Alfred JLAB Event – a really connected evening!

I confess to having been a little bit sceptical about the IoT (Internet of Things).  So how connected do you really want your kettle to be?  Why would I want to know the energy consumption of each of my plugs?  IoT all felt a little bit like a solution in search of a problem…

That was until last night when I was invited by one of our JLAB finalists, Alfred, to an event they had organised to demo their solution in a flat in fashionable Shoreditch. They had fitted it with lots of smart devices that we sell in John Lewis including high end televisions, controllable lighting, smart thermostats, sound systems, smart plugs – to name a few.

When I came in I was greeted by the “Alfred” team – get the reference to Batman’s butler! Their app which they are developing as part of JLAB2015, with support from John Lewis, integrates all of these devices.  That’s pretty clever but not only have they joined up all these different platforms and presented them in an easy to use app.  They have thought about how to make sense of all this data, and turn it into programmes you can set.  So what happens when I leave home, at one touch I can reduce temperatures, turn lights off, turn on security etc.  When I go to sleep I can programme what I want to happen to all my appliances.  It can even optimise your temperature to exactly how you want it – save costs or keep snug. You’re in charge!

What really impressed me, and I was expecting to be a little bit cynical; was the focus on making life easier and cheaper for the consumer.  Not giving us information we don’t want or we don’t have time for.

So I very much enjoyed my visit to the Alfred event. There is nothing like bringing an idea to life!

Please do not take from this that Alfred are the leaders in the JLAB 2015 competition, I simply admire their ambition and drive.  There are four other fascinating and very different finalists; Qudini, Ikinen, Peeple and Space Lounges, all of which have very different things to offer. Qudini are currently trialling their queue management system in the children’s shoe department of one of our shops. Very timely given it’s the busy back to school period! I hope to look at how it’s going over the weekend, so watch this space.


The Digital Hunter Gatherer by Ade McCormack

My colleagues and I were privileged yesterday to hear from Ade McCormack, digital commentator and FT columnist.

Many of you may already know his anthro-economics.  I found his ideas extremely interesting and stimulating so I asked his permission to blog about them.  (Clearly, to find the real thing you should go to and the

Ade puts forward an anthropological view of the digital world. 12,000 years ago, he suggests, we were roaming the savannah looking to catch lunch.  We were highly mobile and highly social – and our work and life were seamlessly integrated.  We had to make decisions in real time, based on the situation and our experience…

Yes, you have got it: the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago took all of this away.  In factories we stopped being mobile, people became labour and sold their time.  We were no longer allowed to be social and mobile, people hated their work and had to be managed and became cogs in the machine.  Process and efficiency mattered more than fulfilment and fun.

Ade’s theory is that we now need to become “digital hunter-gatherers” in a world transforming faster than ever before.  Both work and our attitude to work are changing.

I am not an anthropologist – and the historian in me wants to argue with him about human beings as farmers, and as elements in the classical and feudal modes of production – but I think this is a really interesting concept.

His insight certainly locks into something profound about how we interact with each other, and there are lessons for business too in how clicks and bricks enterprises need to evolve.

Ade said many other interesting things like the trend for BYOF (Bring Your Own Family!). And, after the Internet of Things, we get the Internet of Embedables: that is, we humans will have intelligence embedded in our bodies.  Not Google Glass but a new retina.  Plus his insight that a car is a rather primitive exo-skeleton.

We live in a time of rapid and exciting change and Ade is a fascinating commentator on what is happening to all of us.

Another Tech World

Some time ago I wrote a blog which analysed the top 100 in a ‘Wired’ Technology list, and concluded with surprise at how little the World’s of Corporate IT and Tech Innovation overlapped.

I have just spent an evening in the company of a group of start up entrepreneurs and investors discussing key trends in technology and retail. The subjects we discussed I cannot talk about under Chatham House rules, but I was again struck by how little hitherto the World’s of Corporate IT and Start Ups normally intersect.

This is of course why we started JLAB in John Lewis, when we asked whet would our Founder Spedan Lewis do. The answer we came up with is that he would open himself and his company up to the stimulation of new ideas from outside, and by running our own Tech Incubator this Summer JLAB, which is exactly what we tried to do in a structured way.

We learned a lot and I hope the 5 start-ups we worked with in JLAB similarly learned how to work with a large company. It struck me forcibly that we are lucky enough to live in London in one of the key hubs for tech start ups, and therefore learning how to work with innovators is an important skill for larger corporates. Maybe there should be more scope for interchange so these two “villages” can get to know each other better?

Altruism, Humanity and the Digital Age

Just been listening to the marvellous Peter Gabriel being interviewed at WOMAD which he founded of course.

He was talking about the dilemma of performers on the Internet and YouTube who get many downloads for free and the Alternative of subscription for a much smaller number of paying fans. How do you make a living?

It was also now challenging running a recording studio like Realworld records in the digital age.

He said he was an optimist and that the new waves of technology first de-humanised and then hopefully super -humanised society.

A great point for all of us given our almost unlimited access to free music literature, art and so on. How much do we care about the producers of the art and indeed the values of the companies that we all use online today?

Made me think not just about music but also about eCommerce more generally.

I do hope the great Mr Gabriel turns out to be right and the digital age spreads humanity in the best altruistic sense. Up to us all really…..

Customer Trends for 2014-15

This post isn’t all about JLAB but I am pleased to say that the interest continues at a high level in the media and from potential entrants.

With JLAB in mind, I’ve been thinking about the prominence of technology and innovation as the engine of changing times for retail in the UK.    At the Retail Week Awards last Thursday, for instance, Chris Brook-Carter of Retail Week  said in his introductory speech:

‘Have the rules that define British retailing changed irrevocably under the cultural and economic forces that have driven the recent evolution of consumer behaviour?   Rapid digitalisation, combined with a reappraisal of financial norms, has broken down old barriers but opened new pitfalls too.   The Oracle Retail Week Awards is more than a roll call of the leading achievements in the industry. It is a window into the industry’s development. Those looking for themes this year will note how closely the roster of winners reflects the opportunities these changing times have given birth to.’

John Lewis was fortunate to be recognised as the Multi-Channel Retailer of the Year for the second year running.

Rather than reflect on the past, I thought we should look ahead.  So I had a word with John Vary, our Innovation Manager and JLAB leader, about what are the Mega Trends for Customers in 2014-15.  This is what he came up with, with a few thoughts thrown in by me:

1) Multiple touch points

We are increasingly expecting things which interact with all our senses, offer us a range of touch points to play with, and involve us  in immersive new experiences – see larger HD TVs and game consoles.

2) Hyper-efficiency

We are seeking ever-smarter and more efficient ways to solve age-old issues such as keeping fit, lack of space and, most of all, limited time – see wearables and home control technology like Nest.

3) The open industrial revolution

Science is no longer a closed world, just for us geeks. Digital and technological advances are enabling more of us to create in new ways, perhaps giving us a new appreciation of the digital hardware and apps as things of beauty – see the iPods, iPhones, iPads, brilliantly designed and sold to millions.

4) Escape

In a world of austerity and grown-up responsibilities, consumers have an increasing desire to let go, let loose and indulge in child-like escapism – see GTA and Candy Crush on everyone’s mobile.

5) Mindfulness

In a world full of hype and surface interactions, people are seeking depth and meaning. They are craving time away from the always-on stimulus of the media, making their leisure time more about self-development – see learned groups on Twitter discussing The War of 1812, Norfolk wildlife, crows and everything else…..

6) Super personalisation

Personalisation has been taken out of the hands of consumers. So it’s not just the bespoke products you select – it can be the bespoke products that find you. Advances in technology mean that producers are increasingly able to know consumers and give them what they want – see most retail web sites these days.

And finally, here is a rather jolly picture from the Retail Week Awards last week:

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.

Opening of the SITA/Airline Business IT Summit

Here is my Opening of IT Summit 2012

I have highlighted 4 Mega IT Trends as the prime movers in shaping tomorrow’s airline industry:

The IT Cloud

Big Data

Social Media


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