John Lewis Press Release on £1billion Sales as it Launches Web Platform

Online sales at John Lewis have passed the £1bn mark on a rolling 52 week basis, alongside a successful launch of a new multi-million pound web platform.

 The milestone comes a year ahead of the retailer’s forecast, which had estimated reaching £1bn of sales in 2014.

The department store has invested nearly £40m in its new website during the three year project, which is the foundation for future online growth and its customer-focused omnichannel strategy.

Mark Lewis, who has recently joined the retailer as online director, said: “Passing the £1bn milestone almost an entire year ahead of schedule is a fantastic achievement for us, and a reflection of how central online shopping has become to our customers.

“We have a leading omnichannel strategy which our customers love, but to continue to deliver the service our customers want, we need a website which will serve us as well as the old one did, and maintain our position as a leading innovator in online retailing.”

The new website features new functionality including an enhanced wish list function, search history, and more inspirational content, with more customer-focused functionality planned for the future. With mobile now accounting for over 25% of traffic to johnlewis.com, the retailer has also revamped its mobile offer to mirror the creative design of the main site, and plans to launch a new app with details to follow later this year.

Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, said: “With sales up over 40% for johnlewis.com in 2012, we are seeing an unprecedented pace of online growth and customers are making more demands on our website, than ever before.

“The billion-pound success of johnlewis.com is a reflection of our strategy to put the customer at the heart of our online operations. Early testing at every stage of the build, and inviting over 3 million customers to use our beta site before full launch, has resulted in what we believe will be an outstanding experience and journey for customers.

“We have designed the new site to incorporate the best features of our previous site making it not only easy and intuitive to use, but inspiring to shop.”

The site also features a prominent feedback form, which generates around 300 pieces of feedback a day, which the retailer will use to prioritise issues and spot trends.

Why Technology is the Future Battle-Ground for Airline Customers

This is the slightly expanded text of an article which I published in the latest edition of Airline Business:

The world is being changed by technology – and technology is changing the world – faster than ever before. This is a big claim but, if I am right, every airline and airport CEO and CIO should be thinking about this issue…

Passengers have changed

Look first at who your passengers are.  No-one leaves home these days without a smart-phone in their pocket or a tablet in their handbag.  PCs and laptops are so last century.  We want to be connected anywhere, any how, any time.

We want to make informed travel choices based on surfing the web and social media. We expect information from our travel providers – which might or might not be an airline – to be personalized and tailored to our needs.

We all, whether we are Generation Y or more mature travellers, require technology to be app-easy to use, simple and intuitive.

The Future is predictable

It’s not hard to predict how we all will use technology in the future.  Our personal devices will in the future have enough data about us to learn our needs. So they will new able to recommend what holiday – and what resort or city –  we might like.  They will pull together information – reviews, flights, hotels and videos – from social networking sites and the net, and give us options.

Augmented reality will be commonplace: we will be able to go on virtual holidays to experience what previous travelers have seen and heard, with tags of information in front of the images and audio commentary.

When we have decided where we want to go and what we want to book, making payment through our mobile device will be secure and easy.  Handsets will replace plastic cards for payment.

In the future, self-service check-in will be even more ubiquitous, with mobile phones making way-finding and check-in easy.   Although we will still need to physically drop-off our bags, the airline will send us electronic bag receipts. We will be alerted as soon as we land to confirm that our bags are with us, and we will be alerted again when they are arriving in the baggage hall.

Even Security can be easier

Now here comes the piece where technology can – and should – make the most difference: the queues at Security.  Combining new technologies like biometrics and e-passports offers the opportunity for governments and airports to streamline – and improve – border checks.

Digital attention at the Airport

We as passengers – and our smart-mobiles – are going to be the subject of a great deal of digital attention at the airport.  Airport-wide WiFi will provide connectivity all the time: already many airports have realised that getting passenger attention is more important than charging for connection.

Location sensing will ensure that we no longer have to worry about where the gate is and when it is open.  The mobile will calculate how long we need to get there, calculating queue times on the way in real time, and airport staff will be able to find lost passengers, avoiding late departures.

Augmented reality will give us directions to what we want to find, whether it is the airline lounge, a coffee shop or duty-free outlet. We can opt in to receive promotional coupons from retail outlets we are walking past, and all of this traffic will enable the airports to manage their passenger flows and prevent bottle-necks forming.

e-Boarding

More and more airports and airlines, having mastered self-service ticketing and check-in, are looking at self-service boarding.   We will scan our 2-D bar code boarding pass ourselves and pass through a secure gateway to board.  Barcodes will soon be old-hat and sensor technology and NFC (near field communication) will allow our smart phone to share boarding information with the gate.   NFC will enable our travel documents to be retrieved as we approach the gate and security check-point and to be verified by the airport reader.  The hand-set can stay in our pocket throughout this process, making the whole process much less hassle.

Technology On-Board

Everyone will expect to be connected – if they wish – during their flight.  This means that IFE (In-Flight Entertainment) will be revolutionized, and we will watch films, access our iTunes, read our Kindles, look at our Facebook and tweet using our own devices.   So will we still want an airline-provided screen or console as well?

Social networking will be as prevalent on the plane as it is on the ground. We will reward good service (and punish bad service) instantly through our social networks.   As at the airport, access to customers on-board will be eagerly sought by travel partners, retailers – and competitors.

Is it possible that eventually our flights will be free, and the costs will be paid by the providers of the products and services passengers purchase whilst travelling?

This is not a Vision

All of these technologies exist already.  Most of what I have described already exists as pilots somewhere in the world, many developed by SITA Labs.

I personally like this Future: it will be easier (and more fun) to travel like this.  But for it to happen the airlines and airports must work together to agree common-use standards and inter-operability in these new technologies.  It is in everyone’s interest to do so, at least in the Air Transport Industry.

So CEOs and CIOs reading this will, I hope, feel inspired to consider the above technologies – I believe they are going to be the entrance ticket to the future.

SITA/Airline Business IT Summit – Opening Keynote June 2011

I blogged about the SITA/Airline Business IT Summit earlier on 25 June.

You can now see a video of the introduction which talks about the ways that IT is transforming the Air Transport Industry again.

I suggested at the start of the Summit that IT is now central not only to all the back-of-house processes that make airlines and airports function but also – with the Internet and Social Networking – has become the key differentiator front-of-house too, in terms of customer interactions.

Airlines and airports now have customers who expect ease-of-use and connectivity everywhere.

Four ‘Big C’ Megatrends will change the technology and the airline business:

* Convergence

* Communications

* Connectivity

* Cloud

I suggest that the winners will be those companies that use technology to anticipate and solve customer problems.  Speed and agility in adopting new technologies will be critical success factors for the future – and deciding when to adopt new technology will be a key skill for CEOs and CIOs alike.

More on “50 Things I wish I had known…”: the video online

Simon LaFosse and his team have made some changes to the website about the “50 Things” Event, so you can now see the video highlights or – if anyone is a real glutton for punishment – watch the whole thing including the presentation and Q&As.

As is often is the case the Q&As are in many ways the most helpful part.

There is also a link to the whole lot on YouTube.

What is Leadership in IT?

This is a topic I sometimes get asked about by journalists.  There are numerous articles published in magazines and online about “leadership”.  Consultants will sell you studies and there is generally supposed to be a rather large problem about it.

The IT profession worries a lot about how it is perceived by its customers, partners and suppliers: whether it has a seat at the top table, whether it is listened to and, when it is feeling collectively pessimistic, whether anyone is listening at all.

Now there is a lot you could talk about here and I will only attempt to answer the leadership question.  It’s something I have put a lot of thought into, after all it is a large and a complex topic.

Lets start at the boring end of this and define our terms, leadership in the Oxford Dictionaries Web-site is defined as:

  • “the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this”

Not much use is it?  So we then get to leader where the first definition is:

  • “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country”

This is not getting anywhere is it?  So then we take a look at lead and at last with the third definition (ignoring the parts about leading animals and winning a race) we find:

“#3 be in charge or command of:

  • organise and direct
  • be the principal player of (a group of musicians)
  • set (a process) in motion
  • begin a report or text with a particular item
  • in boxing make an attack
  • in card games play the first card”

So let’s see if we can work with these?  Well simply it is important to recognise that leading and leadership have many different meanings for different people, different organisations and different contexts.

There are four elements of this that resonate with me.  The first is that leadership in IT requires you to organise and direct. And I like the dictionaries juxtaposition here of ORGANISE and DIRECT.  It is a big risk that you may sometimes be tempted to do too much organising of the IT Department and forget to set strategic directions clearly; and vice versa since direction of IT without effective order and organisation will almost certainly end in tears.

Secondly setting a process in motion is of course also very familiar to anyone in modern organisations these days.  Leadership in the 21st Century is usually rarely in the military mode where you ask people who report to you to advance in a particular direction (or indeed shout CHARGE! follow me!).  Most likely in complex organisations these days IT leadership is about working with, persuading and influencing “business process owners”, in your and often in other companies or structures, to deliver together the shared objective.  Less dramatic than shouting CHARGE, it is probably harder to do and requires a completely different set of skills including, analysis, communications and political ‘know-how’.

Thirdly being the principal player of a group of musicians is a really tremendous definition, which I really like.  These days no-one in IT knows it all, understands every technology old and new, is a database expert and a networking genius, can manage waterfall and agile projects and so forth.  You rely on the talent and the experience of your immediate team and their teams.  If I have learnt one thing over my time as a CIO it is that IT is a team sport.  For it all to work it has all to work together and the analogy of an orchestra is an excellent one.  Whether the CIO is the conductor or the first violin depends on you, and I think sometimes it is smart to be part of the team and sometimes to conduct it.

Finally there is the boxing attack, and yes on a small number of issues you are going to have some fights.  Most things can be resolved by compromise but leadership does involve having some principles and lines in the sand, where an IT leader will need to fight his or her corner.  An example will be the point where if a system is not renewed the business is in danger, or you are insecure, or don’t have adequate back-up.  You cannot compromise on those issues.

I invariably disappoint the journalists with complicated answers like this on IT leadership but I really do think it just depends – depends on the culture of your organisation, depends on the circumstances you find yourself in (a Recession requires very different leadership from a Boom) and above all depends on you.

But I would suggest you think as an IT leader where you want to be on the following dimensions:

  • organise
  • direct
  • process
  • conduct
  • (and very rarely) attack

More on ’50 Things I wish I had known…’

I looked recently through the material Simon LaFosse posted following the Event I did for him back at the end of May.

It was – by some way – the scariest piece of public speaking I have done, on account of the number of CIOs, IT Directors and other IT industry people in the audience.  They know what being a CIO is like.

There is a handy – and quite pacey – summary on Simon’s site of what I said that evening, based around my “50 Things I wish I had known before becoming a CIO”.

Reading that summary through makes me realise I need to take some more of my own medicine.  Or, to put it another way, please don’t anyone think I actually manage to do all of this: the 50 things are what I want to do and am trying to do.  Real life is as ever both more complicated and more interesting!

If you are interested in more, there is the actual “50 Things” booklet I self-published on Lulu .com.

Customer Interaction – the next frontier for Airline IT

The 11th SITA/Airline Business IT Summit held in June in Brussels was, I think, the best yet.

I had the hard task at the end of the Summit – after a string of fascinating and lively speeches and presentations – of summarising those contributions.  This is what I said then.

Our first speaker was Peter Hartman, CEO of KLM, who told us about his team of over 20 members who drive KLM’s social networking strategy.  They were responsible for the ground-breaking initiative at Schiphol where they delighted passengers waiting to Board with small presents, tailored to their destination and their interests (as inferred from their Facebook or other social presence).   As Peter said about social networking, “Do it, don’t talk!”

Peter predicted that in future people will choose the airline they fly on through the recommendations of their social media connections.  After all, most of us use Trip Adviser now to check out hotels in advance.

In response to questions, Peter returned to the basics of what CEOs expect from Airline CIOs – the technology needs to work reliably and to costs must keep going down!

Dr Munir Majid, Chairman of MAS, talked about the convergence of technology in a “flattening World”.  Dr Majid argued that innovation matters for survival – something he illustrated with Malaysian’s innovative use of Facebook for Group bookings.

Jan Albrecht, CEO of the Star Alliance, stressed the importance of doing more IT for less.  He saw it as essential that airline IT departments provided users with modern IT tools and technology that worked with app-like ease.   Fresh thinking was essential these days in the new social-networked world.  He mused on what Steve Jobs would do for airline technology.   He asked how we as an industry could catch up with our customers’ expectations.

Having had a challenging start from the CEOs on both social networking and getting the basics right, the audience of IT Directors and CIOs returned (after a nerve-steadying cup of coffee) to a technical session on Cloud Computing.

This was a double act from Vivek Badrinath and Francesco Violante, the CEOs of OBS and SITA.  They described what I believe is going to be a game-changer for the Air Transport Industry – the Industry’s own private Cloud.  OBS and SITA described how they would provide on-demand services from a network of six data-centres in five Continents to airlines and airports – consistently, securely and cost-effectively.  Francesco pointed to the possibility of savings from virtual CUTE and SSKs, and on-demand apps.

After lunch, we were privileged to hear two industry technology experts who attempted to shock the audience: Philip Wolf, CEO of PhoCusWright, looked at how mobility and connectivity were transforming today’s travel industry. Online booking was continuing to grow and there would be 2billion new travelers by 2030.  “What would the impact of a travel app from Google be?” he asked.  His challenge to the audience was to wake up to the impact of mobility and connectivity – these days, devices know where you are, who you like and what you want.

Then Nawal Taneja, Professor of Aviation at Ohio State University, warmed to this theme and urged airlines to provide genuinely personalized service.  What if Google or Apple could take over the retail distribution of airline services? Then, he warned, the airlines would become simply the ‘manufacturer’ of seats!

Chris Klingenberg, CIO of Lufthansa (and fellow SITA Board member), provided what he termed an antidote to all this very technology-based agenda.  He said airlines would not be so foolish as to give away their “crown jewels” in the form of the link to their customers.  They would remain masters of their own destiny.   He also advanced the refreshing notion that you should be proud of higher IT spend than your competitors since this showed you were innovating ahead of them.   He advocated bringing IT out of the “Techie Corner” and getting the Boardroom to understand how important it was.  Great points, I thought!

We then finished with two excellent contributions, the first from Antoine Rostworowski, of Aeroports de Montreal, who stressed the importance of integrating airports into the new visions for airline passengers.  Then Qiang Li, MD of Information Management at Air China, talked about the challenges of massive growth that they face.  He came up with a tremendous list of the IT initiatives he is leading, which would form a great ‘to do’ list for any airline CIO:

  • Cloud Computing
  • Mobile
  • Social Networking
  • Passenger Service Systems
  • Customer Relationship Management, and
  • In-flight Connectivity.

So then I had to try to summarise what all this adds up to!  I think the most important fact is that there was total agreement between CEOs and CIOs, analysts and suppliers, airlines and airports, that IT really matters in the modern world.

We have heard that before and it is really important.  But there is another new factor: we in IT are now central to the airlines’ and airports’ relationship with customers through game-changing technology – mobility is now ubiquitous and social networking adds a completely new dimension to customer relationships.

So, IT matters – and that’s now widely recognised.

And IT is central to airlines in operations, in selling, in servicing and, now, in customer interaction.

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