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John Lewis’ IT Director on his 3 lane IT motorway innovation

Since joining the John Lewis Partnership as IT Director in 2011, Paul Coby re-built IT from the ground up. It boils down to a 3 part analogy.

The John Lewis Partnership – whose outlets include John Lewis department stores, Waitrose and other e-commerce platforms – has always positioned itself slightly differently from its competition.

Its world-renowned Christmas ads, awaited with baited breath each year, and an ecosystem which encompasses 91,500 partners, 46 John Lewis shops and 346 Waitrose stores, are just a couple of reasons why.

Something that receives less public attention however, is the Partnership’s 3 lane IT strategy.

Its CIO, Paul Coby, joined in 2011 after a 10-year tenure in the same role at British Airways. He has since implemented radical changes to the IT infrastructure, in a charge to leverage technology to support the 150-year-old retail titan’s business goals.

Massive projects like consolidating 60 different legacy systems into one that will support an omni-channel business model, and setting up JLab, the partnership’s very own incubator, all contribute to Coby’s ultimate goal of, “using systems to make the customer journey easier.”

Coby’s mantra for IT success comes down to a 3 lane IT strategy.

And it starts with “big transformation in terms of the back office.” This means distribution systems, supply chains and order management systems.

There’s no use “having those juggernauts [back office systems] in the slow lane unless you are going to make the most of them,” he explains.

“So on top of that we have built ‘My John Lewis’, which is our loyalty program. Something we didn’t have until 3 years ago and now has over a million members.”

Projects like these exploit the major improvements made in the back-end, and are aimed at capturing exactly what customers need and want to keep them coming back. And, more importantly, lay the footing for the radical innovation that occurs in the third and final lane.

Because of course, Coby explains, “if you are doing well in the slow lane and the middle lane, I think you can allow yourself a little bit of innovation in the fast lane and have some fun.”

For more on the John Lewis Partnership’s 3 lane IT strategy, watch the full video above.