'He's working with a load of geeks': Ocado gets its engineering staff's parents to describe what they do

Online grocer Ocado’s IT workforce spend so much time developing its bespoke technology, it has handed over internal app creation to its non-techy staff.

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Ocado is hiring 300 cloud infrastructure, Scala/Java development, and mobile development employees; and its using its existing workforce's parents to help spread the world.  

Ocado's recruitment video shows nine parents describing what their children do at Ocado, some stumbling over departments like ‘simulation algorithm development’ and ‘spoke software management’.

One puzzled father says: "he told me that he was going to be working with Unix. And I thought: what is he working with these big hareem slaves for?"

Online grocer Ocado’s IT workforce spend so much time developing its bespoke technology, it is handing over internal app creation to its non-techy staff, its CIO told ComputerworldUK earlier this year. 

“However fast I open developer centres or recruit engineers, given the amount of things we want to do on the frontend, customer-facing systems, there is never enough engineers left over to priorities internal tools” said Paul Clarke, Ocado’s chief technology officer told ComputerworldUK.

The firm, known by consumers for its catchy jingle advertising its delivery service for Waitrose several years ago, has around 600 developers, engineers and IT specialists in Hatfield and its two Polish development centres that are working on its 'Ocado Smart Platform'. It hopes to grow this to 1000.

The platform is a combination of Ocado's proprietary apps, website and digital channels as well as its automated warehouses. It sells groceries directly to customers, as well as offering the platform as a service for retailers who want to digitise - like Morrisons.

“We are working on two other development centres in other parts of the world. Our quantum is to open another development centre and be on the other side of 750 developers by next year - and we won’t stop there”, Clarke said.

Despite the incredible tech-based workforce, the firm realised it needed to allow analysts to build tools instead of developers like reporting, project management, expenses and onboarding tools for new joiners to ensure its internal processes were as streamlined as the services it is offering to its customers.

In February it signed up to the Salesforce1 platform, mirroring the service that it provides to its customers, but internally. It is also using the Salesforce Service Cloud for its internal help desk and to assist customers like Morrison’s with any queries it has.

An analyst, who “knew nothing about Salesforce” was able to learn the platform and create two apps from scratch within six weeks.

Following the trial, the firm is “churning out apps” and integrating with its single sign on systems and other “plumbing”.

Integrating Salesforce with the Ocado Smart Platform

Ocado is bucking the trend within enterprise IT, where firms sit on bespoke internal applications and outsource their digital applications. Using a cloud-based platform will help drive efficiency and scale as the organisation grows.

“One of the great things about our external platform is that we own every bit of source code and can horizontally optimise and integrate across whole end-to-end systems. It’s not like you bought a webshop and a forecasting system - it’s all ours and we can do smart things with it. We want to be able to stitch it together with the internal apps too.”

Clarke said that it is likely that their B2B customers, like Morrisons, may be interested in some of Ocado’s internal apps built on Salesforce1, “if they play nicely with the external platform.”

If Ocado created an app for food technicians to make sure groceries are fresh in the warehouse, for example, customers who have warehouses in other countries may want a similar app, “and we could make it available to them”, Clarke added.

The firm has 500 licenses currently, but will extend to around 2,000 more if the tool is extended outside of the technology division and into its head office.

Ocado reported an 18 percent increase in year-on-year sales, this week, which Clarke said was due to “driving great technology through our automated warehouses and service quality.”

The firm revealed that half of its orders are checked out using a mobile device and that its PayPal login, which was introduced at the end of last year, had proven popular amongst customers.

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