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May 24, 2019

Q&A: John Lewis & Partners on why IT is a game-changer in shaping future customer experiences

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Selena Cass 5 minute read

Retail is experiencing an identity crisis like no other time in its history. According to a recent report by PWC, the high street is losing an average of 14 stores daily, signalling the unstoppable shift in consumer preference towards online shopping.

With consumers seeking greater convenience, speed and simplicity from their shopping experience; retailers are re-thinking every aspect of their business models in a bid to stand out from the crowd.

One retailer leading the charge in this space is John Lewis & Partners.  From digitally transforming their IT capabilities, to establishing JLAB, a retail innovation programme, they are laser-focused on finding new ways to inspire and delight their customers.

At Atlassian's Future of IT event last week, we caught up with Claire Nelson, Methods and Tools Technical Lead at the John Lewis Partnership to get her view on how technology is driving new customer experiences.

Q1. Can you tell us a bit about your role at the John Lewis Partnership, and what you are focusing on at the moment?

[ Claire ] My role as Methods and Tools Technical Lead at the John Lewis Partnership involves ensuring our teams are using the best tools to work as efficiently and effectively as possible. When we are introducing a new tool, I work with our colleagues in Security, Legal, and Procurement to ensure a smooth roll-out.

Procuring a new tool is just the start of my relationship with suppliers; I also work closely with them to ensure our teams utilise the full functionality of the tool and make any further improvements needed. Another part of my role involves educating our Partners on how to use tools properly, which sometimes involves organising training sessions with the supplier to maximise adoption.

Currently I’m focusing on improvements to the tools we use for our code repositories and how we integrate them to provide continuous delivery. We are upgrading our Atlassian toolset so we have been running checks in staging to ensure that it goes smoothly into production.  I’m also running investigations into how we manage our mainframe suites and what we can do to make improvements there.

Q2.  How has technology changed retail over the last decade, and what aspects are experiencing the most disruption?

[ Claire ] Not that long ago, if you wanted to buy something you had to make a trip to the shop when it was open, and the choices available to you depended on the retail outlets you could physically get to.

The last decade has seen retail change dramatically. You can now shop online at any hour of the day or night, make a purchase and click and collect it the next day or even the next hour.

Through the growing omnichannel experience, you can shop via your laptop, mobile, or tablet, make a call or visit a branch and have the same seamless customer experience. In the past when you wanted a more personal shopping experience, you would go into a store to speak to someone in person, now this level of personalisation is available online.

Q3. How do you keep up with emerging trends and choose the right tech to suit your needs?

[ Claire ] While my role is about making a decision to use a tool and managing the procurement and rollout of it across the organisation, anyone in our IT team can discover, experiment with, and propose new tools to make us more productive.

We have a Tech Council which produces an internal tech radar which is published quarterly aimed at encouraging discussion and debate around the technologies, tools and techniques we use, to create a learning culture and empower Partners to drive their development and expertise on emerging technologies.

We all regularly attend and host webinars, meet-ups, and conferences to allow us to network, collaborate, and learn about emerging trends. One of the most supported events internally is our Tech Conference where we have a mix of lightning talks and longer sessions from both our own engineers and other external speakers.

Q4. How have you leveraged automation solutions like Adaptavist ScriptRunner and Test Management for Jira to drive change across your business?

[ Claire ] Adaptavist Scriptrunner has allowed us to improve our workflows in Jira, add personalisation for teams, and provide better reporting. Previously Quality Center/ALM was the primary tool we used for testing. Only a small group of people had access to the cases, and there was no integration with defects raised in Jira.

By using Adaptavist’s Test Management for Jira (TM4J) tool, everyone now has visibility of all test cases raised in a project. With TM4J Test cases are easy to create and can be easily integrated with other tools. We are currently using TM4J for one of our most challenging projects, and the reporting it provides has helped significantly in ensuring the project hits all its deadlines.

Q5. What role will IT play in the continued transformation of your business?

[ Claire ] It’s no secret that retail is currently going through an extremely tough time. The role IT has played and continues to play is paramount to the continued success of our business in every area, not just in the branches and johnlewis.com. We are supporting our Partners in branches with upgrades to existing systems and rollouts to allow them to provide the best customer experience and service possible.

Online we are continually developing new ideas and features to provide the personal service and smooth path to check out that our customers expect and deserve. Just last month we launched a new service on our mobile app which allows customers to try out virtual lipsticks, using augmented reality, before they purchase!

Q6. As part of your role you establish technical standards and mentoring, how important is mentorship to upskill teams and be ready for the future?

[ Claire ] Upskilling and preparing teams for the future is crucial. A lot of my time is spent meeting with teams or individuals to mentor and support them. Recently, the whole department attended training designed for delivering our future.

We have coaching practitioners and specific communities that we collaborate with either on Slack or face-to-face. We host meet-ups, and there is a renewed emphasis on the need for continued learning, all of which is supported by our leadership team.