AS Watson Group, the international health and beauty retail conglomerate that owns UK companies Superdrug, Savers and The Perfume Shop, has unveiled its first ever Technology Partnership Programme.

The aim of the initiative is to leverage a network of technology expert partners to support the acceleration of the group’s digital transformation. The move has been made as part of a strategy to develop long-term supplier partnerships, which the organisation feels can have stronger benefits than traditional retailer-vendor relationships.

AS Watson group chief operating officer, Malina Ngai, said: “We believe every technology partner whom we have chosen to work with is more than just a vendor.

“Traditional client-vendor relationship is short-term. There is lack of transparency and continuity in the way we work with each other. Besides, project base contract makes it difficult for their resource planning.”

The first batch of tech partners chosen by AS Watson cover eCommerce, store systems, data science, artificial intelligence, and data visualisation, and services. But the group will continue to identify additional companies in other fields to join the programme in due course.

Companies involved in the initial wave are Microsoft, EPAM, Ovolab, Rubikloud, Mtel and UST Global.

Ngai added: “The partnership programme is designed to transform the short-term contractual relationship to a longer term strategic relationship to create a win-win for both parties.

“Our tech partners will have access to senior management, visibility on our growth strategy and technology roadmap, as well as a longer term financial commitment from us. We can benefit from their commitment in providing consistent resources, expert advice and services, as well as first hand access to innovation they develop.”

AS Watson says it started its digital transformation journey in 2011 when it introduced its first dedicated customer strategy. Investment then was focused on CRM, eCommerce and mobile experience, and totalled $70 million.

More recently, the group established its eLab in-house digital agency, focusing on supporting all operating businesses to develop eCommerce and digital marketing. Earlier this year, the company started a $70 million project in big data, as part of a plan to build new capabilities in analytics and machine learning.