Thursday, 28 April 2011

Wow! Nominated for Greatest Contribution to New Media!

You know, just when you think that work couldn't get any more, well frankly exciting - along comes something that blows me away completely,

New Media Age have just nominated me, along with five other worthy individuals, for their "Greatest Individual Contribution to New Media" category at this year’s NMA Effectiveness Awards 2011.

According to NMA's announcement, "Nick Lansley, head of research and development on, is nominated for helping to push mobile to the core of the retail giant’s offering".

Now I must point out to you - as I have pointed out to NMA - that a core group of people have walked along besides - and in front of - me in "helping to push mobile". However NMA pointed out that only one name could go in for each nomination, and that the name concerned represented that group in public as far as they are concerned.

So, dear reader, if you think that our merry group of mobile creatives here at deserve recognition fot all the hard work making mobile 'real' for customers, then what you need to do is text "NMA2" to 82100 before 5.30pm on 6 May.  Messages will be charged at your standard network tariff.

What's that? You want to see all the nominees before you make your decision? Well of course: Click this link and you can see the shortlist, along with the "NMA number" to text if you prefer them...! By the way don't be put off by the rather smug look on my face in the photo shown on that page - that was taken for a completely different reason - instead imagine me with a surprised/delighted look instead!

Best of luck to all nominees - and, on behalf of our merry mobile team at, thank you NMA for nominating us for the 'greatest contribution' category. That is praise in itself.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

VACANCY! Come and join the mobile team at

If you love what we, at, have created with our mobile apps (and think we could 'do better' of course!), it's time you came and joined the team at HQ in Welwyn Garden City.

Yes we have an amazing vacancy for a 'Mobile Product Owner' who will help shape our mobile/device offerings going forwards. It's an amazing chance to be in at the heart of what we do at

To quote the description, your job will be "To create and manage the mobile backlogs for Android Groceries app, iPhone Groceries app, iPad Recipes app and future applications. Work with the IT development teams to plan and implement releases across the products. Support the Product Owner and contribute to the wider mobile project stream.".

Is that you? Oh that's fantastic - click this link to read more about the role - and apply.

If our interviewing team think you have what it takes to enable us to be first for customers in the mobile space, I'll see you in our state-of-the-art HQ building in a few weeks time.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Buy the right to watch the movie and NOT worry about the format

Tesco has just taken a majority stake in local video-on-demand service BlinkBox with an 80% stake in that business.

Blinkbox is the UK's leading movie streaming service, offering thousands of titles streamed on the internet to 2m users each month. Their catalogue of more than 9,000 titles is available to rent or buy, alongside a host of free-to-view movies, TV shows and trailers, on PC, Mac, PS3 console, tablet devices and internet-enabled connected TVs.

Tesco has bought an 80% stake in Blinkbox from Eden Ventures and Nordic Venture Partners.

Richard Brasher, Tesco UK CEO said, "Whether customers want to own the DVD, download a digital movie, stream a rental or all three, Tesco is committed to giving customers choice. We want to allow them to decide how they access entertainment content and on which devices, whether it’s on PC, TV or tablet. The acquisition of blinkbox, together with a range of other services currently in development, means we can link physical purchase of a product to the building of digital collections in a new and seamless way. Working with the blinkbox team and our content partners, we will bring these compelling propositions to life for our customers."

So what's the deal? As a customer, traditionally you buy a DVD and the reality is that you have really only bought the right to watch the movie on that DVD. If it gets damaged or lost, then no more viewing of that movie is available. The right to watch the movie is tied to the continued good condition of the medium and format on which it is embedded. Another example: the loss and non-replacement of my VHS machine means that I have lost the ability to play my old and substantial VHS movie collection.

Using this service Tesco can “link together” the physical purchase of films and entertainment with digital technology to create a multichannel entertainment offer. That means that when you buy a movie, you buy the right to watch it in any format and device covered by Blinkbox technology, not just on the physical DVD.  In future there might be a lo-res version for your mobile phone, standard definition for an average TV, and an HD version for your high-bandwidth broadband and HD TV.

I should point out that this is a long-term aim. The team set up to run the service will need to walk before they can run - and at each step offer a really good service for customers. Nobody at Tesco is going to rush into this without geting every stage of this journey working perfectly. Deep breaths, dear reader, this journey to Utopia will take time!

The Blinkbox technology exists today on Sony PlayStation/3 consoles (I use mine far more for watching content than playing games) and also on Samsung's Internet@TV service which is available as soon as you plug in an ethernet cable or wifi dongle into the back of the TV.

I've been a 'technical consult' on this project working with the business development team, which looked into the possibility of on-demand media for customers last year as a way of augmenting DVD sales. That's the real reason I ended up at CES Las Vegas last year. My role was to see how we could make this work technically from end-to-end. Buying into Blinkbox with their massive media library of more than 9,000 movies and proven delivery technology makes this somewhat easier.

So in future you buy the right to watch the movie, and no longer get tied to the format or medium on which that movie gets to your screen. Exciting stuff!

Further reading:
Tesco Press release:

Media coverage examples:

Monday, 18 April 2011

My London 2012 Olympic Games Maker Tech interview

Image: Sign pointing the way to the Games Maker Selction Event
Click on any image in this article for a much bigger version and, where applicable, read some of the detailed text on the boards shown in the photo. You can re-use any of these pictures without permission as long as you credit them to my name and this blog.

Yesterday (Sunday 17 April) I arrived to attend my scheduled interview to become one of the many thousands of Games Makers who will turn the London 2012 Olympics "from a good Games to a great Games" according to Lord (Sebastian) Coe.

The interview day had a technology twist to it, as everyone who attended yesterday had been invited because of IT skills and experience. So, at 11:30am I arrived at the LOCOG's special interviewing centre set up in the ExCel conference center in east London's Victoria Dock.

Image: Check-in area inside the Games Maker hall, showing "Your Route" to registration, exhibition, cinema and interview areas 

I arrived at the 'Check-in' where my name was checked on a list, then offered a blue wristband, thereby joining the 'blue interviewees' team. We then sat on some London 2012 Olympic logo-shaped couches while eating handfuls of Cadbury's chocolate from nearby bowls, and awaited registration.

A very jolly lady (considering she was inside working on a sunny Sunday morning) looked at my registered identity, checked my driving licence and passport to confirm I was who I said I was, then took a photo of me using a webcam. She then told me to "enjoy the experience!".

The "experience" consisted of a 20 minute wait for the 'cinema' as indicated on a countdown screen, and the use of that time to talk to a Games Maker Technical Expert who described the various technical roles available to us.

The 20-odd roles were mostly about entering data or maintaining data flows between buildings and the various Olympic teams. For example I could be watching a tennis match and press the appropriate button whenever an event took place, such as "deuce". Yes, a button marked "deuce" would have to be pressed there and then, thus building up stats about the game. I could do that!

I could also certainly do the "print run" which consisted of anything from running with printed results from one building / team / organisation to another, through to keeping the printers going. Maybe I would have to look after laser printers 20-39 in a series, keep them filled with A4, tend to paper jams and refill them with replacement ink cartridges as needed. I did wonder what paper was doing in the electronic age but it was pointed out that it was a backup to the electronic means in case electronic communications stuttered or broke for a while. Made sense I suppose!

Image: "Our vision" presentation unit with messages and a video showing just how nice hosting the Olympic Games is going to be for everyone. 

Surrounding us in our wait for the cinema were presentation units showing a mix of video, audio and text about "our vision" and "our heritage" which contained inspirational messages about the games and the roles of Games Makers turning good into Great!

Image: The Games Maker presentation unit, inviting attendees to write an inspirational message about what they hoped to get out of being a Games Maker.

One unit invited attendees to write some words about why they had chosen to apply to be a Games Maker. Most were inspired by the games. I wrote that I wanted to give back something to London, my favourite world city (which really is true).

Image: The "teams and roles" presentation unit showed the various headline roles being offered to Games Makers

Finally the 20 minutes were up, and we entered the cinema, consisting of a 60" plasma screen showing video from Lord Coe about how excited he was that we had applied, and an amusing message from Eddie Izzard about how we had to be "ourselves" in the interview that was to follow.

There was a slightly bizarre promotional message from sponsor Cadbury's about how they were aiming to turn half of the people of Britain into "spots" and the other half into "stripes", then get spots and stripes to compete with each other at various fun games throughout the country. The on-screen presenter, purple-clothed in Cadbury's brand colour, then tried to make us play a game of scissors-paper-stone with him! We just sat there and looked at him on the screen, then each other, and just smiled at the bizarreness of at all without moving...!

Lord Coe came back on to wish us luck, the screen went blank, and we were ushered to one of about 40 interviewing cubicles, all made from 'walls' of triangles built at the slightly bizarre angles that make up the London 2010 logo.

The interview lasted about 30 minutes. My interviewer was a second-year graduate at a marketing organisation who was just as jolly as my registration lady. I did wonder how many hours they kept up being joyfully positive. Maybe every so often they the run off to a special room to curse and punch soft padded walls for a bit before returning to joy. Maybe I would have to learn to live this joy for the two weeks of being a Games Maker...

I digress. The reality was I was asked a series of fairly standard "We need skill X, give an example of demonstrating that skill recently in your work or personal life" questions. So, "We need someone who can keep their head under pressure, give an example of keeping yours under pressure at work". Whereupon I pointed out that I still had my head, as could be plainly seen.... (no I didn't but you get the point!).

The 30 minutes passed quickly and pleasantly, I was thanked very much and it was hoped I had enjoyed the experience. I was passed along a corridor to write something lovely on a white board. No doubt my interviewer went off to punch the soft room wall for a bit.

I'll be told if I have made it through to the next stage - working as part of a "shadow" team at a real championships alongside the real admin team there - by the end of 2011. Actually I really can't wait!

Image: A white board filled with messages from attendees who had completed their interview. Click this image for full size and you can read many of the messages on the closest white board.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Today is "Email: Say It In The Subject!" Day

Today is "Email: Say It In The Subject!" Day!

This is where the emails you write to your friends and colleagues have all the vital information contained in the subject of the message rather than in the body.

The aim of today's experiment is to see if, when you receive such emails, it becomes easy for you to scan the subject list and quickly receive all the essential info you need, without opening the messages.

Need that R&D Q4 review report by 11am for meeting with Chris. Ready by 10?
Happy to meet about XYZ proposal. Thursday at 2pm free for me. You?
IT Clinic - get your Tesco laptop super healthy - see us Thu 31st March in Atrium!

In summary, the theory of "saying it" in the subject of an email:

  • Conveys information quickly
  • Allows recipients to receive this information without opening your message
  • Recipients prioritising email messages to open still always get the info in your message
  • You get your message across just by appearing in their list of emails!
  • Reduces bandwidth and spam if adopted everywhere

Join the R&D team to see if we can prove we can make emails quick to read (and quick to write) by taking part in the experiment today!

Come back to this blog after the weekend to answer a couple of questions to see if it worked for you, and what benefits - and concerns - you experienced.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Take part in our "BIG Collection" for Alzheimer's Society

This blog is committed to doing its bit to help the Tesco Charity of the Year 2011 - Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer's Scotland - and I need your help!

On Friday 27th and Saturday 28th May is the first nationwide Tesco charity event taking place with help from the local community, called the BIG Collection.

On these two days, we would love for 10,000 volunteers to come together to collect at Tesco stores throughout the country. All the money raised during the BIG Collection will fund essential research and bring dementia information, advice and support to communities all over the UK, helping to build a better future for people with dementia.

The goal is to raise £350,000 over these two days and we need your help by asking you to do one (or both!) of the following two tasks:

  1. Become a BIG Collection volunteer at your local Tesco (whether you are a Tesco employee or just willing to help us!) committing to shaking a bucket for up to 3 hours - click here for more info and to register your name.
  2. Come and visit a Tesco store on one (or both) dates and pop some cash into one of the BIG Collection buckets being carried by volunteers. 

Please help us raise money for this most important cause, whether it's slipping some coins into our bucket, or holding that bucket.

A big thank you to Rob Green for alerting me to this great fundraising event in order for me to let you know about it. Rob is Digital Fundraising Manager for the Alzheimer's Society

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Benedictus benedicat!

"Let him who has been blessed, give blessing."

I would just like to thank Professor John Naughton and his team for giving me the opportunity to speak last night as part of the Arcadia lecture series at Wolfsen College, Cambridge University.

I enjoyed the most interesting of conversations with some of the students at the college, many studying post-graduate courses there. Topics included animal and human psychology, "big data and big brother", and the challenges around an internet that never forgets the content posted upon its many social media sites.

The evening included 'Formal Meal' which required jacket and tie, and (where applicable) gowns for dinner. I enjoyed the fomalised traditions around the event, from the sounding of a gong to the saying of grace in latin - Benedictus benedicat - spoken by the most senior fellow in the dining room.

It was great meeting a selection of people who read this blog (thank you!), and I thank Professor Naughton for his most excellent hospitality and for enabling me to stay overnight at the college.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tonight's Lecture at Cambridge (Arcadia Programme)

A reminder that if you are a student at Cambridge University I am giving a lecture on Tesco's customer-focussed mobile journey (those HuntersGatherers and Groundhogs!) at the seminar room of Wolfson College starting at 6pm tonight.

The lecture forms part of Cambridge University Library's Arcadia Programme - for more information follow this link. I look forward to seeing you there.

The address is:

Wolfson College,
Barton Road,

Friday, 8 April 2011

Evolved: The "Can and Hand" logo

Those of you who read the blog via its web page will have noticed the graphical makeover and the appearance of a can of Tesco Baked Beans & Pork Sausages being nudged by a robotic hand:

The "can and hand" logo is one that stretches back to the dawn of Tesco grocery home shopping, with its origins as a special windows icon that appeared in our very first grocery home shopping application, Tesco Home Shopper, in 1996.

Installed from CD-ROM sent through the post to customers on request,  Tesco Home Shopper came with a glossy brochure showing how to use the program. Have a look at this page (click image for larger version):

One way to add a products to the grocery basket was to drag it from the list on the left to a blue square with shopping trolley graphic on the right. The drag event caused the mouse icon change to a yellow hand holding onto what had a passing resemblance to a grocery can:

The 'can and hand' symbology is close to my heart as it was me who created and developed the application back in 1996 (there was only one person in the IT development team...hello!).

The application was built for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 customers using Visual Basic 3.0. An application was needed rather than a web site because everyone was on 9.6Kbps or 14.4Kbps dial-up modems back then. So the catalogue of products was local, and you only needed to go online to upload your order - and even that uses an internet protocol that I entirely made up called THSTALK (Tesco Home Shopper Talk').

On the Windows NT4.0 server (yes, a single server) I wrote a server application called THSSERVER also in Visual Basic 3.0 which listened on internet port 81 and responded to THSTALK instructions. THSSERVER could cope with up to 10 simultaneous connections as a time.

The CD-ROM application was only retired in 2003. With that event, the 'can and hand' slept until 2011 and this blog - restoring it brings back great memories.

Why a can of Tesco Baked Beans & Pork Sausages? When I was young I enjoyed going round for what we called 'tasty tea' at my Gran's house. It consisted of baked beans & pork sausages from a can, along with crinkle-cut chips. Hmmm..! Sometimes when the hubby and I are culinarily challenged after both having a long day at work, 'tasty tea' is the perfect quick convenience evening food, so a can or two of Tesco Baked Beans & Pork Sausages is always to hand. For me that can is all about tasty convenience, a really good metaphor for what we do here at The digital hand is nudging the can to push it forwards so that we make shopping even more easy and convenient going forwards... (Good grief, I'm sounding like I've been in too many design and marketing meetings...)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Two of our delivery vans are missing...

If you've read the post showing the 'heat map' of our grocery delivery vans across the UK, you'll come away with a great feeling that we know where all our vans are. Which is true.

The trouble is, the truth can sometimes hurt - in this case there's something we uncovered in getting the material for that blog post that we decided not to show you on Monday until we investigated more.

You see, when we zoomed out the map to get a nice view of the UK to take the snapshot for that blog post, we accidentally zoomed the map out too far. We could see all of Europe with a UK 'blackened' with van positioning icons, as expected.

What was somewhat less expected was that two positioning icons were not in the UK. They were in Poland.

So we conducted an emergency data investigation to ensure that we hadn't received corrupted information, or miscalculated anything. Everything came back as OK - indeed one of the vans was following a road in Poland from the live feed. Someone was driving a grocery delivery van in Poland live as we watched!

Two delivery vans signalling live on 31st March 2011 from near Starogard, Poland.

So Mike contacted the van team to mention that two vans were, you know, not exactly in the UK...

Fortunately, the van team were able to look up the registration plates on the two vans and quickly found that the vans had been retired from service. The vans had also completed decommissioning (primarily, removing our tech equipment and Tesco livery) but for some reason, the hidden signalling box had been missed. This equipment is wired such that it signals 24 hours a day, not just when the ignition or engine is on. As a result, it has to be located deep down within the vehicle's wiring system - it's not a "box on the dashboard".

After 5-6 years, our vans are retired from duties and sold on to the second-hand market and are given a new life elsewhere beyond the control of Tesco - in this case, it seems, the Polish market. It would be great to know the sort of uses these vehicles (with built in fridge and freezer compartments) are put to. I guess they end their days still delivering food or similar temperature-controlled goods.

There is an interesting question to be asked about the ability of the equipment (or more accurately the cellular data accounts) to roam onto foreign networks with an inevitable roaming charges. Fortunately (for us) this cost is borne by our partner who operates the van location service. They are used to many clients requiring tracking of commercial vehicles into Europe and beyond.

The van team were able to get in touch with the new owners, who were able to remove the equipment which is on its way back to the UK. They were able to block the SIM card quickly, too.

Still, it underlines the message that we really do know where all our delivery vans are!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Where's My Shopping?

Mike Brearley is Lead IT Developer at's Central Delivery Service team. Authoring this article, Mike reveals how tracking our delivery vans is adding value to the service we provide customers.

Currently we have thousands of Tesco delivery vans delivering to our customers across the UK and Ireland.  Each van is fitted out with GPS tracking so we can see their location on an almost real-time basis.

Using this information we’re able to better plan journey times calculate how many deliveries we can fit into a slot, and ultimately be better at being on time.

Sometimes unavoidable things happen, traffic, mechanical breakdown and all number of emergencies can all delay a delivery but using this information we can let our customers know in advance to give them a heads up about what’s going on.  Reassurance that the order is definitely on the way and exactly where the van is can really help in those situations.

I’m working on how we can make sense of this information and present it to colleagues and maybe even customers in a useful way - It’s a huge amount of data we’re collecting; millions of data points are generated in just couple of days

As a taster of what this data looks like I’ve plugged a snapshot of these points into Google maps.  A picture definitely gives a better idea than words in this case!

These screenshots were taken at 10.32am on 31st March 2011 - click the images below for a larger view of where all our delivery vans were located at this precise time.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Tesco Express opens on International Space Station

Congratulations to my colleagues in the branch team for the new Tesco Express opening today on the International Space Station.

It took some doing but the team tell me they wanted to provide great food to the astronauts - somewhat better than the gooey tube food they have had to 'enjoy' until now.

I think it will be great for astronauts to arrive at the I.S.S. after their dramatic journey into space, and pop in for a Tesco Ready Meal, and perhaps a bottle of Tesco Value Champagne to celebrate their stay (and get Clubcard points too).

So now, wherever you are in the world, your nearest Tesco may be above you!