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Travis Perkins sets out learning approach to new technologies

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IT teams at builders merchant group Travis Perkins aim to learn from the way other industries are using new technologies to improve the customer experience.

The Northampton-based group, which owns DIY chain Wickes (pictured), a Top100 retailer in IRUK Top500 research, and tradecounter Toolsation , a Top250 IRUK Top500 retailer, ran its first hackathon as it looks to experiment with technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence platforms from Google and IBM . The event was the first of five that it has scheduled for the year.

Neil Pearce, chief information officer for Travis Perkins, believes AI is something the construction sector should understand further in order to stay ahead of the game.

“Artificial intelligence enables us to learn about consumer behaviour and interact in new and different ways," he said. "Our hackathon gives us the opportunity to learn, innovate and understand business challenges we may face in the future to help improve the customer experience.”

In 2016 Travis Perkins made its largest investment in IT to date, aimed at improving how they serve customers through the use of cloud technology and digital tools for trade customers.

“We want to engage our employees in finding solutions to challenges, to test technology, come up new ideas and explore the art of the possible through AI and machine learning”, added Neil Pearce.

“Conversation around AI is gaining momentum within other industries and we wanted our employees to consider how we might be able to leverage this technology across our business and for our customers. A hackathon was the ideal medium for both fostering this level of innovation and also providing an interactive learning and development experience for our employees.”

Travis Perkins employees took part in four challenges over the course of eight hours where they explored both Google and IBM machine learning technologies, looking at product visual recognition and predictive market behaviour. The teams ‘taught’ the machine learning platforms to understand visual patterns to recognise products. Future applications have huge potential in helping to improve the customer experience.

The event comes after Travis Perkins appoints integrated systems business Wheeve to train 500-strong IT team and help lead the digital transformation of Travis Perkins plc.

Pearce said: “The team we have built with Wheeve’s training and delivery skills will be part of every single delivery Travis Perkins plc do. As we move from the traditional IT department mentality and embrace digital across the organisation, the team’s knowledge base will be widened as they are right and centre of the core team. We’re much more integrated as part of this and it shows how we’re leading with technology.”

Jon Boxall, co-founder of Wheeve, said: “One of the biggest challenges for CIOs is to not only to manage change but get the buy in too. They also have to encourage people to embrace change across the business with a solution that delivers specific needs rather than another off-the-shelf-package that won’t be right for them in the longer term. It’s brave and bold but Travis Perkins plc wanted this opportunity for their own team too and chose us to help.”

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