The John Lewis Partnership is rolling out Google Apps to some 60,000 staff across the UK in both the John Lewis department stores group and the Waitrose supermarket chain.
John Lewis and Waitrose are at different stages of implementation of the cloud-based applications, according to Google, which revealed the deal today at its Atmosphere 14 event at its UK head offices in London.
The aim of the rollout is to improve collaboration across the company, particularly via the Google Hangout video conferencing tool, which will enable staff to talk directly with each other across the organisation.
The Partnership is also using email, calendaring and basic office applications in Google Apps, which will be hosted in Google's cloud in accordance with EU data protection rules. The apps will be accessible anywhere in the world over the internet so that a buyer in China, for example, could access the same apps that they would use when in their office in the UK.
Ultimately, the rollout will enable John Lewis Partnership to have staff working with customers on the shop floor using tablet computers to check stock availability and delivery times, rather than having to work from static PC terminals.
Google Apps has already been rolled out at fashion retailer All Saints, which signed its deal with Google on 31 December and completed its implementation in March. Shop floor sales staff now have Google Nexus 7 tablet computers, with which they can communicate with back-end systems. Managers and staff, meanwhile, can video conference directly with other staff any time during working hours using Google Hangouts.
The John Lewis/Waitrose rollout will be completed within weeks.
"Traditionally, retail operational and procedural information has been in a paper-based format. This is difficult to access when partners are on the shop floor," said John Lewis CIO Paul Coby.
"We rolled out Google Apps for the Retail Support platform to 30,000 employees in just six weeks, enabling them to access and manage information on the go, in real time and on any device. It gives us access to the sort of functionality we have at home," he added, alluding to the better quality computing experience that people typically have from personal computing devices compared to office IT.
Waitrose chief information officer Cheryl Millington said that part of the aim was to drive a transformation of the company's culture: "We want technology that isn't just about the technology, but that we can use to transform the culture as well. We wanted something that provided the basics and allowed us to collaborate and innovate together."
She added: "It's about sharing knowledge and information in a modern and innovative way that helps people communicate wherever they are."