Not only has Paul Coby completely replaced John Lewis's legacy IT with a modern SOA-integrated enterprise IT set of platforms to support an omnichannel business model, he has also made the time to set up a business startup incubator initiative that has fast-tracked the company's technology understanding and deployment at a relatively low cost.

What the judges said

"I'm struck by the emotional intelligence Paul shows," Ade McCormack

"The JLab is cool and he's open to small vendors, but there website is not scalable and that limits them as a business," Mike Altendorf

"John Lewis is the embodiment of the customer journey and it is very good," Ian Cohen

"There are strong signs of service delivery design thinking with the user at the heart and John Lewis is doing very well," Richard Sykes

Job title
John Lewis IT director.

When did you start your current role?
March 2011.

What is your reporting line?
I report to the MD of John Lewis.

Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Yes.

Are you a member of the board of directors?
Yes.

What other executive boards do you sit on?
Co-chair of John Lewis change board and customer experience board.

Does your organisation have a CDO?
No.

What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
Co-chair with the finance and strategy director of the JL change board, which is responsible for overall design of JL's omnichannel business model, oversight of all change programmes in JL, and ensuring that they integrate together. I set up and run the business process unit.

How many employees does your organisation have?
38,100.

What number of users does your department supply services to?
38,100 – all the employees in JL – plus contractors, suppliers, etc.

How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
We have a relationship management function staffed by senior IT managers working with each directorate. Their job is to ensure that IT performs and meets our promises, and that the customers understand and are inspired by what can be done by technology. I and my top managers are branch buddies and visit 'our' branch or distribution centre twice a year to talk to managers and users. My stores are Norwich and Bluewater. We carry out regular surveys of partners and separately of top managers. The JL democratic bodies – Partner Voice and JL Council – are consulted on IT performance and needs by me and my direct reports. There is an overall opinion survey that asks about IT; this moved forward by two points last year.

John Lewis technology strategy and agenda?

Is your organisation being disrupted?
Yes.

Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Yes.

Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
I set up JLab, our first incubator for startups. Out of around 150 applications we chose five in fields like iBeacons, internet of things and 3D imaging, and provided internal coaches and external mentors from tech companies and Silicon Valley Bank. The incubator was based at Level 39 Canary Wharf and ran throughout the summer. All five companies progressed and grew. The winner was Localz, who won our £100,000 prize for which we received a stake in the company. We are now setting up a proof of concept in Peter Jones to use iBeacons to notify customers that their click and collect parcel is ready for collection. The technology can be used for other customer notification functions – like information on particular products. Our investment in Localz is now worth 20 times more than when we made it. JLab has fast-tracked our understanding and deployment of beacon technology at a relatively low cost and demonstrated that JL is innovative in technology as well as design.

What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
IT investment at JL has increased sixfold, from £16m to £100m a year. Programmes include:

• New web platform installed in 2013, with 17 major releases since on a monthly basis to support record levels of online sales on Black Friday.
• Customer case management implementation of Salesforce.com to manage call centre and store customer cases.
• Completion of high-level design of Oracle retail ERP in October 2014.
• Preparation for installation of new unified order manager in 2015.

What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
They completely replace the legacy IT which has for many years served each siloed directorate, with a modern SOA-integrated enterprise IT set of platforms that can support the new omnichannel business model we are creating.

How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project?
I set out this high level vision three months after I joined, and we have designed the IT architecture and business processes that will deliver the omnichannel plan.

What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
• Modern web design and apps delivered by agile.
• Cloud services such as Salesforce.
• SOA for effective integration of the old and new.
• Big data delivered on a corporate data warehouse.

Are you expanding the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
Yes.

What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
We have just gone live across John Lewis and Waitrose with a corporate data warehouse that allows the last few years of customer purchases to be analysed to support marketing campaigns and deep understanding of broad purchasing trends. This is being done with all customer permissions in place and we are very careful to protect the privacy of individual customers.

How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
It's fundamental to how customers see us. We have a unit in place that responds quickly to customer comments and complaints. We also launched 'Monty and Mabel', the 2014 Christmas ad on YouTube, a day before TV and it has had over 25 million views. You could follow Monty and Mabel on Twitter. Our IT operations room has feeds on the big screen that show the latest social media trends relating to John Lewis.

Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
John Lewis IT is responsible for all the IT in John Lewis, whether supplied and run by us directly or by third parties, and whether managed by us or by other directorates. I work very closely with other board directors to ensure that any new systems are consistent with our standards and strategic direction, and are operated in an integrated way with our technology stacks.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
Oracle – ATG, ERP, Endeca Search and Navigation
Salesforce – case management
Google – email and collaboration
Software AG – SOA
Stibo – product introduction management
IBM – order management

Who are your main suppliers?
As above, plus TCS and Cognizant for integration and testing. For applications support Zensar.

John Lewis IT security and budget

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Yes.

Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Yes.

Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Yes.

Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
Yes.

What is the IT budget?
Capex £100-105m in each of the next five years, revex around £70m.

How much is the IT operational spend compared with the revenue as a percentage?
2%.

What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
• Deliver excellent IT operational performance, especially through the peak season.
• Continue to grow the online/mobile business – now 36% of sales.
• Progress the transformational programmes.

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
No.

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes.

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes.

John Lewis technology department

How would you describe your leadership style?
Open, democratic and inspirational.

Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
I have given them clear objectives which we have agreed together. They each have mentors or coaches from outside the organisation. And they belong to the relevant IT research board groups, so they meet peers from other companies and countries.

How many employees are in your IT team?
425 rising to 580 by January 2016.

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
About 1:3.