JLAB’s First Week

Since we launched our retail tech innovation incubator – JLAB less than a week ago, its been a sensational week.  We have had a staggering 78 full submitted applications so far!  The closing date is 17th April so there is still plenty of time.

The media interest was more than we had expected – here’s one example http://www.express.co.uk/finance/city/462623/John-Lewis-set-to-invest-in-start-ups-in-search-of-high-tech-shopping-solutions

and there were a host of other stories in the nationals and  in the specialist online and retail media.

I am sure the visibility of John Lewis in the media with our results and the 15% bonus for all 91,000 Partners in John Lewis and Waitrose has helped JLAB get off the ground.  It was the week that John Lewis overtook Marks and Spencers, the Guardian reported:

A decade ago, sales at John Lewis Partnership were just £5bn, while M&S was in a different league with around £8bn. Those lines have now crossed. The most recent figures available show M&S’s UK business turning over £8.9bn last year, compared to the £9bn John Lewis and Waitrose achieved this year. M&S is not expected to eclipse John Lewis when it publishes more up-to-date figures in May.

I was wondering what our founder John Spedan Lewis would have thought of all of this.  In relation to last year’s results, I am sure he would have counselled caution modesty and concentration on what our customers want.

Spedan was himself a radical innovator in business, social, retail and zoological matters.  His greatest innovation is of course the John Lewis Partnership owned by all of us who work here.  But perhaps less well known are his restless desire to try the new – buying carpets direct in India, starting a university for Partners after the War, setting up a chocolate factory, sponsoring the British Chess Federation when it needed a home in Oxford Street, setting up maternity leave, worrying about affordable accommodation for Partners and cheering up gibbons from London Zoo on his estate on the River Test.

I also hope he would have liked JLAB, it feels like the sort of thing he would have liked.  Something that builds business, helps people develop their skills and capabilities and with a bit of luck and hard work, makes money.

CC4G!

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I was lucky enough recently to award prizes to the Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) which is run by some of our female John Lewis Partners in St Vincent’s R C Primary School next to Westminster Cathedral in London.

CC4G is a programme run by e-skillsUK to help address the gender imbalance in Technology which starts with the shocking lack of girls gaining ICT qualifications in schools – only 9% of A Level students are girls – and only 15% carrying on to study Computer Science at university.

CC4G is a club designed for girls.  It shows the exciting ways that technology is used in music, sport and fashion through interactive and fun games and challenges.

It was inspiring to meet the class of 10 and 11 year olds who had done projects on building a website.  The subjects included fashion and nail-art!  They were all well-designed, brightly coloured and fun.  Even more impressive, each of the girls stood up and talked about their designs and why they had enjoyed building their sites.  Some even said why they were now interested in taking up IT!

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How CC4G works is that a group – in this case IT Partners from the John Lewis IT Directorate – or parents decide to support a “computer club” for school girls, usually aged 10 to 12.  They need to do the security checks to work in a school, of course.  They can then download materials from the CC4G website which enable them to run club sessions on fun topics that girls report that they enjoy.

When St Josephs came in for the prize-giving our team showed them how we are piloting RFID tags in clothes in our shops.  Normally the Club takes place over lunch time in the school.

Great fun was had by all!

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Since 2005, when eskillsUK launched the programme, more than 135,000 girls in over 3,800 schools have experienced CC4G.  84% of girls involved in CC4G state they are more likely to consider further education or a career in technology as a result of CC4G.  98% of teachers who run the clubs say that the girls’ IT confidence levels have improved.

If anyone is interested in running a CC4G, then you can see the materials at www.cc4g.net   There is 2-week free trial and then a licence costs £350, which hopefully companies will feel is well worth while part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) outreach.

We received the school’s permission to take and display these pictures.

How IT is Revolutionising UK Retail

Here is the short talk I gave to the UKtech50 about how IT is revolutionising IT in the UK, and what we are doing with IT in John Lewis.

Is there another digital divide in IT in the UK?

As someone who always devours the latest edition of Wired Magazine – and as an Apple fan – I was more than delighted to see Sir Jonathan Ives on the front cover of the July edition as No.1 in the “2012 Wired 100”, who the magazine describes as the UK’s digital power-brokers.

Now, it is notoriously difficult to categorise in groups the digiratti, since yesterday’s web entrepreneur is today’s venture capitalist and/or government IT adviser.

However, whilst stuck on a long train journey I did try and categorise all 100 of the Wired power-brokers, because something struck me forcibly when I flicked through the list, and I wanted to see if it was really true.

It is, as I said, wonderful to see Sir Jonathan at No.1 – and it is appropriate that he has been recognised with a “K”.  No more needs to be said on that.

So here is my categorisation of the 100:

  • 25 venture capitalists
  • 20 web entrepreneurs
  • 9 media/journalists
  • 7 conference and exhibition organisers
  • 6 IT company leaders
  • 6 in government IT
  • 5 in advertising
  • 4 in retail
  • 4 in games
  • 3 in politics
  • 3 in charity
  • 2 authors
  • 2 inventors
  • 1 consultant
  • 1 in telecomms
  • 1 private sector CIO
  • 1 singing artist (that’s Adele).

What struck me was how different this was from the lists that appear in the CIO Magazines that are aimed at the corporate sector, and this is reasonable enough.  Yes, I know Wired  aims to be uber cool and (ahem) perhaps we CIOs and IT Directors are less so…

So my point is that there is perhaps another ‘digital divide’ in the UK, and that is runs between the web entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on one hand and the corporate CIOs and the IT companies on the other.  The more I think about this, the more it rings true.  We inhabit very different worlds – corporate IT and the web investment world.

This is something of a shame, since – in my own field, for instance – John Lewis is now 25% online company, and retail and many other industries are being revolutionised by web technology.

But, more than a shame, I think this ‘divide’ could also have a serious impact on how IT is viewed as a career and how we train young people in IT skills.

Maybe we should be breaking down the barriers between these worlds?

Crisis in Numbers Studying IT at GCSE – what’s the answer?

Analysis by e-skillsUK of GCSE results this year shows that the number of students taking all ICT courses has fallen for the seventh consecutive year to just 70,418.  And this figure is a decrease of 12.5% on last year alone.

The number of students studying ICT at GCSE has been declining dramatically year-on-year from a high of 261,970 in 2005.

This continuing decline should be of great concern to universities and employers – and to everyone interested in the future competitiveness and success of the UK.

We know that demand for skilled IT professionals continues to increase, yet we are as a society failing to inspire a generation of young people to  study technology or to take up technology careers.

Something must be done!

It is for this reason that e-skills UK announced a few weeks ago that our Behind the Screen programme will be available to all schools from September 2012.

Behind the Screen offers GCSE students IT projects to tackle with interactive online materials supported by full teachers’ notes. The projects have been developed in close consultation with a number of employers, including John Lewis, and are based on a variety of real-life business issues.

Our aim is that students learn computational thinking, develop technical skills, and gain creative, team working and entrepreneurial skills – all in a fun, interesting and interactive way.  After all, students these days are the most connected and IT-enabled generation ever.

Young people who play computer games can learn to create games.

Young people who use apps every day can design apps.

Young people who use social media to connect with their friends can use social media to connect with customers.

I am very excited by the potential of Behind the Screen – but with the rapid decline of students even considering studying IT at GCSE, we have no time to lose.

e-skills UK’s Behind the Screen to be available to all secondary schools from September

I now know that I am definitely a real techie, since not only am I very excited today about Team GB’s brilliant  medals at the Olympics,  I am also very excited about e-skills UK’s announcement today that our innovative “Behind the Screen” programme (which creates  materials for teaching Key Stage 4 IT), will now be available to all secondary schools from the start of the next academic year.
 
I think this will open fantastic career opportunities to a new generation of school students in IT, by showing them what an exciting, fun and worthwhile discipline technology is.
 
Here is the announcement today from e-skills UK.  Some useful inks to the “Behiind the Scenes” web site are below.
 
The programme aims to give young people a rigorous grounding in the science and technology that underpin computing, has been in pilot since February 2012, and was originally scheduled for roll out in 2013. However, the excellent feedback from pilot schools, combined with the recent announcements about the future of IT in schools, have encouraged e-skills UK to bring the launch forward.
 
“The Education Secretary’s announcement about the disapplication of the IT curriculum gives schools a fantastic opportunity.” explains Sue Nieland of e-skills UK. “Schools continue to have enthusiastic cohorts of young people wanting to study IT, and a new freedom to adopt programmes which will challenge, engage and enthuse them.”
 
The Behind the Screen website offers a series of projects, presented as interactive online materials, and supported by full teachers’ notes. The projects – three now live, with more in the pipeline – are developed in close consultation with employers, and are based on real life business issues. 
 
Working through them, students will understand computational thinking, develop high level technical proficiency, and gain creative, team working and entrepreneurial skills.
 
Fully mapped to the IT GCSE and equivalent qualifications, Behind the Screen will provide students with an invaluable foundation from which to pursue computing related courses at Further and Higher education level, as well as preparing them for jobs in the industry.
 
“We’ve been working for some time on a new curriculum for the GCSE years.” says Sue Nieland. “To run alongside ‘pure’ computer science, we have created something that has the same depth and rigour but for a broader cohort of students. 
 
“These are young people who want to learn to create games, design apps, to get involved in the exciting and ever developing world of technology, and who are interested the power of technology to solve business and social problems. The extraordinary input of employers has enabled us to create exciting, engaging material to support these students.”
 
For more information please go the Behind the Screen page on the e-skills UK website or visit the Behind the Screen website.
 
Behind the Screen is led by a partnership of employers including IBM, the BBC, BAFTA, Blitz Games, Capgemini, Cisco, Deloitte, HP, John Lewis, Logica, the Metropolitan Police Service, Microsoft, National Grid, Procter & Gamble, Sainsbury’s, SAS, Steria and TCS.  It is supported by funding from the Employer Investment Fund of the UK Commission on Employment and Skills.

Topics at Women in IT Dinner

I was very pleased to be asked to kick off the discussion at a recent dinner for Women in IT, hosted by Spencer Stuart and Qedis.  I promised I would post the topics – and you will see why.

Apparently I was supposed to talk about “multi-channel in retail” but, being in blissful ignorance of this, I had notes on four topics which I am concerned about and I hoped the group gathered around the rather large table would be concerned about too.  These topics are not original but I think they matter to a UK IT audience.

Topic No 1: Social Media is Revolutionising Economy and Society

I started with the usual “Raise your hand if you:

  • use Tripadviser
  • are on Facebook
  • use Twitter
  • pin or browse on Pinterest
  • have a blog.

I find the hands go down as you go down the list, and that’s fine of course.  No one has to use social media. There are, however, still quite a lot of people who see it as something young people do. Or think that it’s nothing to do with the IT department – just for the luvvies in Marketing.  We had a good discussion and several of the women there had great examples of creative use of social media to connect with customers.

My key point on this topic is that the old web used to be one-way.  Customers bought stuff on your web site and employees got information from the Intranet.  Not any more, though: we all expect our views to be listened to and we expect to connect.  So it is up to you as a company whether you want to listen to your customers and to the people who work for you.  I think there can only be one answer to that…..

Topic No 2: The British Disease

The British Disease is not taking IT seriously.  Sometimes this important question gets reduced or personalised into “Why aren’t there more CIOs on Boards?” – which, to my mind , is not really the problem.

I do think there is something much more corrosive here for our competitiveness -which is that the British political and business class still does not get IT.  It is still OK for top business, political or cultural leaders to make a joke out of technology.  This is emphatically not the case in Berkeley, Boston, Bangalore or Beijing.  In India you pray your bright son or daughter gets a place at the elite Institute of Technology.  But in Britain, Computer Science has one of the highest graduate unemployment rates of any degree course.

In Holywood they make a film about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, in Britain we have “The IT Crowd”.  They are very few IT experts on the Boards of FTSE 250 companies: they are mostly dominated by accountants.

Would it be acceptable for a CEO or the Permanent Secretary of a government department in the UK to say they cannot read a balance sheet? Of course not – but they can still say “I don’t understand IT” and make a joke about sandals and bad hair.

In discussion many of the women there agreed that this really matters because it conditions attitudes to IT as a profession and to the role of technology in business and society.

Topic No 3: The UK IT Skills Crisis

I have gone on about this problem before on this blog, but a reduction of more than 50% in students studying Computing at A Level and a fall in UK resident applications for Higher Education Technology courses of 44% in the last decade say it all.

The UK IT industry is ageing with the number under 30 at less than 1 in 5 now, and over 50s doubled.  Again this is not the case in other countries who compete with us.

In discussion, we agreed that the unattractive image of IT in the UK and the low status of IT in schools and colleagues were a large part of the reason.  There was great enthusiasm for the new GCSE that e-Skills and others are developing, which will offer school students real programming challenges and opportunities to apply technology to solving real-world problems.

Topic 4: The Gender Imblance in UK IT

As is well known, there is a shocking gender imbalance in UK IT and it’s getting worse.  Only 18% of IT and telecommunications professionals are women.  And only 8% of A Level candidates and 15% of applicants for university IT courses are female.

We discussed why – and, again, image and perception matter here.  Several of the attendees had participated in CC4G (Computer Clubs for Girls) and similar initiatives to encourage girls to keep on IT as an option.

There was general agreement round the table that role models mattered. So remember Ada Lovelace Day this October – what should we be doing to mark the occasion and to raise the profile of women in technology?

So, having urged  everyone to get stuck into social media, I have done my duty and posted these topics. I look forward to your thoughts in return.

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