Wehkamp’s quick change of delivery and return charge – agile business – quick IT change.

These are my initial thoughts. Okay, that’s it for now, as I am travelling, as you are too.

Looking forward to TechTalk Retail, see you in September!



TechTalk Retail 2024: exclusive ‘CTO & CIO only’ catch up on commerce technology 

TechTalk Retail 2024: exclusive ‘CTO & CIO only’ catch up on commerce technology

On September 26th of 2024 we meet at the beautiful estate Parc Broekhuizen to discuss the future of retail tech. Over forty CTO’s and CIO’s (and some CEO’s) from the Top 100 consumer brands will gather at to enjoy an eye-opening live talkshow about commerce technology. Major Dutch disruptors share how they are supercharging their business with composable commerce. TechTalk Retail is a Webhelden-event in collaboration with founding partner commercetools and Google Cloud. The full line-up of panelists will be announced soon. Because it has proven successful during the first edition of this event we have again planned lots of time for networking before and after the panel discussion. This invite only exclusive tech networking event will unite those who make the bold calls that need to be made in the changing world of commerce today. Should your brand be on the list? There are only forty seats, claim yours today!