John Lewis IT Director Paul Coby has overseen a period of rapid online growth for the British retailer, and is also developing the organisation's digital strategy agenda. Coby and the team at John Lewis are actively looking to start-ups as the game-changing innovators in the sector, and through their JLAB innovation programme have backed young companies to help John Lewis deliver digital innovation.

How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
John Lewis is now a digital business with 40% of our sales online, growing the online channel at over 20% yearly. The whole new business model depends on IT delivering the system foundations, customer applications and digital innovations

How as CIO have you affected cultural change and / or behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
John Lewis is widely seen as the leading omni channel retailer in the UK, and this has required profound organisational cultural re-alignment, which I have driven through re-engineering systems and processes (I have set up the Business Process Unit, as well as the more usual architectural and delivery functions).

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s company performance
Delivered completely new Endeca search which has increased sales and conversion and delivered £1.6bn of sales, installed new Order Management system without any disruption of the business, and rolled out Google to c20k Partners in stores.

Describe how you have used organisational and third party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
We publish a regular Technology News Network to inform business leaders of tech innovations and news from around the World.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I have 3 Directors reporting to me: Director IT Strategy and Planning, Director IT Delivery and Director IT Operations.

Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
I am co-sponsor and develop the agenda of the John Lewis Partnership Digital Strategy Board which is formed of key leaders from JL and Waitrose and will have external digital advisers/experts.

Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and organisational structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
We have selected ARIS as the process documentation tool to inform and record the work of the Business Process Unit - which has been working on improving omni channel processes in stores and call centres

Leadership

How do you engage regularly with your organisation (e.g. via a blog/seminars/newsletter etc.) about your team and the role of technology in the organisation and what impact is this having?
We publish a regular online newsletter on IT for our customers in the stores and HQ through management and democratic channels, we have several Google Plus communities on which I post, and I record video interviews for circulation on key topics like IT security. We also as an LT Leadership Team participate in online Q and A. The performance of IT jumped 12 points in the latest Partner Opinion Survey. I also insist that my top managers each adopt 2 Branches as Branch Buddies. Mine are JL Bluewater and JL Norwich.

How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
I publish an infrequent blog on technology, and regularly tweet on IT matters (as well as Roman history, theatre etc). Our JLAB has frequently featured in the Retail, IT and national media.

How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
We have set up a Digital Advisory Board to do this for top leaders, I address the John Lewis Council regularly to brief democratic elected councillors in IT developments.

Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management e.g horizon scanning, technology strategy workshops, involvement in industry events and bodies
We also run JLAB and get 100s of entries form start ups in very different technologies and applications. I speak regularly at Industry Events and visit Conventions like the NRF and NASSCOM

Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
We track diversity stats and I have answered questions from Partners in the JL Gazette. We have run Unconscious Bias courses for all our managers. We have run 'Empowering Partners' workshops for over 200 Partners as part of our 'Be the Revolution' strategy.

Describe how you collaborate and influence the organisation and its leadership team
I am a member of the JL Management Board, and work with my colleagues. We work very closely with the Strategy Finance and Personnel functions to co-ordinate and support change across the organisation. I am co-Chair of the JL Change Board with the Finance Director.

Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I am a NED on 3 external boards which give me insights into other industries and their use of technology, and I advise their CIOs. I mentor managers in my organisation.

Technology

Are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with: Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence; Data Analytics; NoSQL; wearable technology; Enterprise Apps; Internet of Things; Automation and Robotics;  3D Printing; the Sharing Economy; Anything else?
Data analytics, wearables, IoT, automation, 3D printing, VR and AR, smart home, location technologies, visual apps.

How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach – e.g. from consuming services from the cloud or on-premise products through to spinning up in-house development teams for bespoke work?
The role of JL IT is control and manage the technology the JL business needs - where we need to compete and technology is or delivers competitive edge we will invest or build it, where it is not differentiating we will procure systems and services (sometimes in the cloud) to commodity standards and vfm cost levels

Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
Because the JL Partnership is owned by us - its Partners we are determined that we must remain in overall strategic control of the IT and digital assets. We are after all an omni channel digitally enabled retailer. So within this 'control structure' we have selected a small number of strategic suppliers to work with. They include Oracle, Cognizant, TCS, Deloitte, Salesforce and some others.  The rest are being consolidated into commodity buckets.

Describe the technology innovations that you have introduced in the last year and what they have enabled
iBeacons for click and collect supported Peak trading in pilot stores. First use of visual search on the fashion pages of the JL app. myKitchen drawer built on Salesforce to enable automatic filing of purchased receipts. Runner up in JLAB Alfred in which we hold a stake has launched smart home app to connect up IoT devices in your home.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
Oracle deal done with Safra Catz to cement top level strategic relationship. Salesforce partnership to develop customer management and support apps. Cognizant framework deal for strategic partnership lower costs but retaining Partner control over IT support.

How do you rate the following as sources for innovative technology suppliers?
Analyst Houses - Often use
Consultants - Often use
CIO Peers - Occasionally use
Industry Body - Of little importance
Media - Often use

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No

How is cyber-security led and discussed by senior management?
Security programme is monthly board item

About the CIO

When did you start your current role?
March 2011

What is your reporting line?
CEO

Are you a member of the board of directors?
Yes

What is the annual IT budget?
£105m Capex, £80m Revex

What percentage of your budget is spent on:
IT operational spend ("keeping the lights on") - 30%
New developments (innovation) - 70% innovation, architecture, process are in revex

What number of users does your department supply services to?
25,000 Partners

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?
No

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes

How many employees are there in your IT team?
613 plus 800 3rd parties

Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Yes