Sainsbury’s hackathon showcases digital lab to improve customer services

Sainsbury’s digital lab hackathon brings together the IT team and staff from the wider organisation to generate ideas to improve customer services

In September 2015 Sainsbury’s digital lab hosted a hackathon, where the scene was set by the food commercial director Paul Mills-Hicks virtually roaming around the room, remotely using videoconferencing software on an iPad attached to a Segway.

Sainsbury's digital lab was developed earlier in 2015 to house 180 developers and designers to work on technology for in-store and online use.

The hackathon was designed to bring together the technology teams and the wider organisation.

Employees across the company submitted ideas for systems that would fix a problem or improve customer-facing services.

Jon Rudoe, digital and technology director for Sainsbury’s said: “It’s an example of a real change and transformation of how we make technology.”

Sainsbury's employees joined teams to help developers and designers build systems, an activity designed to bring IT “to the rest of the organisation”.

“Often we think IT is just the team down the corridor that nobody every goes to visit,” said Rudoe.

“This is a change to create something new and diverse.”

Teams included a mix of developers and user-interface designers developing digital products for the Sainsbury’s brand.

Rudoe said products made during the hackathon might not necessarily be implemented, but the event was designed to drive transformational thinking in staff.

Digital lab

The digital lab is home to the in-house teams that work on customer-facing technologies such as iterations to the website and applications development. It is a hot-desk office designed to allow a more flexible and creative way of working.

Charlotte Briscall, head of digital experience at Sainsbury’s, explained how the design was based around the need to implement a more agile way of working, which requires collaboration.

“Sainsbury’s was very traditional,” she explained. “We needed to create a space where everyone could be co-located.”

Rudoe and Briscall said the office was intended to act as a stepping stone towards transforming a traditional company into a digital and creative firm.

“It was all about creating a flexible space for people to work how they wanted,” said Briscall.

“It’s about bringing the new and the old together.”

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Can someone tell me why the hell a supermarket needs to be a "digital and creative firm" - shouldn't Sainsburys be concentrating on their core offerings of fresh, decently priced food rather than the dross they're offering at the moment. It's no suprise that Aldi and Lidl are doing so well if the IT department have got their head digital and creative firm so badly wrong - who cares about the "digital experience" when the end product is so very poor.
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