CIO interview: Adam Warne, CIO, River Island

Skilled retail technologist Adam Warne made an vital transition when he grew to become CIO at excessive avenue style model River Island in October 2021.

“I’ve been in retail for 20 years now; expertise for 25 years,” he says. “However till I joined River Island, all of my expertise had been with digital pure-plays. One of many massive issues I recognised was that I had an enormous gap in my CV. I couldn’t name myself a retailer if I’d by no means coped with shops earlier than.”

Greater than 18 months later, after becoming a member of the corporate from digital retailer N Brown, Warne has had loads of alternative to get a really feel for the normal, bodily procuring expertise. River Island has 250 shops within the UK, with a variety of franchises, companions and concessions in areas across the globe, together with North America, Europe and the Center East.

“The factor that actually impressed me was how they thought of that retailer property,” says Warne. “They weren’t a retailer that was making an attempt to eliminate their tales and who noticed them as a price. They had been actually happy with their property, really – and at the moment we see our stores as a real opportunity to do something different from a customer experience perspective.”

Getting used to the tradition

When he joined River Island in late 2021, the enterprise was nonetheless coping with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, together with the best way to interview job candidates – comparable to Warne – in a socially distanced method.

“All of my interviews had been achieved on Zoom and Groups,” he says. “I requested a lot of questions concerning the tradition and the enterprise. After which on my first day, I used to be strolling into the workplace and I believed, ‘I don’t know any of those individuals. I’ve by no means met any of them in particular person’.”

Warne rapidly found he was becoming a member of a welcoming enterprise. “It’s like strolling right into a home for the primary time – you simply get a really feel. And from step one by way of the door to all my interactions 18 months later, it’s precisely as I believed,” he says.

“River Island is fast-paced, it’s attention-grabbing. We’re at all times making an attempt to do the best factor, so we’ve obtained some fairly lofty and admirable sustainability targets. The truth is, through the pandemic, we had been one of many first companies to take the choice to close – we not solely shut the shops, however we shut the distribution centre as properly, as a result of we needed to guard our colleagues.”

Warne says the character of the enterprise is straight associated to its non-public possession. Slightly than being listed on a inventory change, River Island continues to be owned by the identical household who began the model in 1948. Non-public possession drives an entrepreneurial tradition throughout the enterprise.

“We don’t must go and have actually advanced conferences with tens of various stakeholders from funding companies,” he says. “Principally, it’s the household who run the enterprise. And I believe that’s one thing uncommon within the trade. We’re retail’s best-kept secret if I’m being utterly trustworthy.”

Main from the entrance

A technologist by commerce, Warne realised at an early stage of his profession that there have been others who had been higher at coping with bits and bytes – and that his abilities lay elsewhere.

“I used to be higher at telling the tech individuals what path to move in,” says Warne, who honed his IT management expertise at “I wish to assume I’m extra strategic. However I’m from a technical background.”

At River Island, Warne’s function covers three core parts. First, he’s liable for expertise technique and ensuring any funding in IT solves enterprise issues or creates new alternatives: “That’s about making us more practical, extra environment friendly and delivering a greater buyer expertise throughout all of our channels.”

Adam Warne RiverIsland PR

“We’ve rolled out good becoming rooms and that’s distinctive within the excessive avenue – we’re doing one thing actually particular for purchasers”

Adam Warne, River Island

Warne’s second function is centred on executing the digital technique. “I’m not solely liable for expertise, however change usually within the enterprise,” he says.

His third function is about turning data into perception: “That’s all about how we are able to speed up the enterprise and make ourselves more practical by way of the wealth of information that we now have.”

River Island’s expertise group encompasses about 250 individuals, round two-thirds of whom are everlasting members of employees. The corporate hires individuals from throughout the UK and mainland Europe to maintain its time zone distinction tight.

“And we function in a hybrid manner, so we do sure ceremonies within the workplace, however very often individuals will work at home within the tech group,” he says.

Implementing the best techniques

Trying again on his time at River Island, Warne merely says “it’s been a busy 18 months”. He’s led a variety of digital transformation initiatives that embody modifications to enterprise techniques and pioneering technological innovations.

The IT group has applied Commercetools, a cloud-based platform for the digital aspect of the enterprise, and it has transitioned the warehouse administration system to Blue Yonder. “That was fairly an enormous undertaking,” says Warne.

The group has additionally overseen the implementation of the Microsoft Groups collaboration platform throughout the retail property. “That roll-out means each single one among our colleagues – whether or not a brief three-hour employee on a Saturday at Christmas or the chief govt – has the identical comms and experiences,” he says.

“You’ll be able to message anybody within the enterprise, and you may watch the entire webinars that we do round psychological well being and studying and growth. We deal with all of our retail employees as first-class residents, which once more, I believe in all fairness uncommon in retail.”

River Island is utilizing the Snowflake Retail Data Cloud to convey its data collectively and to offer a trusted platform for innovation on behalf of its prospects. The retailer has just lately been trialling Snowpark, which is a developer framework that brings native SQL, Python, Java and Scala help to Snowflake.

“Velocity, accessibility and the reliability of the outcomes that we’re seeing is vital,” says Warne. “I additionally don’t need to underplay the worth of getting insights from locations that you just may not count on. That visibility provides individuals the flexibility to have conversations about issues that they won’t have had the chance to earlier than.”

Profiting from knowledge

In terms of innovation, Warne’s group makes use of RFID sensors to help correct product monitoring throughout the provision chain and into its shops. Knowledge from these sensors – allied to the corporate’s underlying Snowflake platform – means the enterprise can do thrilling issues with the data it collects.

Every product has an RFID tag that gives a singular reference quantity that may be recognised in good altering rooms which might be geared up with interactive screens. As soon as a product is scanned, prospects can see product data on-screen within the altering rooms and can even make a request to customer support, comparable to getting the identical product in a special measurement.

“We’ve rolled out good becoming rooms and that’s distinctive within the excessive avenue – we’re doing one thing actually particular for purchasers,” says Warne, who recognises the info that comes by way of this technique additionally supplies advantages for the enterprise.

Folks throughout the organisation can achieve precious product efficiency insights, together with situations the place a product was tried on however not bought. They’ll additionally study if sure sizes are repeatedly swapped out.

By enriching its personal product data with third-party knowledge from the Snowflake Market, comparable to climate developments or footfall knowledge, River Island is constructing predictive fashions which might be powered by machine studying, and unearthing new insights. “That is the place knowledge turns into motion – and that is actually the place the worth is for us,” says Warne.

He says the retailer’s tight grip on knowledge and innovation means the IT group continues to discover extra technology-led alternatives: “We’ve been doing a little attention-grabbing issues round self-serve checkout as properly, which signifies that prospects can stroll out of a store with out the necessity to really communicate to anybody.”

On the lookout for new efficiencies

River Island is already exploring a variety of ways in which knowledge can be utilized to make the enterprise extra environment friendly and increase the vary of providers it supplies to prospects. Warne expects extra of the identical through the subsequent two years and he paints an image of a enterprise that might be utilizing every kind of rising applied sciences to enhance retail operations.

“It will likely be a enterprise the place expertise is taking the heavy lifting out of the operation and we’re way more environment friendly and efficient,” he says. “Folks can have extra time to consider what’s subsequent. What we’re not making an attempt to do is change people with expertise. We’re simply making an attempt to let our individuals have extra time to do some difficult pondering.”

“We’re not making an attempt to interchange people with expertise. We’re simply making an attempt to let our individuals have extra time to do some difficult pondering”
Adam Warne, River Island

Warne says the liberty to assume creatively is vital within the post-Covid age, particularly as many workers in every kind of sectors needed to take a “head down” method to work through the pandemic.

“Folks grew to become targeted on holding the enterprise operating and had been operationally targeted,” he says. “I believe some companies have struggled to lift their head again up and look extra in the direction of the long run.”

That forward-looking view is one thing he’s keen to ascertain at River Island, the place he expects to make use of knowledge to assist “put effectivity on steroids” through the subsequent two years. “That’s all about exploring how can we use a few of this expertise, comparable to synthetic intelligence, to unlock our proficient individuals and allow them to have extra time to do what they need to do,” he says.

Fashion is a really interesting market. Folks go to varsity to get into the trade. They don’t need to be part of a enterprise that’s all about style after which simply spend half their time keying stuff into techniques. That’s not what they’re into. So, how can we use expertise to show River Island into extra of a style enterprise and fewer of a manual-effort enterprise? That’s the important thing.”

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