IT and Innovation

This is always a hot topic.  It is especially topical in Retail since the sector is being revolutionised by technology.

My view is that the IT innovations are important – but not as important as the fundamental changes that we have been and are delivering.

Retail is going through major structural changes as multi-channel becomes omni-channel – John Lewis is now a quarter online, by sales.  And all of this change is delivered and enabled by IT.

In my view, the important IT innovations are not the leading-edge (or possibly bleeding-edge) technology ones: they are the ones that apply existing or proven technology to make the business better.

We have just deployed two innovations with CISCO support;  one for customers, one for Partners.

The StyleMe mirror in John Lewis Oxford Street is clever technology combining a life-sized screen to display video output, a camera that captures gestures and an AI engine that combines images and augmented reality.

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Put together, customers can browse stylish clothes and try them on.  You simply walk up and search for clothing by brand, size, colour etc.  You can see how combinations look, and then print the image or email it to yourself or a friend.

The key thing here is that the technologies themselves are well-established: it’s putting them together that creates the innovation.  The experience is fun and enjoyable, and the feedback from customers and Partners is remarkably positive.

Our second innovation is, on the face of it, very prosaic.  Again with the help of CISCO, we have installed high-quality videoconferencing between HQ and all of our new format At Home stores around the country.

This enables all the stores to talk to each other and to HQ in an effective and easy-to-use way, without the technical hassle you used to get with this technology.  Somewhat to our surprise, we have found it easy to build a business case around savings in travel and time, without having to factor in the qualitative benefits of video.

So it’s not the technology, it’s what you do with it that matters.

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

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