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IT director Jonathan Vardon keeping Boots in good health

Mark Chillingworth | April 12, 2013
In the wake of one of the worst starts to a year for the retail sector, Boots the chemist chain, remains - no pun intended - in good health. Its stores remain popular with customers, it has a presence in all the key channels, it fared better than some in the ongoing corporate tax scandal and it continues to grow as an international brand.

Unlike some High Street rivals, Boots effectively has no quiet period. Vardon explains that Christmas shopping represents the peak trading period for Boots, but thanks to our seasonal sniffles, stores are always busy - summer is good thanks to hay fever and winter is buoyed by the good old-fashioned common cold.

This year-round need for Boots' wares aids customer loyalty, a relationship backed up by the store's popular Advantage loyalty card.

"The key for me is the seamless interaction between in-store and online and is the customer connected to us. Next year we will continue to enable this and look to implement WiFi in more of our stores," he says.

Boots, like Tesco before it, is accepting that customers want to use the internet on their smartphones to research products and check prices even while they are in the stores.

"I'm looking at a framework model for our mobile strategy at present to drive convenience for customers," he says.

Boots is modernising the in-store experience too and Vardon has rolled out 9,000 contactless till terminals. The company will complete its adoption of contactless tills by the end of 2013.

As for in-house IT, Boots currently only has a very small percentage of its applications in the cloud. Of more importance to the CIO of late has been getting Boots off its aging Lotus Notes email service and on to the Microsoft 365 platform, which has enabled home and mobile access for Boots staff.

Boots is running an internal trial of its own social media tool, Talk Boots, but at present doesn't allow access to Facebook and other social sites. On bring your own device (BYOD), Boots, like many other organisations, has seen the senior leadership drive early adoption.

"I don't worry about BYOD. At the leadership level there is a plethora of devices and it's pleasing to see," says Vardon.

Vardon has been IT director for a year and sits on the executive board, but reports to the COO, Ken Murphy. The seat on the executive board seems to be more important than the reporting line.

"It's the least hierarchy-obsessed organisation I've seen. On the whole Boots is one business and IT and I can get to the decision-makers in a minute's walk," he says of the campus it operates from in Nottingham.

"We [the executive board] meet every Monday for two to three hours and we cover everything off, week to week and IT has the best seat at the table with the discussions on stores and supply chain. That shows the recognition of IT's importance and Boots has a very supportive culture for IT."

Jonathan Vardon CV

May 2012-present: IT Director, Boots


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