What can the (extra) ordinary IT organization learn from the Apple Retail Store?

Ron Johnson, the current CEO of J.C. Penney, was the Senior VP at Apple who brought the Apple Retail Store and the Genius Bar concepts to market.  In a Harvard Business Review blog, he says that the Store is essentially about “the experience,” and building face-to-face relationships.  He recommends to start with a basic question: How do we reinvent ourselves to enrich our customers’ lives?  Let’s take a look at what IT organizations can learn by answering this question.

 First and perhaps foremost, the Store is a brick & mortar site in an otherwise electronic world.

The Store layout exposes visitors both to the products, and more importantly, to the solutions those offer. How might your IT organization benefit from a physical point-of-presence, open to your Business customer, at the various locations where you do business?

Sure, you’re not selling Macs and i-Products; instead you’re delivering ITIL services, and sales applications, or clinical trial databases, or the cloud, or security, to Business customers who are investing a lot in you.  Don’t they deserve to be similarly delighted, wowed, and enriched?

 Create your own flavor of the Genius Bar.

Why not re-purpose that unoccupied double-office on the 11th floor in a creative way? Perhaps a Usability Lab where Business Analysts (BA), Product Managers, graphic and branding folks, meet with the Business, to collaborate on Requirements and Design, make on-the-spot decisions, equipped with the right space and tools, executing on known capability patterns, to accelerate the time to make exciting and new functionality.  45 minute sessions – you can do 20 to 30 of these weekly if need be, in support of the projects in your current IT Investments’ Portfolio.

BMW and the Genius Bar

 Create environments – create buzz.

Consider performing everyday activities, in new and creative ways. Rethink the layouts.  Do your end-users typically do User Acceptance Testing (UAT) at their desks, when they have the time, negatively affecting your schedules and product quality? Consider a dedicated space with handsome maple tables, standard devices configured and ready to go, staffed by your Development, Quality Assurance, and BA team leads, ready to pace the users through the tests, iterating real-time as defects arise.  Name the space the Accelerated UAT LAB; make it easy – even fun –  to do business with IT, while decreasing costs and improving delivery.

Pick an IT function; imagine the sort of work that would queue up for them at a Genius Bar

How about Project/Program Managers and staff dedicated to sizing and estimating IT efforts? Change Requests and the impact of those on schedule and staffing, though commonplace, are still typically disruptive and difficult to coordinate across a meshed set of projects . Maybe a Change Request Studio? Maybe it’s only for the larger Programs: a well-designed facility, with a well-known and advertised agenda, a predictable set of activities and outcomes, that does nothing more – or less – than process complex change requests – with a smile – to the delight of the Business.

Roping off and promoting services as Bars, Labs, and Studios, brings them out in a bolder relief, more likely for IT and the Business to manage and control them.  Being in the physical space motivates those in the space to execute the process for which the space is intended.  Your delivery lifecycle comes alive.

Bringing the functions and flagship activities out this way creates transparency.  Scheduling for services makes it clear that there’s a wait for service when we are dealing with limited resource.

 Focus on solutions.

The Apple Store sales strategy is not to sell but rather to solve problems, to understand customers’ needs, some of which they might not even realize they have.  You might find your Managed Services partners and 3rd party vendors to be very happy to work with you to create Solution Labs to host various flavors of Workshops, One to One sessions, and other types of Learning events.


  • The physical space – the look, feel and bustle of the environment – is essential to the customer experience.
  • Human interaction is the order of the day.
  • You are attempting to execute a consistent and predictable process repeatedly in a dedicated space that is aesthetically pleasing to both you and your customer, to cut waste and to improve quality
  • Engagement typically takes place by appointment, though you will welcome drop-ins as well.
  • Staff provides support, executes lifecycle activities, focuses on solutions, and spreads IT goodwill.
  • The Bar complements the more standard customer support you offer, like the Help Desk and self-servicing portals.

The job of the Apple staff member is to make customers happy. Make your customers happy and you will likewise enjoy increased goodwill, growth, and return business.

© Michael C. Simonelli, onthegocio.com, 2013

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