To stay competitive, businesses need to evolve both their customer offerings and their internal processes. Satisfying demand from both camps can be a massive challenge, which means internal projects often fall by the wayside. 

We talked to Paul Clarke, Chief Technology Officer at Ocado Technology, about how his team have managed to put both customer-facing and internal projects in the innovation fast lane.   

How important is technology to Ocado’s business? 

Ocado is powered by a huge Aladdin’s cave of software technology almost all of which is built in-house by my division, Ocado Technology. As the largest online grocery retailer in the world, Ocado’s mission is to change the way people shop for their groceries by providing the widest choice, best service, and highest quality at compelling prices. We do this by using technology — from artificial intelligence and robotics to mobile apps and algorithms. 

How do you keep up with the demand for constant innovation?  

For us, staying disruptive is all about acceleration rather than velocity — how to ‘get better at getting better’ or ‘how to innovate the innovation factory’. As we continue to grow fast, we need to drive efficiency, scalability, and sustainability. But you know how the saying goes, ‘the cobbler’s children have no shoes’. Like many technology companies, however fast we recruit engineers, there is an endless backlog of customer- and production-facing projects that take priority over developing new internal business applications.

What steps did you take to overcome this challenge? 

We decided we needed a development platform that would allow analysts to build internal business applications without software engineers getting involved. We also wanted to facilitate building short lifetime applications quickly and cheaply for one-off uses, like an event or a campaign. During our evaluation of Salesforce, we gave one of our analysts the challenge of learning the platform. The objective was to assess the scale of the learning curve and the functionality. From knowing nothing about Salesforce, it took him six weeks to learn Force.com from scratch and build our first three apps.

Tell us more about the apps

They span three key internal processes: expenses, project lifecycle management, and facilities management. For example, the ‘What’s Broken’ app enables Ocado employees to report issues with faulty furnishings and equipment, such as a vending machine or a carpet tile. We use the Salesforce1 Mobile App to pass issues from the What’s Broken app to our facilities management help desk, which then uses Service Cloud to track issues through to resolution. 

So, what’s next on the app agenda? 

We’re developing an app using Community Cloud and Salesforce App Cloud that will help our employees collaborate with the 200-plus suppliers responsible for manufacturing Ocado’s own label products. We need to capture a wealth of metadata on every product; if there’s a change to an ingredient, it needs to be approved by our teams. The new app will make this process much easier. 

How do you see your use of internal apps evolving? 

Firstly, we want to create a living app ecosystem that is constantly improving, with users providing feedback, suggesting ideas, and feeling engaged in the development process. Secondly, we are building the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) to provide large bricks and mortar grocery retailers with a shortcut to moving online. We want our OSP customers to also benefit from our internal app innovations. So by making our internal apps freely available on a portal powered by App Cloud, we’ll be able to help these companies address common pain points.

How has Salesforce helped simplify and accelerate the innovation process for Ocado? 

With Salesforce, we get the best of both worlds; we can use simple or sophisticated development techniques. The reporting, permissioning, security, and APIs that come out of the box mean we don't have to start from scratch every time. As a result, we can turn our ideas for internal apps into reality for our people a lot faster. We’re constantly pushing the limits of what technology can do. It is not enough to move fast. We need to keep accelerating.

By empowering more people to get involved in developing internal apps, Clarke and his team can continue to focus on what they do best: disrupting the retail sector and enriching the customer experience. To find out more about how Ocado is pushing the innovation envelope with Salesforce, read the full success story here

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