STRATEGICALLY SPEAKING

WASHINGTON -- While technology's rapid growth in virtually all areas of supermarket operations has been a challenge for the industry's information system executives, it has also played a key part in expanding their role.IS executives' responsibilities now include more than providing solutions to current problems. They are also being called on to help guide their companies' -- and the industry's --

WASHINGTON -- While technology's rapid growth in virtually all areas of supermarket operations has been a challenge for the industry's information system executives, it has also played a key part in expanding their role.

IS executives' responsibilities now include more than providing solutions to current problems. They are also being called on to help guide their companies' -- and the industry's -- strategic directions.

Taking advantage of the communication and marketing possibilities of the Internet, expanding the role of front-end systems to both gather detailed information and dispense specific rewards, and making electronic payment systems and database marketing programs cost-effective are just a few of the areas requiring not just technical, but also tactical solutions.

Looming over it all is the threat that preparations for the year 2000's impact on computer software will prove to be inadequate, affecting everything from forecasting to electronic communications.

IS executives gathering here for the Food Marketing Institute's annual Information Systems Conference Sept. 21 to 24 are keenly aware of the challenges facing them.

For this special supplement coinciding with the IS conference, SN conducted in-depth discussions with four leading executives on key technology issues in the supermarket industry.

Participants in the discussion were Bob Drury, vice president, management information systems, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis; Bill Homa, vice president and chief information officer, Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine; Paul Nicholson, vice president, finance and management information systems, Pay Less Super Markets, Anderson, Ind.; and H.S. "Skip" Smith, senior vice president, information technology, Supervalu, Minneapolis.

These IS executives discussed both practical methods for dealing with an increasingly information-driven industry, as well as providing a broader view of the ways technology is reshaping the supermarket -- for everyone from the consumer to the chain's chief executive.

What follows are highlights of SN's wide-ranging conversation with these industry leaders.