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09 Sep 2019

Tech Cast: The importance of tech talent

Tech Cast: The importance of tech talent

We sat down with CEO and Founder, John Roberts to discuss the importance of tech talent, from new recruits to educating those in higher positions.



Leanne Carr  0:13  
Hi, and welcome to the next edition of our Tech. Cast. I'm joined by John Roberts, Chief Exec and Founder of AO. Thanks for joining us. So firstly, what are AO doing to build their digital pipeline and talent?

John Roberts  0:29  
Well, I think that's multifaceted. So we're, in terms of building our talent, we're trying to do that through various different talent pools. So we're trying to do that through, very much through apprentices and grad programmes and to build our own and grow our own as we would call it. We're also recruiting heavily and pretty much constantly from across the whole piece, across all areas of tech. And tech is a huge area of investment for us. And, and then we're also actually trying to train up some of our senior people so that we can bridge the gap on on understanding of tech as well. So I think there's a lot of ignorance that, that sits in boardrooms around tech. So I think if we're going to get the best out of the capability of tech, then bridging that gap is really important for us as well.

Leanne Carr  1:13  
Yeah. What other gaps, do you think that there are that are the sort of biggest problems within technology?

John Roberts  1:21  
Well, I think it alludes a bit to the last point, which is that I think there's a lot of things that are talked about. You know, one of my pet subjects is around artificial intelligence and machine learning. Within all that it has, has just ginormous capability for the vast majority of businesses. But those people leading most of those retail businesses don't understand the capability. They might, they might theoretically, but technically, they don't understand. So bridging that gap. And then, and then that empowers the whole tech teams to be able to then do and realise the capability of what they build, rather than it being something in the background that everybody just talks about. And so if you want a rewarding role in tech, actually having a business that is engaged with what you do and understands the potential value that you can create, gives you a much bigger platform to be able to go and to go and realise things.

Leanne Carr  2:21  
And what do you think are the main things that AO can teach others in the sector around sort of tech and digital capabilities?

John Roberts  2:28  
Well, I think we are, you know, just looking through an AO lens we are, we're very innovative, we're very open. So with the, with the innovation labs, that we've been developing, where we're basically opening a door up to lots of different tech start-ups as well. So to work with us doesn't mean you necessarily need to work for us. So we're very interested to hear what people have got. And we're also, we pioneer from a customer backwards. So I think that we can display and represent products better online than people can in a store. So if I draw a parallel, that, you know, if I go back 20 years ago, then animated films, wouldn't have been a major thing. And animated films now, you know, front left and centre and just about everywhere. So we're going to do this, we are doing the same with product. So we've got about 70 or 80, strong multimedia team. And we're very open again, as is the AOA. So we're also doing that. So we're digitally representing and explaining products right across the range, so that we can explain tech better, we're now also doing that for other retailers. So we built our multimedia business into doing things like Nike trainers, into doing beds, into doing fish tanks and to do all sorts of various different things for other retailers. And so I think one of the things that I would advise other retailers to do is to open up to collaborate more and be less of the protectionist view that traditional retailers had.

Leanne Carr  4:05  
Why are AO getting involved with Retail Week's Tech.?

John Roberts  4:08  
I think it's a great platform to talk to this audience and to have, to have that audience to understand our business a lot better. So I think it's a very much a two way street. And we're always interested to talk to people that have got capabilities and interesting things. And as a business, we, I think, are quite misunderstood on different areas of our business that people can get involved in, as you know, talk about multimedia. Most people don't know that we've got one of the global leading multimedia platforms for explaining products. We've got great partnerships with people like Google on the machine learning and artificial intelligence. So there's loads of really exciting things that are going on across our business that we don't necessarily shout about on a day to day basis. And I think that this gives us a sort of a tech platform to share some of that with this community.

Leanne Carr  5:02  
Great. Thanks very much!