The John Lewis Partnership had sales last year of £5.8 billion, eight per cent up on the previous year. It consists of two trading divisions, John Lewis department stores and the Waitrose supermarket chain. Both businesses are underpinned by a largely common technical infrastructure, including payroll and accounting systems. The Waitrose and John Lewis IT functions are part of their respective trading divisions, and IT directors, Eric Gregory and Kevin Berry, are members of their respective divisional management boards.

IT made a key contribution to the continued growth of Waitrose in 2005: 30 new shops have been brought on stream in the last two years, many of them acquisitions that were made fully operational in a short space of time. Kevin Berry describes this as a great achievement as it was tackled on top of another busy year: “The year ahead looks set to be as challenging (and enjoyable) as the last, with systems like our new EPoS system moving into its rollout phase and some exciting head office, supply chain and selling operations developments in the pipeline.”

The drive to enhance customer service has been a key focus for system development both in customers’ homes and in-store, with the introduction of new registers with touch screens and single queuing. Looking ahead, the focus is on stock availability and product information with an ambitious programme of work underway on merchandise planning and forecasting, warehouse management and product information systems.

John Keeling has a corporate IT function, providing infrastructure and shared technical services to both trading divisions. Windows XP has been rolled out across the partnership to replace NT, and a web-based HR and payroll system to transform and streamline HR operations is now implemented.

Many of the core systems run on an IBM mainframe in Bracknell. A high-speed WAN (using DWDM, DSL and megastream ethernet) handles the increasing network traffic to the shops and between head offices, and this links to a disaster recovery site where data is mirrored in real time.

“Our business needs a reliable and resilient technical infrastructure to help us deliver a high quality service to our customers. Systems reliability is crucial,” says Keeling.