by Carl Perry

Redefining omnichannel: The challenge for technology leaders

Sep 19, 2019
IT StrategyTechnology Industry

For technology leaders, now is the time to invest in the right technology to pave the way for omnichannel success.

omnichannel thinkstock
Credit: Thinkstock

To reach consumers, brands need omnichannel strategies that deliver a consistent customer experience at every touchpoint. Yet today’s technical and business conversations about omnichannel are often too limited in scope to achieve what’s ultimately possible. Brands typically only focus on payment processing across one or two channels — missing the opportunity to tie together customer data from multiple points of sales into a holistic 360-degree view.

Delivering the omnichannel experience that today’s customers demand — and that also gives business owners the insights to make strategic data-driven decisions about which channels best serve their business — requires the integration of both back-end and customer-facing systems into a single platform.

Understanding omnichannel

Technology leaders are often at the forefront of driving conversations around the business outcomes that can be achieved with true technology integration. Your company’s executives and business managers are asking IT to partner with them to achieve greater visibility and integration, offer deeper insights and find ways to scale that out across unforgettable customer experiences. Developing an omnichannel strategy and underlying technology infrastructure that connects your organization’s back-end systems and customer-facing channels is often the missing link.

A platform approach to integrating back-end systems (such as inventory management) gives managers access to insights that drive profitable and customer-centered decisions. Conser what could be possible when you connect your inventory management system and order fulfillment solutions to the front-end view used by customer service or retail associates.

Employees at any point of the sales process can immediately see whether a specific item a customer wants is in stock. Not only does that reinforce the customer experience, but it allows your employee to complete the sale,  streamline fulfillment and provide insight into customer preferences. They can focus on next steps such as ordering online, pulling stock onsite, or reserving an item for pickup at another retail location for the best possible customer experience.

Integrated data for better management decisions

The impact goes beyond the customer experience — and into the day-to-day operational decisions that impact your bottom line. Consider a restaurant trying to decide if partnerships with delivery services make sense for their business. In the past few years, there has been a significant trend of restaurants partnering with third-party delivery services to offer customer convenience and add another channel source of revenue. Yet every channel where you’re serving customers has a cost — and it’s important to have the data to determine which channels are truly profitable and what the opportunity cost an integration effort is. If delivery service takes 30% of the value of each order, what does that do to a restaurant’s margins?

With a holistic view, restaurants can decide if these partnerships are the right fit for their business model. They might decide to continue with the partnership, negotiate different terms, or discontinue delivery altogether. There’s no single answer, but the underlying message is clear: With integrated data, you’re able to push back against the idea that “more channels are always better” and, instead, form a strong channel strategy that’s based on what’s really working for your business.

Better data can also help you find new approaches to multi-channel operational challenges. In retail, omnichannel strategies that integrate the front and back ends of the experience can have strong operational impacts. Line busting is a strategy retailers use to shorten checkout lines; it might involve placing sales staff throughout a store with mobile point-of-sale devices or redirecting waiting customers to another area of the store. Integrating details about inventory, customer data, sales information, order fulfillment and more – across all fixed points of sale – can enable a business to successfully shorten lines, which leads to more operational efficiency and, even more critical, higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Powering channel management with data and platforms

Building the technology architecture needed to support a sophisticated channel strategy is a major undertaking. But new technology players are emerging in the landscape that make implementing platform solutions much easier. Increasingly, the organizations that are turning their omnichannel visions into operational realities are moving toward a platform strategy. What should technology leaders look for when selecting a platform? There are a few key areas to consider:

Platform solutions vs. spot solutions

As you build your omnichannel infrastructure, it’s important to be architecting systems and choosing integration partners that provide complete holistic, connected views your business’ data. Migrating toward a platform approach is often a shift. Historically, the best solutions for omnichannel delivery have been walled garden solutions. By piecing together a network of best-in-class solutions and finding work arounds to foster communication between those systems, brands achieve a degree of omnichannel success.

However, the result of this process is limited, based on what those systems allowed. A restaurant point-of-sale solution, for example, might partner with an online ordering partner to expand their capabilities. But consistently syncing data, managing access permissions, dealing with compliance and security – these are all ongoing pain points to these solutions, and they often leave critical aspects out of the larger picture. Platform solutions that use open APIs as part of a larger ecosystem can offer you stronger capabilities today, and they scale and grow as your needs change.

Data management, access and costs

Another important consideration, and an evaluative criteria for any solution you’re considering, is the data management capabilities. The tools you use are critical, but the data those tools both generate and operate on must be accessible to you via open public API. Many older solutions offer technology companies use data as a way to lock you into the relationship. In addition, they can charge exorbitant fees to let you go in, make customizations, or even access that data.

As you look at platforms moving forward, evaluate how your data is handled. Is the data that’s being generated, running those applications or integrating with your existing technology solutions accessible to you via open APIs? Are those APIs cutting-edge and supported by strong documentation? Are there hidden fees?

Integrating back-end and front-end systems into a single view

Consider whether the solution you’re considering integrates back-end and front-end systems into a single view. Platforms let you bring together the data streams that are generated from your physical channels and digital channels into a single, central system. When moving data between systems, whether you’re syncing back and forth or you’re storing it in one place, it’s important to have that integrated visibility.

Brands are achieving new levels of integration through platform technology. Consider customer data at a full-service restaurant. Right now, the only way to amass that data is through digital channels, since it’s difficult to collect customer information at the point of purchase. Diners don’t typically want to fill out their information on a receipt at the end of a meal. With a platform, customer data can be linked together whether it comes in through a remote order, a pickup, or a reservation. Based on that holistic view, the restaurant can optimize the customer experience and make operational decisions like what promotions to run or how to manage inventory by restaurant location.

Lowering the burden on IT

Seamless integration at the platform level also has an impact on your IT team’s workload. Increasingly, today’s solutions give managers real-time access to reporting and insights that help them make smart decisions. And because so many of the tools are intuitive, there is more time freed up for IT talent to focus on strategic initiatives, while offering better support to your business stakeholders.

The most successful brands are focused on their omnichannel strategies. They’re pairing operational data and customer data to make smarter strategic decisions, refine their customer experience delivery across channels and have real-time insights into their business. For technology leaders, now is the time to invest in the right technology to pave the way for omnichannel success.