Access to the right digital skills is a major challenge for Pret A Manger's IT department, forcing it to harness third-party cloud platforms to bypass the UK's skills gap, the company's tech head has said.
Andy Chalklin, director of IT at the retailer, told V3 in an interview at the ServiceNow 2014 NowForum that sourcing the right skills is "probably my number one challenge".
He explained that people with high levels of coding skills would not really consider a retail company as the most obvious place to put their abilities to the test.
"If you are hell-bent on pursuing a coding career - coding and that kind of area, or infrastructure and data centres - retail is probably not the industry you're thinking of," he said.
"We do have challenges around getting good developers. It's those niche high value ones that you can't get hold of."
However, Chalklin believes that moving away from complex software systems and adopting third-party cloud services helps to mitigate the challenges of the skills gap.
Explaining how some companies are moving away from costly IT infrastructure, Chalklin said: "I think what's happening is you're getting more stratification of IT between start ups, SMBs and large enterprises, and I think you're going to find a move away from those large ERP applications and platforms because of the skills gap challenges.
"Why do we want to have to be coding all of this stuff ourselves? There are companies who can do it - that's all they do and it's very simple.
"So the cloud is providing us with a lot of opportunities to remove ourselves from the deep intricacies. We are providing data integration and design, not hard coding.
"If it is Pret specific we need it in-house, if it's not maybe we can use a third-party supplier. I can't see significant, massive development teams in retail departments - they will be using third parties."
While sourcing skilled IT staff might be a challenge for Pret, Chalklin thinks the company can offer a different experience to working for major IT companies, such as Salesforce and Oracle.
"If you're interested in business, interested in how computers interact with people, and what computers are good at and how they can change the environment that you work in, then we are an excellent place to do that," Chalklin said.
"As a food and beverage company, we are at the very edge of performance in terms of how fast our tills need to get, how fast our solutions need to be.
"We are not a Louis Vuitton doing one transaction an hour for a million pounds, were doing hundreds of thousands of transactions from £2.50."
Detailing how retail IT needs a consumer-focused approach to deliver clean and simple services to be used by store staff, Chalklin believes that raw digital skills are not the sole requirement for someone looking to work for Pret's IT department.
"It's about having the right personality, the inquiring mind, the agile mind that makes you want to go and work in our shop and see what it's like and come back with some good ideas. We want people who are passionate about [IT] being good for our shops to use," he concluded.
At the NowForum conference, V3 also discussed Pret's approach to IT with Chalklin detailing the retailer's use of analytics and its future position on contactless payments.
For more information on the cloud, visit the Intel IT Center.
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