July 28, 2016 | Written by: Mike Leaver
Categorized: Cloud | Mobile | Retail
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The day IBM announced MobileFirst for iOS
The morning I heard about the IBM and Apple partnership, I was sitting in my office with my colleague Richard Thomas. It started us talking about what the news would mean, and we thought about our client at Boots UK.
Boots UK has over 2,500 stores across the UK — some are small local pharmacies and some are massive health and beauty flagship stores. It’s a big company with lots of opportunities. Our client at Boots UK is also a big Apple enthusiast. So, we gathered some information about the benefits for the first MobileFirst clients, and we set up a meeting.
The allure: People love the taste of Apple
At the time, a lot of businesses were looking at how iPads could make their staff more versatile and efficient. People liked using iPads. They liked the interface and it was easy to use. But the iPads needed better enterprise apps.
IBM was looking for companies to be the first clients for our MobileFirst iOS enterprise apps. So, we told our colleagues at Boots UK about the benefits — the business would receive free app licenses and the opportunity to provide critical feedback as we developed our offerings. It was a chance for the company to provide input, and get really valuable applications for a fraction of the usual cost.
As it turns out, Boots UK was already buying iPads for use in some of its locations. So this idea was perfectly timed to help them get the most out of the investment.
The approach: A new twist on an old task
We identified that Boots UK could be a pioneering client for our Sales Assist app. Boots UK had an existing system that allowed customers to order any product online from any store location by asking the Boots colleague to look it up using software on the cash till at the front of the store. This capability helps Boots ensure that no customer goes home disappointed. It also means that any store can have the products of a flagship store with its market-leading next-day Order and Collect offering.
But the system didn’t offer any pictures, it was slow, and, as you can imagine, it could cause delays in a busy store. So, Boots loved the idea of a tablet-based interface where company colleagues and customers could quickly see and select exactly the right product for next-day delivery. Boots UK was ready to help us create and pioneer the new iOS app.
But the tricky bit about being a pioneer is that you have to sort out all the details.
The beauty of building on Bluemix
With a large client, you often find that the business teams are in a very different environment from the IT teams. They have different goals and priorities, which make it tricky to meet the client’s needs. But we were really pleased at how well the Boots UK business and IT teams worked together with us.
Our next advantage was that we developed our prototype system on a Bluemix cloud platform. By doing that, we were free to update, configure and test the product without having to load it onto the client’s network. We also knew that it would work the same way for everyone, from any system. Boots gave us some really valuable feedback, and the prototype project was very efficient.
The benefits of in-store cognitive search
In April 2016, we piloted the Sales Assist app across several Boots UK locations and later followed this with roll out across all stores. We’ve had some brilliant feedback from stores and colleagues since then. Store associates have said that Sales Assist has not only eased looking up products, it has also shortened the amount of time spent placing orders to be picked up later (what Boots UK calls “Order and Collect”). Having launched this project, Boots UK and IBM are looking at what now lies in the future.
Read more about the launch and see videos of the app in action in the IBM press room. Find out more about how Boots Sales Assist is built on in-store expertise.