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Huge Department Store Chain John Lewis is Developing IT from Within

Jan 31 2014, 9:15pm CST | by

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Huge Department Store Chain John Lewis is Developing IT from Within

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Huge Department Store Chain John Lewis is Developing IT from Within

John Lewis Partnership, the owner of the U.K.’s largest department store chain, has turned traditional IT development on its head in an test project directly aimed at drawing on staff expertise.

The partnership has annual sales of over £9.5 billion ($15.7 billion)  and employs over 85,000 staff, and it is known for its innovative IT approach including bringing Google Street view into its flagship 350,000 square foot John Lewis department store in the centre of London.

Last year the department store unit of the business, called simply John Lewis, decided to change its approach – to let staff compete to design the next major technology rollout, instead of keeping idea-making within the technology function. The scheme was known as Pitch (Partner Innovation Technology Challenge).

The reason? Enabling cutting-edge business development to be based on a broader pool of ideas and a deeper understanding from staff in each department.

The competition resulted in a major pilot giving tablets to staff on the shop floor, theoretically enabling them to better manage processes, demonstrate products, and check out items and print receipts for customers without them needing to line up at the tills. John Lewis is understood to be the first U.K. retailer to offer this full functionality on staff tablets – and is rare in letting staff design the idea for a technology rollout.

Paul Coby, chief information officer at John Lewis (and a former British Airways CIO well known for transforming processes at the airline), tells Forbes that staff were asked to design ideas for the next rollout because the company wanted to access their “expertise and innovation” alongside their ground level knowledge of specific customer needs.

He adds that this approach helps deliver results for the company, not just from a technology standpoint: “We don’t really believe in IT projects, but instead we believe in business projects that involve technology. Everything has to be about creating  great business results.”

Last year, after John Lewis asked the technology marketplace to submit ideas for its business, it saw an opportunity to do the same with staff, prompting the Pitch scheme. The project resulted in over 150 “really interesting ideas”, Coby says, “which we whittled down slowly to 10, then five, then we finished up with the tablet project”.

The idea came from one of John Lewis’ fashion employees who saw the potential to better use mobile devices in-store, helping customers shop for clothes and meeting the company’s need to offer “increasingly tactile and visual displays”. Additionally, Coby explains, with the tablets ”it may be easier for shopfloor staff to close a sale, as well as for management to monitor processes and have stock information at their fingertips”.

John Lewis’s selection of the tablet project comes at a time that the company is looking to maximise multichannel sales. On the lead up to Christmas, the firm witnessed around two thirds of its customers shopping on different channels, including online, mobile and in-store. Online sales represented a third of its total sales, and mobile usage was particularly high on Christmas Day,when over three quarters of its web traffic came from smart phones.

The company will assess the results of the in-store tablet pilot at the end of the month.

Now read: Why IT Managers Finally Have Positive Outlook in 2014 

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Source: Forbes


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