Tesco CIO Mike McNamara says his close working relationship with the retail giant’s marketing chief, Matt Atkinson, is key to the customer-focused IT revolution that’s sweeping the supermarket chain.
“We spend a lot of time together, to be honest,” says McNamara.
“If you go back a few years in terms of IT investment into marketing, we’ve doubled or trebled it in the last two or three years. This year we spent $750m, and focused on websites, mobile apps, digital signage, personalisation, and shopping in our digital stores,” he adds.
In terms of budget, Atkinson says that McNamara still “has a large majority” of the funding under his control, but that his own job is to work out how to spend it on “customer innovation”, insisting that the CIO “doesn’t stand in the way of creating what we want to bring”.
A new element to this “customer innovation” is the Hudl, an Android tablet that is available for just £60 when bought with Clubcard vouchers.
Atkinson says the Hudl has a “two-fold purpose”.
“One is to make something affordable and accessible for customers, and to do that at a relatively high specification, at an affordable price,” he says.
The other is to “put some of [Tesco’s] services and greatest assets on it to enable customers to do things they want to do”.
McNamara (left) describes how clicking on the small “T” in the corner of the screen opens a “native launcher” filled with widgets to serve up “useful content” – for example, the firm’s “Click and Collect” scheme, or the user’s Clubcard status.
While McNamara says that “you can remove all of it”, it’s not difficult to see what Tesco is aiming for here. It wouldn’t be unfair to describe the device as a Trojan Horse of data collection, infiltrating a user’s everyday life in a way that even the data-munching Clubcard never could.
Asked if the Hudl is just the start of a big push into the mobile computing market, McNamara replies, “Well let’s see how this one goes first. It’s a first step – let’s not get the chief executive too excited. We’ll see how we go at Christmas and go on from there.”
But both men are inspired by the possibilities of tablet technology. “The reality is, Steve Jobs did us all a huge favour,” says McNamara. “I think interfaces now are so easy. My mum’s 70-something and she does all her shopping and travel online.”
The Tesco Clubcard was introduced back in 1995 – a remarkably forward-looking idea given that at the time businesses had barely discovered the internet, let alone big data and social data mining.
McNamara says Tesco has been analysing customer data for “donkey’s years”, keeping every scrap of purchase data collected via the Clubcard, amounting to “billions of lines of code”.