Online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter plans to double its IT team to 200 to support increased in-house product development across e-commerce and mobile platforms.
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By the end of 2011, the IT department will equate to 20% of the firm's overall workforce of 1,000 employees. The company needs a variety of specialist IT skills to fill the roles.
"We've started identifying specialist roles. A few years ago, we needed generalists but now we need people for core products or mobile apps," said James Christian, head of innovations at Net-a-Porter.
The Net-a-Porter group's consumer-facing website, warehouse system, content management system (CMS) and product inventory were all custom built in-house. The company also has an Apple iPhone app and was the first fashion company to launch a weekly magazine for the Apple iPad.
The company launched a new feature of its website today, Net-a-Porter Live, which provides real-time data on its customers buying habits. The current 100-strong IT department includes Java and Perl programme language developers, mobile iOS developers, business analysts and project managers.
Open source technologies
Christian said the use of open source and web technologies is important for the company. Net-a-Porter previously used Java Enterprise but migrated three years ago to an open source application framework, called Spring. The company also uses Java for its customer website.
Christian said the migration was essential to allow the business to grow and support new channels. He believes developing platforms and products in-house means the firm can respond to technological changes and develop products more quickly.
"We know the system inside out," said Christian. "Because the code is bespoke, we can turn new features around quickly and we've got a solid platform to build on."
Christian said the use of web technologies, such as HTML5 and CSS3, means developers will be able to more easily port existing apps to additional platforms, such as Google's Android and Blackberry OS.
"We don't feel the need to create native apps for everything we do," said Christian.
"Web browsers are getting better and web technology is what we want to support. But when native devices can give improved features, we will do it."
The company has recently restructured its development team to locate developers and project managers alongside business people for individual products.
"Due to the nature of having small teams, we need people who can talk to business owners and be concerned about the product development from the beginning to the end and care about how it looks on the site," he said.
Christian said the IT team is not just a back-office department, but works to support platforms and products core to generating business.
Christian concluded by quoting company founder Natalie Massenet, and said, "We're a technology company who does fashion."