Every week Ocado, the largest online grocery retailer in the world, ships more than 250,000 orders. “Our business is all about making the process of grocery shopping as simple and convenient as possible for our customers,” said Paul Clarke, Chief Technology Officer of Ocado Technology. “We want to give customers back the time they would have previously spent in a supermarket.”
Established in the UK in 2000, Ocado is both an industry disrupter and an innovator, and is already posting impressive results. In November 2015, the retailer reported an 18% increase in year-on-year sales. It now reaches more than 70% of UK households, with 55% of orders checked out using a mobile device. From mobile shopping apps to warehouse robotics, the company has amassed a wealth of leading-edge technology — almost all of it engineered in-house by Ocado Technology.
The Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) is the company’s innovation showstopper. It brings together a range of systems and apps to simplify e-commerce, fulfilment, and customer deliveries. As well as enabling Ocado to re-platform its own UK businesses, OSP will also provide large bricks and mortar grocery retailers around the world with a shortcut to moving online. “We’re constantly pushing the limits of what technology can do,” said Clarke. “It is not enough to move fast. We need to keep accelerating.”
Although customer-facing projects were at the top of the innovation to-do list, the Ocado Technology team also wanted to transform the retailer’s internal processes. Clarke explained: “We want to become a much bigger business than we are today. And that means we need to build new systems, processes, and internal apps to help our people work more efficiently.”
Despite recruiting new developers to join his 900-strong software engineering team, Clarke struggled with resources. “There was always a backlog of new internal business initiatives,” he said. “We needed to take an alternative approach.” Instead of relying on developers to build internal apps, Clarke wanted to empower the company’s business analysts to get involved. He also wanted to build apps quickly and cheaply, so they could be used for one-off events or campaigns.
Thanks to Salesforce, Ocado Technology has been able to do all this. “We asked an analyst to learn Force.com from scratch and build the first three apps. It took them just six weeks,” said Clarke. “With Salesforce, we are in control of our own apps and our own destiny,” said Clarke.
Expenses claims, project lifecycle management, health and safety training, and facilities management are just some of the internal processes being revamped with Force.com and Community Cloud. For example, the ‘What’s Broken’ app enables staff to report issues with faulty furnishings and equipment, such as a vending machine or a carpet tile.
To ensure issues can be logged remotely, Clarke and his team use the Salesforce1 Mobile App. They can pass issues from the What’s Broken app to Ocado’s facilities management help desk, which uses Service Cloud to track issues through to resolution.
The IT help desk also uses Service Cloud to manage issues and requests. “Every morning, I get a summary of any incidents and their status in real time,” said Clarke. “In the past, we had to wait until the end of a shift for a report to be created, which would be out of date by the next day.”
To simplify problem resolution, Clarke and his team plan to bring together all Ocado’s IT knowledge resources into a single bank hosted in Service Cloud. “Instead of having to look at different wikis or track back through email threads, the support team will have a wealth of up-to-date knowledge resources at their fingertips,” said Clarke.
With Ocado customers and employees already benefiting from app innovations, Clarke is now turning his attention to the retailer’s supplier community. In addition to selling more than 47,000 different items from major brands, Ocado offers hundreds of its own label products — from fruit and fish to dips and dairy. These products are sourced from more than 200 suppliers. “For every product, we need to capture a wealth of metadata. Every time there’s a change to an ingredient, it needs to be approved by our buyers and food technology teams,” said Clarke.
To bring everyone on the same page, Clarke and the Ocado Technology team are developing an app on Community Cloud and Salesforce App Cloud, which will be used by both suppliers and the retailer’s in-house team.
Ocado Technology builds apps on App Cloud using Visualforce and ‘drag-and-drop’ Lightning App Builder tools to help make ideas like the supplier community become a reality. “With Salesforce, we get the best of both worlds; we can use simple or sophisticated development techniques,” said Clarke. “The reporting, permissioning, security, and APIs that come out of the box mean we don't have to start from scratch every time.”
To make sure business analysts make the most of these and other Salesforce features, Clarke is planning to have them use Trailhead, which provides guided learning via interactive online tutorials. “With Trailhead, people will be inspired to learn and play with the Salesforce platform. It will help us onboard new analysts faster,” said Clarke.
As the £1 billion retailer builds more internal apps, user feedback and analytics will become increasingly important. “For us, the story doesn't stop with deployment,” said Clarke. “We want to create a living app ecosystem that is constantly improving. We want users to be able to provide feedback, suggest ideas, and feel engaged in the ongoing development process.”
Clarke wants to extend this collaborative approach to the retail customers of the Ocado Smart Platform. Processes, such as expenses and project management, are common to all retailers. By making its internal apps freely available on a portal powered by App Cloud, Ocado will be able to help other companies address common pain points. “With Salesforce,” he said, “we can turn our ideas for internal apps into reality for our people a lot faster.”