River Island is looking to double its IT and technology team over the next couple of years to work in a new East London ‘creative hub’.

“We’re probably going to take IT [from 100] to 200, which is a huge investment,” said River Island’s CIO, Doug Gardner. “We think it’s going to take a couple of years to build that team up and we’ll be supplementing it in the short term.”

“We’re trying to move to more permanent people to get the emotional buy-in”, he added, saying River Island is offshoring and hiring freelancers to cope with the current demand on the department.

Speaking to Essential eCommerce during Oracle's Retail Industry Forum in Amsterdam last week, Gardner said finding talented people is his main worry.

“We’re all struggling to get people and no great piece of technology on earth is going to work if we don’t have a good, solid team,” he said. “What worries me is how are we going to go about hiring the right talent and retaining them?”

“But we’re very confident people will want to come and work for us,” he added.

Shoreditch technology offices

Gardner also said the retailer is opening an office in Shoreditch – the home to technologists and digital start-ups in East London. The bolstered IT and technology team will be based in this new ‘creative hub’, and Gardner said it will be used to showcase River Island’s technology in order to attract talented people to work for the fashion retailer.

But the hub will not be used exclusively by the technology and IT team, Gardner said he wants to avoid launching an office which works on technology projects in secret on the edge of the business, instead he plans to involve the entire company by rotating different teams through the offices.

“The heart of it is going to be about creativity and technology, so the front-end team and the designers, those types will be there,” he explained. “But a lot of the store projects will run out of it, we’ll bring in the retail people, the marketing teams – we want it to be a centre of energy.”

He also said the River Island IT team is going through a cultural transformation itself to become more digitally-minded.

“It’s not enough to create a great digital team, these days the digital team has to include the infrastructure and core people,” he said. “So I’m trying to get my team, which works behind the scenes and never usually interacts with a customer, excited about digital and feel very much part of the customer journey.

“Normally the systems they work on don’t affect the customer – they work on stock systems – but now the customer can see this and if it is wrong that has an impact on them. So it’s a transformation for the IT team to get to grips with the customer and get the same energy out of it.”