by Andrea Benito

Q&A: Analytics, digitalization drive KOJ’s omnichannel retail strategy

Oct 12, 2020
AnalyticsBusiness ContinuityDigital Transformation

Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group (KOJ) Deputy CEO Ian Halliwell leads globally dispersed teams for IT and other support operations; here's how he's driving digitalization and deploying analytics to enhance the customer experience as e-commerce grows in importance.

ian halliwell
Credit: Ian Halliwell

Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group (KOJ) has more than 600 stores across nine countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and is home to multiple popular international brands spanning fashion, cosmetics, and other categories. CIO ME talked to Deputy CEO Ian Halliwell, who oversees the IT, Human Resources, Supply and Distribution, Digital and Procurement teams. In this Q&A, he lays out how analytics and digitalization help the group become more customer-centric, enhancing the shopping experience, as e-commerce grows in importance. 

Who (or what) has driven the greatest digital transformation in the retail sector? The CEO, the CIO or COVID-19?

Having a business that operates across different countries provides challenges. As such, the business has always looked for ways to enhance its operations through digitalization and implementation of “best in practice” systems in the market. Fortunately, our Group CEO (Hisham AL Amoudi) believes in technology, and the impact the right technology can add to any business. As such my role as Deputy CEO, covering IT and Digital, in convincing (the business) of the need to change has never been a problem.

How has COVID-19 impacted your company? Did you have a business continuity plan in place?

We have two aspects, firstly, stores — a challenging one, as when the stores need to close, how do we manage this? Fortunately, the closures were for a limited period of between four-six weeks and it gave a great opportunity for our teams to focus on their own development. All our training is online, and therefore people took the time to return to their training to complete modules not started, look at development of skills ready for their next role and prepare themselves for the time they will return to work.

For our office we were “mobile” ready. Back in 2019 we had already established company-owned offices in Manila (for HR, Finance and Digital) and Bangalore (for IT and Digital), relocating nationals from each country based in the Gulf back to their own countries whilst still working with KOJ. To enable this to take place successfully, we had to ensure the business could manage these departments remotely with all the latest digital technology, provided by Oracle with EY support.

Digital readiness is not something new for us here at KOJ, our transition journey of existing systems began many years ago, continuing indefinitely. For communication we use Microsoft 365 on cloud for all our users. However, the biggest success across the business was the rapid transition we made into using both Microsoft Teams for regular communication and Zoom for all our meetings.

Customer centricity is the next battle cry for retailers around the world. How is Kamal Osman Jamjoom working on the next generation of customer experience? What are some of the initiatives you are driving?

Our view is to provide the “local shopping” experience no matter how you chose to shop with us. We have recently upgraded our POS system across all stores to the latest Oracle XStore to provide an enhanced omnichannel shopping experience. The upgrade has provided us a platform to manage our future to exceed our customers’ expectations.

In September we launched our first brand (Early Learning Centre toys and games) on the Oracle Order Broker system, with the remaining brands going live before November 2020. For us this is a major transition, allowing us to better manage our Group stocks, and to commence establishing what will eventually be an omnichannel /360-degree shopping experience for our customers.

Initially the system will in addition to home delivery, allow customers to “click and collect” from selected stores. Our plan over the coming months is to expand the use of this system to fulfil direct from stores, offering a much faster click and collect service.

The digital era has fomented the omnichannel revolution. How is KOJ leveraging analytics for achieving in-store and online integration?

We have also invested in the Oracle module of Customer Engagement, along with restructuring our data warehouse to create a “data lake” of all our data to enhance the efficiency and use of all this data to better serve our customers.

We can for the first time, understand who he/she is, where they shop within our group, how frequently, product purchases and interests. As such we can provide tailored online experiences for them, a more pleasurable in-store experience and truly offer them the same service standard no matter their choice of purchase platform. In retail we have talked about knowing our customers for years. Going back 30 years when I was working in stores – in those days we knew the face of all our regular customers, this then moved onto collecting their contact numbers to be able to call them, then mobile numbers allowed “SMS” and we developed through email, to where we are today where we are able to have full understanding of who our customer is, and what they need from ourselves as a retail group.

With the right data, the right systems, the right training and more importantly the right people we can make each customer feel unique and help them with their purchases when shopping with us. Each customer is unique, and it is important we use our data/systems to understand their individual needs to satisfy their individual shopping experience.

How is Oracle helping KOJ to achieve the company’s digital transformation plans? Why did you choose Oracle?

Our relationship with Oracle goes back to 2009, when we first moved onto their ERP system. At the time, we believed having closely reviewing the options available in the market, that Oracle was to be the partner of our choice. Over the years, we have never questioned that decision with the implementation / enhancement of many Oracle systems across the business. Since partnering on the ERP project, we have continued investment with the last upgrade being to V16 around 2 years ago, implementation of Oracle EPM Cloud and other systems as mentioned already. We use EPM cloud as a single platform for Planning & Budgeting, Financial Consolidation & Close and Account Reconciliation.  Back in August we also commenced upgrade of our Oracle Finance, HR, Payroll along with procurement systems to the latest on Oracle Fusion cloud.

I am excited to say that we are leveraging Digital Assistants embedded within the Fusion applications to drive self-service adoption among the end users of our systems. This is all due for completion by March 2021. Next, we will be looking at their Cloud Merchandise Planning and Risk Management Modules. The partnership between us and Oracle has helped us realize our journey and has enabled us to progress at pace.

What do you see as the specific challenges facing a CEO in retail, as opposed to other industry sectors? How can CEOs help lead technological transformations?

The specific challenges we are facing today relate to the changing habits of customers and the rapid growth of the Ecom business, whilst our customers still like to experience the in-store experience. Our shoppers are divided into: Ecom; those who like to still buy in store; and those who will utilize both options to complete their purchases. Today, technology is playing a bigger role to enable us to identify the different groups, so we can continue to meet their expectations. As a business we need to be versatile and able to change quickly, however this is not easy when you are like a “tanker in the ocean”. If we are not on top of the trends, and habits of our customers starting to offer what they need, when they need it — well, we maybe would not be turning fast enough and miss the opportunities. It is vital to be heavily involved in discussions with peers, and our service suppliers to be aware of market trends to exceed our customers’ needs.

 What are your plans for 2020? Did you change your strategy because of coronavirus?

Plans for 2020 are to continue with the digital journey we started to accelerate in 2018, and to keep going. I believe we were fortunate to have taken the decision we did back in 2018, which helped us through the worst of the initial months of Covid 19 when businesses were closed. We were fortunate to have all our key brands online, so with some slight operational changes, we were able to assist our customers through online at the time they were unable to visit us in store. Did COVID cause a change in our strategy? Not really, however it just meant that the rate of implementing our plans suddenly accelerated even further to meet the new world of retail, at a time when lots of businesses were having to slow down.