by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2016 #26-50: Ritesh Patel, Office Brands

Nov 24, 2016
Technology Industry

The concept of innovation can be overwhelming, says Office Brands CIO, Ritesh Patel.

“Images of Edison inventing the light bulb or Henry Ford revolutionising manufacturing come to mind. If we define innovation as a gigantic, change-the-world, cure cancer-type breakthrough, the concept is relegated to a select few: billionaires, inventors, CEOs and super geniuses,” he says.

Yet the vast majority of human progress is crafted differently, Patel explains, and it’s the little creative shifts and the ‘micro-innovations’ that add up to significant results. This could be a fresh way of conducting weekly sales meetings or using ERP systems in a different way to improve productivity, he says.

The office products industry – where Office Brands plays – has undergone significant structural challenges. Sales in core product categories, such as paper, office supplies, inks and toner, are declining.

To meet these challenges, Office Brands needed to move from being a stationery supplier to a full office supplies business. Analysing customer data from its data warehouse uncovered three trends: the majority of customers are buying less than three categories of products; customers easily switched to competitors; and after 12 months, customers who stopped buying were deemed inactive.

Office Brands has since overhauled its digital strategy, rolling out data-driven initiatives which have transformed its marketing program – using Salesforce Marketing Cloud – from an ‘ad-hoc’, one size fits all approach to one that is based on customer data and behaviour.

Every customer in its database has their own unique marketing journey based on predefined trigger points. This has resulted in an additional $2 million in sales for the organisation in 12 months.

The innovative Office National or ‘eCupboard’ mobile app with augmented reality (an industry-first), has changed the way the company engages with its customers. Users search for a product, browse the catalogue, scan barcodes using their smartphone’s camera, and order products. Mobile engagement has risen by 50 per cent year-on-year thanks to this app.

Meanwhile, Office Brands is currently doing research and development with Internet of Things devices.

“We have been inspired by Amazon Dash. Using WiFi-enabled devices linked to our ordering engine will enable customers to order office supplies with the click of a button,” Patel says.

A balancing act

Keeping operational systems running while creating new products and services is a balancing act but Patel splits his time equally between operational tasks and concentrating on innovation.

“This balance is achieved by the team being empowered to make decisions on the operations aspect of the business without the involvement of the CIO,” he says. “Moving to an Agile framework to run internal operations also assists to manage team workloads.”

Barriers to benefits

Organisations can invest millions of dollars in a system but if it’s not successfully adopted and change management isn’t handled properly, there’s no value created in the business, says Patel. For example, a recent B2C project was initially rejected by the board given the nature of the buying group structure.

“What helped this project was getting a respected outside consultant to present to the board and highlight the cost of not doing this project and the opportunities we were missing out on from a digital marketing perspective,” he says.

One way Patel effectively engages Office Brands’ franchisees and better manages change is through the development of a technology mentoring program. While the company has frequently used newsletter and blogs, they do not always cut through or create the engagement required to have a positive impact on the business.

The program begins by benchmarking a franchisee’s business metrics and KPIs so they are aware of baseline performance. The program evolves each week based on key fundamentals of data management and the organisation’s technology platform.

“The goal was not to make an impact for technology’s sake but [to explain] how the technology tools developed by Office Brands helps you become a better business owner,” says Patel.

Byron Connolly