Boots unveils new director of innovation

UK health and beauty retailer Boots has appointed a director of innovation as part of its transformation team.

Rich Corbridge officially started life in the newly established role this week, which involves driving the development, testing and launch of new business models, as well as supporting the evolution of high-street digital healthcare.

Corbridge brings with him several years of experience in leadership roles within healthcare. He has joined Boots after 19 months as chief digital & information officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, but before that he held roles as CIO of the Health Service Executive, CEO of eHealth Ireland, as well as holding multiple industry board advisory positions.

Natalie Berg, retail analyst and founder of the NBK Retail consultancy, said: “When we hear the phrase ‘digital transformation’, we immediately think of all the technologies that are enhancing the shopping experience – artificial intelligence, augmented reality, beacon, etc.

“But digital transformation also means a seismic shift which will see the creation of new roles such as Corbridge’s, allowing retailers the freedom to innovate and challenge the status quo. In today’s world, it’s agility – not scale – that will separate the winners and losers.”

Indeed, Corbridge’s appointment comes at a time of much technological change at Boots, which recently announced a seven-year deal with Microsoft that will involve the development of digital solutions and support wider digital innovations in the provision of healthcare in the UK – and globally as part of the wider Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Boots will migrate the majority of its IT infrastructure onto the Microsoft Azure cloud-based architecture, which the two businesses have said will lead to transformational platforms across Boots’ retail, pharmacy and business services.

Innovation centres are expected to open worldwide as part of the two companies' research and development work, with “digital health corners” mooted for Boots stores.

High-street players such as Boots and Co-op have been looking to develop their digital pharmacy presence in recent months alongside investigating ways to better connect individuals’ healthcare data, partly with the aim of taking pressure off the NHS but also, predominantly, due to the commercial growth opportunity.

Earlier this year, Boots bought digital healthcare firm Wiggly-Amps – a company that has developed a tool enabling patients and GPs to manage their prescriptions online. Last year, Co-op acquired online prescription platform Dimec and its founding team to fast-track its move into digital pharmacy.

The Co-op Health app, which is based on the Dimec technology and will allow people to pair directly with their GP surgeries and manage their own repeat prescriptions, is set for launch in the coming weeks.