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Searchlight’s Innovation Hub with Central England Co-operative

Central England Co-operative is one of the largest independent retailers in the UK,  operating 260 convenience stores, 125 funeral directors and other specialist outlets, all together generating an annual revenue of approximately £820 million.

In recent years, many retail organisations have been looking to seed innovation accelerators into their businesses with the aim of embedding “digital thinking and culture” into their teams. For example, John Lewis last year ran its fifth annual JLab programme, showing the success and longevity of these types of initiatives.

With this in mind, when the Society refreshed their business strategy, a decision was made to prioritise investment in digital learning – what digital means for the business and what it means for the convenience retailer.

With the likes of Amazon entering the convenience grocery space, and the continued success of online “pure players” like Ocado, it was important that the society reaped the benefits of their existing customer insight and bricks and mortar model, whilst capitalising on digital technology to make things as convenient as possible for the consumer.

The first priority for John Armstrong (Head of IT at Central England Co-operative) was to explore how technology could be used to boost membership services, customer engagement and internal operations.

The solution

Armstrong started by building a Think:digital team made up of a Store Manager, IT Architect and a Digital Capability Builder. By bringing together a team across different disciplines with a variety of skills, the model allowed for agile ways of working and enabled tangible ideas to be brought to life quickly.

It was at this point that the Think:digital team recruited members from Searchlight Consulting and Birmingham City University.  By partnering with the University, not only could they create a space outside of the society’s normal offices, it also gave access to valuable academic research and a pool of student talent that they could tap into when required.

Searchlight’s role

Searchlight brought their practical and extensive consulting skills, offering guidance based on experience from working with other leading UK retailers and large organisations. They helped to implement innovation management practices, agile ways of working; provided advice and coaching on how to build digital capabilities, what structure to operate in, and how to transfer this culture back into all areas of the business.

“Searchlight have been central to the success of this initiative, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge. Not only do their skills lie in building digital and IT capabilities, but methods of innovation and ways of working to help implement this culture back into the wider Society” John Armstrong, Head of Information Technology

The benefits

Improved customer experience – with the Think:digital team working so closely with customers, they were able to perform testing with real people and implement technologies straight into the market place.

Talent development – working in cross-functional teams presented opportunities to transfer and develop new skills that employees could take back into the business.

Improved business culture – By implementing some of these agile methodologies back into the wider society, they were able to encourage the core organisation to adopt these new ways of working on a regular basis.

Treating IT as a value platform – technology is often seen as a cost function within businesses, however by adopting this initiative the society have been able to clearly show the value that digital brings.

Diluting risks – By working in small teams and using start-up business approaches they diluted the risks to the society and were able to learn quickly and implement the successful wins back into the business.

If you would like to learn more about Searchlight’s innovation hub offering, please get in touch.

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How can you adopt innovation?

Innovation isn’t just for large organisations, nor just for small start-ups – it’s for everyone.

By implementing innovation management and more agile ways of working, you can take the risk away from your business whilst reaping the benefits of improved digital adoption, upskilling, better business culture and greater customer satisfaction.

Bryan OakSearchlight’s Innovation Hub with Central England Co-operative