“It’s an incredible feat of digital engineering to ensure the smooth management of more than 330 warehouses, 58,000+ employees, and 650,000 customer locations with operations across 90+ countries. By developing innovative software solutions designed to take the Fortune 500 company into the future, Sysco LABS plays a vital role in keeping this massive enterprise running,” explains Nishantha Hettiarachchi, Director of Engineering & Architecture – Enterprise Architecture Group at Sysco LABS.
Sysco LABS is the captive innovation center that manages the technology behind the operations of Sysco Corporation, the world’s largest foodservice company. Sysco is the global leader in selling, marketing, and distributing food products from farms to individuals and organizations who prepare food for consumption. Operating on a farm-to-fork basis, Sysco handles all aspects of the foodservice journey: from the farming stages to collecting the produce, storing the produce in warehouses, distribution and delivery, to providing an exceptional in-restaurant experience as well.
In conversation with Arteculate, Nishantha shared how a unique culture of innovation at Sysco LABS harnesses Sri Lanka’s technological prowess to feed the world.
Inside Sysco LABS
Sysco LABS operates with the purpose of utilizing the power of technology to connect the world to share food and care for one another. Food is a perishable product with varying shelf life. Hence, ensuring that food reaches its final destination within a specific timeframe, under specific conditions, is essential to ensure quality and edibility. Therefore, high-tech solutions are increasingly necessary to achieve this mission.
As Sysco’s captive innovation center, Sysco LABS uses its cutting-edge technology to ensure that the required precision is achieved across multiple touch-points along the foodservice journey. The journey can be categorized under several business units: supply chain and merchandising, infrastructure design and delivery, corporate technology, international operations, commercial technology, digital services, and customer experience. Today, the technologies developed by Sysco LABS touch every aspect of the supply chain – from sourcing food products to merchandising, storage, and warehousing to ensuring timely deliveries and seamless restaurant dining experiences.
Highlighting one such solution, Nishantha pointed to the eCommerce website Sysco Shop which enables restaurants and consumers to purchase food products online. Initially meant for organizations like restaurants and hotels, Sysco showed tremendous resilience amidst the COVID-19 crisis and launched the application to the general public during lockdowns to prevent inventory from going to waste. Moreover, with the technology developed by Sysco LABS enabling a robust last-mile delivery network, it was possible to ensure home deliveries without much hassle. Thus, making Sysco Shop a huge success.
A culture of continuous innovation
Working alongside the largest foodservice company in a trillion-dollar industry, the impact of the technologies developed by Sysco LABS is immense. Although an industry leader, the company has not lost sight of its initial values. With agility rivaling that of startups, the unique culture of innovation within Sysco LABS keeps the wheels of progress turning continuously – bringing about positive change to the global food industry.
The company has various initiatives to encourage innovation at all levels. Examples include regular training and team-building sessions, panel discussions with experts from multiple fields, and connect sessions to reflect on the progress of projects and exchange new ideas. The annual ‘Hall of Fame’ and Blueprint Awards ceremony recognizes exceptional work across the organization The latest among these initiatives is Sysco LABS Project SUMMIT. The program sees participants receiving six months of mentorship and guidance on cutting-edge technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such as AI, ML, IoT, and Immersive Technologies. Participants are encouraged to use these to build a solution to solve problems they are passionate about. At the end of the program, they are expected to have gained approximately 4 years of domain knowledge in a compressed timeframe of 6 months.
Nishantha described the company’s culture, saying, “A company’s Leadership plays a vital role in setting the working culture of an organization. At Sysco LABS, a considerable amount of time is spent, and a lot of care and consideration is taken to provide the best for our team members and associates. As such, there’s a work culture where team members genuinely know that the company has the employees’ best interest at heart and has created an environment where everyone pulls in the same direction and takes care of one another.”
The untapped potential of Sri Lankan talent
Sri Lanka is no stranger to developing a range of solutions for a global clientele. “We are already building world-class solutions,” states Nishantha, “However, what needs to be emphasized is that we are in an industry that is changing rapidly. Anyone unwilling to learn, grow, and keep themselves up to date will fall by the wayside and miss out on brilliant opportunities. This includes not just tech talent but also tech companies and educational institutions.”
Nishantha advocates for stronger collaboration between universities, technology companies, and technology communities. Such efforts could take the form of meetups, industry placements, and university-level programs by industry professionals to keep up with the rapidly changing industry. Notably, industry leaders must consciously embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution and its technologies to remain on the cutting edge of innovation for the future.
The strong collaborative efforts of the teams at Sysco LABS, in conjunction with their international counterparts, make a powerful platform. By utilizing the vast resources of Sysco’s global network, Sysco LABS keeps the world well-fed. Looking towards the future, Sysco LABS is actively pursuing even greater growth. The company is one of the largest tech organizations in Sri Lanka and shows no signs of slowing down. Moreover, Sysco’s continued belief in the technology talent of Sri Lanka means the company will continue to scale rapidly in the future.