Retail technology view from the top: Citrix's Jacqueline de Rojas

As new systems and digital capability continue to evolve the way retailers run their businesses, Essential Retail is gauging the views of technology's main figureheads, via a series of exclusive interviews. This week, it's Citrix's area VP & general manager for northern Europe, and techUK board member, Jacqueline de Rojas.

Technology industry body techUK suggested this week that UK chancellor George Osborne's emergency Budget, announced on Wednesday, did not overtly focus on the major issues surrounding the nation's technology sector growth or digital development.

Reflecting on the speech, the organisation said that investment in the digital agenda and adoption of technology will be fundamental to tackling the UK's productivity challenge. It said the chancellor needs to put the concept of smart cities and the Internet of Things at the heart of his vision for devolution and securing the country's long-term economic future.

Osborne unveiled a levy on large UK businesses to provide more apprenticeships, and these plans were welcomed by techUK, although it urged the government to work closely with industry when creating these schemes to ensure young people are trained for the jobs of the future.

With retailers increasingly recognising there is a tech skills gap and often a small pool of talent from which to find staff to drive their businesses forward in the digital era, Jacqueline de Rojas, area VP for tech firm Citrix and deputy president of techUK, told Essential Retail there are a number of ways some of these shortfalls can be addressed.

"Businesses need to change their language in terms of talking about technology, and I think the government needs to help by potentially creating smart partnerships where tech businesses put smart tech people in schools to allow them to keep pace with technology," she explained, ahead of Wednesday's Budget announcement.

"Teachers will find it hard to keep pace unless they have people from business helping them get ahead. I'd love to see a government initiative where, in partnership with business, we offer free training, perhaps to women returners so they can get their heads back into the business."

De Rojas, who also sits on the Home Retail Group board as a non-executive, suggests the workforce would also benefit from greater diversity – and by diversity, she means a more even gender balance, regional inclusion and initiatives to engage the older generations.

The technology exec believes that small measures taken by businesses and government alike can have far-reaching and positive consequences. On the gender balance debate, she cites changing the language used in job descriptions and getting more senior female business leaders "to send the elevator back down" and blaze a trail for other women.

"Sometimes we've had it so tough getting to where we are, so there is a responsibility to reach out and say it doesn't have to be this hard and there needs to be a level of personal intervention – it all starts with individual actions.

"Tech apprenticeships could be rebranded tech internships so they are not quite so directed at young men in overalls. I'm not sure if it's really big changes all the time, we can do a lot with the small stuff too and it can make a difference."

As part of the leadership team at Citrix, a software company that provides desktop virtualisation among a range of other services, de Rojas talks with a clear agenda when she suggests flexible working processes can lead to enhanced productivity, but some of today's largest and most profitable businesses across the globe are making real progress operating with less traditional policies in relation to their employees' working days.

Online luxury fashion business Net-a-Porter is an example within the retail space of a company that operates a bring-your-own-device strategy, which naturally lends itself to encouraging staff to work in a more mobile manner and to take personal responsibility for their output. Michael Gooch, global desktop architect at Net-a-Porter, explained to delegates at this year's RBTE in London how the proliferation of mobile devices and tablets across the retail space is providing an engaging customer experience and empowering productivity in the workforce.

Moving away from a rigid, office-based working mentality has been proved to motivate staff, according to multiple surveys conducted over the last decade. And de Rojas is a strong advocate of this approach and sees multiple benefits.

"Technology makes flexible working much more of a possibility, which means we can be more productive as a nation if we change our cultural DNA to flexible working rather than a 'you are only working if I can see you' mentality," she said.

"You've got to move away from 9-5 mentality. We've all got devices when we're always on – the world has changed and employers need to be less prescriptive around work being a place and think about 'work as where you are'. That leadership at the top would result in enhanced productivity, pretty quickly."

She added: "We've been banging on about bring your own device for a long time; it's time to execute it and really make it the norm, versus the struggling exception. We also need to think about how we do that securely."

The Citrix boss's comments are aimed at the wider corporate world – not specifically at retail – and when it comes to implementing changes in culture within individual businesses, she admits that digital native companies such as Alibaba and Net-a-Porter have an advantage over more traditional retailers and financial institutions.

"Net-a-Porter is new retail, it hasn't got that legacy systems baggage," she explained.

"It's harder for businesses that have been there for much longer to suddenly turn around and be amazing in this [digital] space. That doesn't mean to say they can't make strides because small changes have the biggest of impacts.

"You have to make impact in two areas: the employee experience and the end-customer experience. They are both joined at the hip. If you do one think internally you're likely to be able to do that externally because it's an infrastructure piece."

De Rojas says that diversity within organisations can stimulate creativity, while companies that continue to employ the same type of people and continue to operate in the way they have always done could be heading for "disaster faster".

Although Osborne's speech earlier this week did not mention the government's plans surrounding the roll-out of superfast broadband across the UK, there is a move being led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure the service is brought to 95% of the UK's population by 2017. There are a plethora of social and economic benefits that could result from this strategy, but the new Conservative government arguably missed a trick to reinforce those plans this week.

TechUK said the forthcoming 'Productivity Plan', led by Lord O'Neill, will provide a chance to address how technology can be used to drive economic success in the UK. And the inclusion piece holds huge potential, according to de Rojas.

"There are a lot of people in rural areas where if we had superfast broadband we could be digitally inclusive," she noted.

"We focus a lot on city life – we focus on Northern Powerhouse, London, Birmingham Cambridge – but there are a lot of people who could be really contributing to the digital vertical which might enable the UK to become a global country and punch above its weight as a digital industry and a hub for investment in this space. But we need to be firing on all cylinders for that to happen."

Jacqueline de Rojas was this week named Most Influential Women in UK IT 2015, at the Computer Weekly Awards.

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