Last month, I was delighted to attend the West Midlands Tech Awards where REPL’s very own Cerys Johnson, CEO, won the ‘West Midlands Woman in Tech’ award. The award is a great accolade for both Cerys and REPL and is a testament to Cerys’ work within the Group.
The award win coincides with the news that Cerys’ has also been elected to the CBI West Midlands Council. The three-year term will see Cerys play a key role in steering the CBI’s policies and campaigns and discussing the key issues that affect businesses up and down the country.
I spent some time with Cerys to see what these achievements mean not only to her but also to women in tech and to get her thoughts on the industry.
Congratulations, Cerys! How does it feel to have won the West Midlands Woman in Tech Award?
I’m stunned and delighted to have won. I was up against some really impressive competition, so I’m absolutely thrilled. As well as the recognition for the amazing team here at REPL, for me, the biggest thing is what the award means for girls and women that are looking to go into tech – it shows that there are opportunities for them and that they can have a successful career in the industry.
What advice would you give to women looking to get into tech?
Believe in yourself! There is a perception that tech is a male-dominated subject, which can be daunting, but you must believe that you can do it and don’t let anything hold you back.
Can you tell us a bit about your initiative to provide support and inspiration for women within REPL?
The idea initially came about after talking to some of the female graduates at REPL who felt that they needed more of a sense of community to support and champion each other. Since then, the initiative has grown and one of our new aims is to show women and girls in education that tech is a career that they can follow with some of the women at REPL acting as role models.
Have you always been interested in technology?
Yes, my interest started at a hardware level so I’ve always been interested in electronics and circuitry. When I was younger, I used to create some simple circuits with a soldering iron, some resistors, capacitors and switches. Then I realised that if I wanted to do something more sophisticated with those circuits that I’d have to use a computer to do some programming. My love of electronics started it all and the computing just makes the electronics work better.
My interest grew from there but in my personal life, I have also been a massive recipient of technology. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and has a device embedded under her skin which permanently monitors her blood glucose levels to ensure she can keep track and take control of her condition and ultimately, this technology keeps her alive.
When did you first think about having a career in tech?
My career path has been quite varied – after my degree in physics with applied physics and electronics, I went on to qualify as an accountant. After about fifteen years, I decided that accountancy wasn’t really inspiring me and from there I went into project management and programme management which by its very nature is very technical and needs an understanding of technical concepts. So, my career in tech grew from there.
What is it that excites you most about the work REPL is doing?
There are two things that have really come to excite me during my seven years at REPL. Firstly, I love that we are able to make a real difference to the customers we work with. The brilliant thing about working in retail is that we can go into a store and see some of the things we’ve done or talk to staff and see how things we’ve been involved with has made their life better, simpler or more productive.
Secondly, I love that we still have a small company ethos. There is a fantastic culture and we all feel like we are working towards a common goal, which I find really motivating and inspiring.
Which retailers do you think are getting things right at the moment?
I think the retailers that aren’t falling for gimmicks are the ones that are doing the right thing. It’s far more impressive when tech is used to create a personalised experience, rather than it getting in the way. I think those businesses that use tech intelligently to improve the customer experience and make customers feel valued will be the real winners.
How has the industry changed in the time you’ve been working in it?
Change in technology is exponential so you have to run very fast just to stay still. When tech was first introduced in retail stores, it was very much about the gimmickry. Now, people have realised that tech is valuable if it makes a difference and helps to improve things. The level of sophistication in how tech is used and deployed has increased. Customers are also a lot more tech-savvy than they were, and their expectations have risen – if they don’t get great services as well as a great price, they will turn their backs on retailers.
What do you think 2019 will have in store for the industry?
I think 2019 will be the year of using AI intelligently. Retailers have an enormous amount of data and intelligence and I think this will be the year it all gets pulled together in a sophisticated and intelligent way to make the right decisions. This will impact not just retailers in terms of when they are scheduling people or buying stock, but also in how they interact with customers and their understanding of individual customers and their behaviour.