Tech startup Localz win John Lewis JLAB incubator award

John Lewis today announced Localz, a startup business specialising in micro-location technology, as the winner of JLAB, the retailer’s first ever technology business incubator. After 12 weeks of shaping and honing its solution within JLAB, Localz impressed the judging panel and takes home £100,000 in investment as well as the chance to trial its solution with John Lewis.

Innovation is at the heart of John Lewis and JLAB, our first tech incubator, has given us a new way to explore the technologies that will change how we all shop in the future. It’s been a hugely rewarding and educational experience, drawing on a diverse group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives, and we have a very worthy winner who we’re looking forward to working with in the months ahead. I do very much believe that this is what our Founder Spedan Lewis would be doing if he was around today.

The initial entry period for JLAB saw hundreds of startups apply to take part, pitching their ideas for innovations that could shape the future of the retail experience. In May, Localz was picked as a finalist alongside four other impressive startup businesses: Musaic, SpaceDesigned, Tap2Connect and Viewsy. Over a 12-week period, the five finalists developed their ideas with the assistance of mentors from John Lewis as well as high-profile entrepreneurial figures including Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners, Sara Murray OBE, founder of confused.com and Buddi, and Bindi Karia, Vice President Entrepreneur banking at Silicon Valley Bank. The final pitch day on 23rd September 2014 saw Localz emerge as the overall winner.

Localz’s technology gives customers the opportunity to take advantage of some enhanced services using their smartphone based on their precise location. It’s all about choice, designed to make shopping easier for those who wish to use it.

For example, it could automatically offer to trigger a customer’s Click & Collect order to be picked as they enter the shop to speed up the collection or help customers to navigate their way around one of our shops based on their online wish list.

Stuart Marks, partner in JLAB, said: “The quality of entries was exceptionally high and picking a winner proved to be a very difficult process. I am sure all the companies will go on to become very successful but there has to be a winner and in this case we felt that Localz has the potential to become a long term partner to John Lewis and to provide continuous innovation for their customers. We were fortunate to have an exceptional mentoring team who allowed all the companies to achieve their true potential during the time they were at JLAB.”

Tim Andrew, Commercial Director and Co-Founder of Localz, said: “JLAB has been an amazing experience for Localz from start to finish. The fact that my father was a Partner with John Lewis for over 30 years gave me a very personal reason to want to be a part of it, in order to try and help the company that supported me and my family when I was growing up.  The support and guidance that John Lewis provided throughout the incubation period helped us refine our offering for the European market. They also gave us access to successful entrepreneurs and mentors from diverse backgrounds and industries which allowed us to accelerate our development.”

Localz’s plans for the £100k investment focus on its new UK operations. The company will be further developing its technology in conjunction with John Lewis to support the new generation of mobile and micro-location experiences, and preparing to launch live trials in store. To support these goals, Localz is also looking to hire new talent to work in its London-based team.

JLAB was part of John Lewis’s 150 year celebrations. For more information, visit www.jlab.co.uk.

 

The full list of external JLAB mentors is as follows:

  • Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners
  • Sara Murray OBE, founder of confused.com
  • Graham Clempson, European Managing Partner at MidOcean Partners
  • Stephanie Hussels, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Full-Time MBA Director Designate at Cranfield University
  • George Berkowski, Chairman of MIT Enterprise Forum UK
  • Bindi Karia, Vice President, Origination and Entrepreneur Commercial Banking at Silicon Valley Bank

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.

Leaving BA

As a result of the merger of British Airways with Iberia and the formation of the International Airlines Group (IAG), I have decided there is not a suitable role for me within the new BA Operating Company.

I have therefore chosen to leave to pursue other opportunities outside BA.  I will, however, continue as the BA nominated director on the board of SITA, which I currently chair.

Announcing my departure, Keith Williams, BA’s CEO designate said: “Paul has been CIO of British Airways for just over 10 years (and Head of the wider BA Services for the last two years). We would like to thank him for his significant contribution to our business – notably the development of BA.com – in some of the most challenging and exciting trading periods in the company’s history.”

I am very proud of what we at BA have achieved in the last 10 years.  BA.com is indeed the jewel in our crown, and is now fundamental to how the airline sells tickets and holidays, and to BA’s customer service.

I am equally proud of the  24×7 IT operational excellence which is the foundation of everything the airline does.

Technology has helped transform business processes across the airline and “LEAN” techniques have empowered teams in many departments. My principle has always been that there are no IT projects, only business projects.

Everything I have achieved over the last 10 years as CIO and latterly Head of Services has been the direct result of the skills, professionalism and commitment of BA people.

We now need to drive for economic growth! Technology is the key

Now we are past the Government’s Spending Review, technology is the key to sustainable economic growth.  IT underpins public-sector productivity improvement and also private-sector business growth.

Creating the best technology skills pool in the world should be the UK’s strategy for growth across ALL industry sectors.

Consider the following:

First, Information Technology holds the key to innovation and global competitiveness across the whole economy.  IT supports the majority of future job creation in the western world.

Second, about half of Europe’s productivity gains in recent years can be attributed to IT.

Third, IT is at the heart of new fast-growing economy sectors from low-carbon to biotechnology to space.

Fourth, the technology sector delivers £71 billion a year in direct Gross Value Add (GVA) contribution to the UK Economy.

Fifth, the technology professional workforce has continued to grow throughout the Recession.

So, on the assumption that IT will grow at four times the UK average for the next 10 years, we will need over 100,000 new people a year to enter IT careers in the UK to be competitive.

I believe passionately that the future success of the UK as an economy and a society, and our national growth prospects and future jobs, will be driven by the availability of bright capable e-skilled people.

It is important that IT professionals, business people, students and anyone who cares about the future success of this country makes this point loudly and clearly.

IT is a UK success story – and it matters even more now.

The Games Industry is IT too

If I had had when I was young the computer games that my children have now, I too would have spent much of my waking hours playing them.

Being the sort of child who created my own mythical continent – complete with its own history, dynasties, castles and industrialisation – I would particularly have loved the strategy games available now.  The chance to construct a Roman City from scratch with irrigation, mines, factories, stores and forums would have kept me gaming long into the night.  (It still does, actually!)

As a devotee then, as now, of the historical “might have been”, I would have found the opportunity to re-fight the Battle of Cannae or Teutoberger Forest or Waterloo with hundreds of Artificial Intelligence (AI) figures, all well-disciplined and correctly uniformed, would have been – and still is – irresistable.  No need now to look up range tables, fire effect and morale tables, and to pray for good dice scores!   (And no excuse now for losing through “unlucky” dice throws either!)

As the kind of boy who re-fought the Normandy landings and the Battle of Arnhem with Airfix aircraft and tanks, and plastic miniatures, I would also have succumbed to the shoot-em-ups.  My schoolboy son now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of British Second World War small arms that would rival my father’s, who spent the War in the Ordnance Corps in Iraq and North-West Europe, supplying “Uncle Joe” Stalin and Monty respectively.   He is frighteningly well up on Axis and Soviet weoponry as well.

I am amazed at the obsessive care taken in the recreation of late 15th Century Venice in Assasin’s Creed 2, and the protagonist’s ability to swarm up the walls of Venetian churches and St Mark’s Cathedral – let alone the loving recreations of  some of Leonardo’s more devilish inventions.

I do confess, though, to being both squeamish and dubious about the all-too-copious amounts of blood and gore on display in many games. You could argue that this is, in fact, rather more realistic and true-to-life than simply removing your ‘dead’ warriors from the wargaming table.  (My wife once scandalised a group of miniature-figure wargaming friends by suggesting that if the carefully painted Napoleonic Old Guard were to be killed in action, the lovingly-painted figures should be really melted down….)

It is rather disappointing that the computer and video gaming industry is seen as not being properly part of the IT industry.  It is in fact a considerable British success story, with much of the sector based here or with UK sites.   Although figures about just how big the sector is are hard to get hold of, gaming is often said to rival the film industry globally.  The popular shoot-em-up Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 cost £100m to develop, for instance, and last year had revenues in the first 24 hours of £200m.  Total sales to date are £625m world-wide.

Just consider the brilliance of the IT work that goes into a game like the recently-released F1 2010.  Each race-track took a team of 8 people a year to build, using the CAD plans for each track when available.  During the race the grandstands gradually fill up with ever more animated (literally) spectators.  The sound of the cars is based on recorded sound from each real F1 car and it is coded so that the ear-spliiting noise of F1 bounces off buildings.  When you arrive to change your tyres all the pit crew for each team leap into action!

The cars themselves are the masterpieces. Constructed from original CAD designs supplied by the teams and taking 7 weeks to design, they handle like the originals (although, if you are like me, you may wish to turn this feature down!).  As the race weekend goes on, so the track gets better grip and the weather – as in the real thing – can change everything.  And so it goes on, up to and including the media interviews after the race.  All of this is tested by a 70-strong team of professionals in Southam in the Midlands.

Perhaps we should use the gaming industry more, as role models for both the creative use of advanced technology, and enterprise.  Then perhaps more UK school and university students would see IT as an exciting and smart career choice?  It’s not all supply chains and data-warehouses, it’s not just about legacy systems and upgrades, it’s fun as well!

We all know the answer but few can execute

I was at a presentation last week on a successful IT project, or rather a successful project with IT at its heart.   Someone said all you have to do to deliver success is, “to link people and their processes to the technology”.  

Well, that says it all really and it’s tempting to just stop there. 

We all know that you can test IT systems and you should be able to make them work.  After all, they do what you tell them to do, don’t they, being simply ones and zer0s?   When things go wrong, it’s almost always because the IT does not fit the processes and/or the people are not ready or bought into using the new system.

I have had my share of such painful experiences – and we all try and learn from our mistakes. 

But, if you think about it, the answer is to form multi-disciplinary teams composed of experts in IT, experts in process, experts in how people change and – of course – experts in joining it all up. 

So why, if we all know this is the answer, does this not happen?  

I suggest there are two reasons, fundamentally.

First, companies like to keep IT in its box and, often, technology people like to live in their IT box too.   These days, every process in almost every business is enabled or driven by technology, so there is no excuse for separating process and IT.  

It sounds easy put like that, but no two business – or their processes – are the same.   Some processes need to be changed to fit the technology.  Others are so important or mission-critical that the IT has to change.   The challenge and the skill comes in judging what to change and when to change, so as to seamlessly join IT and process in harmony.

And this is easy when you compare it with the people issues!  Businesses are not just about investment and returns – they are about people’s interactions as customers and as colleagues.   Indeed, there are now some systems that just interact with other systems. But in the vast majority of cases, it’s still us who have to use them – so ease of use matters, training matters, availability matters and design matters.   

Indeed, if there is one thing I have learnt about introducing new IT, it is to work out how much training is needed, double it and then double it again.

So why do we sometimes still keep the IT people in one place, the process experts in another and the human factors folks somewhere else?   Well, that’s how organisations like to do it and our role is to challenge that.

Second – you can’t outsource accountability for joined up change.   Yes, of course, you can hire in the best technicians or analysts, web designers, you name it.   But when we talk about the intersection of IT, process and people, we are talking about the fundamentals of what makes a business function.  Yes, of course, take good advice and use the best people you can hire, but if there is a heart and soul to an organisation, this is where it resides.

You have to work out what you want to do and how you are going to get people to do it.

As we all know, the failure rates of IT projects that are reported are terrifying.  The amount of money wasted is large and the careers ruined many.   And yet we know the answer lies in joining things up effectively across boundaries and org-charts.

So – to end on a note of hope – the recent trends in the UK to use LEAN and AGILE techniques do exactly this.   They value people changing as the key to effective business change, and they hang process change – and then IT – off that. 

They involve people in their own processes and ask them what they think needs improving.  They put business and IT experts together in the same place and get them jointly to solve problems.   This has got to be a better way…

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