Richard Lloyd-Williams has worked at Net-a-Porter for six years and has served as group IT director since 2011 with the overriding aim, he says, to harness new technologies to keep “the world’s premier online luxury fashion destination” ahead of the competition.
On taking over the firm’s IT team, Lloyd-Williams says his first priority was to ensure that his staff had the right tools.
“The developers have a choice about what they’re productive on and we won’t force them down any route. But we see more and more developers moving onto MacBooks because they want a laptop and Macs being Unix based means they can do everything they need on those,” Lloyd-Williams tells Computing, adding that the portability of a laptop enables IT to better engage with other departments.
“That’s more of a convenience thing because they’re walking around the office talking to people. In IT generally you were shackled to your large desktop computer because it was the only one with enough power to do your work, whereas now we’re up and about more and talking to the business,” he says.
Mobility is a key focus for Net-a-Porter across all three of its brands – Net-a-Porter, The Outnet and Mr Porter – with 23 developers working on 12 different mobile apps. Lloyd-Williams believes it’s only a matter of time before sales via smartphones and tablets surpass those made using desktop and laptop computers.
“All three of our websites are optimised for mobile and they’ve all got apps,” he says. “Having an app gives you a different share of the space on their phone and can you do more things with an app, but there’s room for both.
“We think that the apps are crucial to sales growth, and it’s just a case of when it’s going to be more than half of our traffic.”
Internally, BlackBerry phones – the older BB7 models – form much of the Net-a-Porter mobile device estate, and while Lloyd-Williams believes the “jury’s out” on BB10, iPhones and Android are increasingly being used, with security ensured by the use of enterprise security software.
“We still have a large estate of BlackBerries but we’ve used Good for Enterprise to securely get work email on iOS and Android devices, so for that there is a certain amount of BYOD. For us it was always about the security and making sure that we could do BYOD in a safe manner,” he says, adding that in future he sees staff using a more varied range of devices.
“We’re continually looking at what we can provide for people and in future it may be less an issue about the device and more one about the data packages, so I can see more choice coming in future.”
Net-a-Porter has huge followings on social media, with over one million Facebook likes and more than 500,000 followers on Twitter. Its rise in popularity has seen the IT department expand to almost 10 times its 2007 headcount. Despite this growth, Lloyd-Williams has ensured that his department still operates as a tight unit.
“We’re currently at 274 staff in IT and are still growing rapidly... [but we want to] retain that small team feel, focus and nimbleness,” he says. To that end, IT staff are regularly formed into small teams and embedded with other parts of the organisation.
“What’ve we done at the moment is line our teams around the business... otherwise [the size of the IT department] will reduce flexibility and the ability to deliver quickly. I’ve got a constant eye on trying to ensure that the teams can do their job,” he says.