How do you harness innovation effectively? In a large organisation there will always be operational priorities, but there also needs to be space for creativity and experimentation. It’s a challenge to support new ideas in a way that enables innovation without wasting resource.
For River Island, establishing a Proof of Concept (PoC) team has played a major part in answering this conundrum. Good suggestions can come from anywhere, so anyone in the workforce can come forward with a bright idea that could lead to improvements. While other major retailers may have innovation teams, we pride ourselves on making ours decentralised.
How does it work?
A proposal for a PoC project can come from anyone in the organisation. Very often, it’s an idea for applying a technology in a way that is aligned to a business strategy – essentially solving a problem that the employee has encountered during their work.
Ideas are put forward to the PoC team then, when a proposal is accepted, it’s developed with guidance and support from a team consisting of budget managers, business analysts – whoever is needed for that particular project.
The really refreshing thing about this way of working is that it’s a standalone entity that is developed rapidly, without the need for lengthy implementation.
Taking visual search into the back office
Let’s take visual search as an example. Big news in retail right now, it’s usually used to help customers find items rather than making retail operations more efficient. But we wanted to change that and developed a PoC project that applied the technology to images of our products, saving our colleagues the painstaking activity of manually labelling each one.
The automated process cuts down the time taken to attribute images, with a simple validation performed by a human to check for errors. It’s been a real asset to make this process more efficient and it’s made a big impact on our back office teams.
Who’s working when?
Another recent PoC project looked at our scheduling system for store workers. The system relies heavily on manual input and we wanted to make this more efficient from an employee perspective, by enabling staff to use text and an app to interact with the system.
Working closely with the business manager and the IT team, we’ve produced a concept that should bring about major improvements.
Why democracy matters
If you keep doing things the same way, you’ll get the same result. Creativity is about mixing things up and taking calculated risks. It’s also about taking the time to consider fresh perspectives, which is why River Island prides itself on being a democratic, non-hierarchical organisation.
We currently have six active Proof of Concept projects running across all areas of the organisation, from retail, marketing and supply chain to infrastructure and operations. The projects are not limited by existing tech infrastructure, so there really is a blank canvas to try things out and find new ways to solve problems.
Does your current organisation prize innovation this highly? If your great ideas keep falling on deaf ears, we’d love to hear them. Check out our current roles to see where you’d fit in.