House of Fraser: a retailer’s technology roadmap

Like any senior decision maker, the CIO gets bombarded from all angles with messages and requests for calls and meetings. Everyone wants to discuss the latest technology that will make their life easier and, more importantly, drive sales.

So it was interesting to hear first-hand Julian Burnett, House of Fraser’s new CIO, outline the business’ roadmap for the years ahead.

Tech aside, House of Fraser is keen to be known in its own right rather than the various brands it carries. Each store is very distinct, unlike the more formulaic John Lewis and Debenhams. It is investing heavily in new concepts like Rushden Lakes as well as overseas markets like China, where it has partnered with Hamleys to provide a real destination experience.

House of Fraser’s strategy means focusing on a fashion centric approach. It also recognises that its core audience are largely women that buy for themselves, their partners and children.

By reorganising its business around the customer, as spearheaded by Burnett’s predecessor, Andy Harding, the retailer has therefore invested in technology which better meets shopper needs. In 2015, click-and-collect serviced a customer every 65 seconds; by 2017, this is expected to occur every 7 seconds!

House of Fraser’s technology investment priorities

At present, House of Fraser is half way through the first phase of a four stage business transformation project – and the keyword here is ‘business’. The company is empowering its whole organisation to deliver processes for the greater good. This means no more siloes.

One key takeaway from Burnett, who was in conversation at the recent Retail Week Buzz event, was how the pace of consumer technology has informed House of Fraser’s B2B selection process. If an app takes seconds to download from your mobile, why do some retail roll-outs take months, even years?

In terms of technology life cycles, Burnett has found that core business applications are used over a longer period. In contrast, front end solutions are churning every one to two years.

In addition, a move to modular technology is far better suited to the company’s needs; it would be impossible to write all the software required. Much of the latest project load will be born by the Microsoft Azure platform, with associated partners providing best of breed solutions.

But while the road ahead is clearly mapped out, there is one event in the near future that Burnett is squarely focused on: Black Friday. His infrastructure will need four times the capacity of a normal day and he hopes the extensive testing the team has done will hold them in good stead.

Technology vendors take note – best not contact Burnett on 25th November!

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