Backbone not wishbone – have you got the nerve to secure the future of retail?

Building a retail business with staying power relies on having the courage of your convictions.

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Ask any retail CIO what keeps them awake at night and, as well as the ever-present security and data management concerns, most will come up with a list that includes:

  • how to ensure the business sees IT as a facilitator of change rather than a barrier to it
  • how to transform infrastructure and operations at the same time as reducing costs
  • demands on them to facilitate new business opportunities at the same time as implementing an agile, flexible, scalable digital platform
  • how to nurture innovation and creativity to attract and keep the kind of employees who can build a digital future

They’re big issues which demand bold solutions, yet according to analysts Everest Group, only 10% of CIOs and their IT departments are ready to take action and make digital transformation happen. It takes a degree of business bravery to set the digital store ball rolling, knowing that it may take out a number of existing structures on its way through the business.

But the time has come to feel the fear and do it anyway; as we’ve seen, for some businesses - Toys R Us and Maplin are just two - it’s already too late.

‘Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin’

Victor Kiam – the man who loved a Remington shave so much he bought the company – is right. A sure-fire way to kill off any chance of business growth, even in a healthy market, is to put off doing something about transforming your infrastructure to keep pace with tech developments.

The sentiment is backed by Gartner, who published its CIO Leadership in Innovation and Strategic Business Change Primer for 2018 at the beginning of the year. It quickly dispelled any lingering notions that digital tech can be dealt with at any time other than right now:

‘Digital business is reinventing the way we live and work. CIOs and their enterprises get to choose whether these changes pose an opportunity or a threat. For those who aggressively pursue change, it is an opportunity. But it is a threat for who that wait to see how their industry will change before acting.’

The good news is that kickstarting the transformation process can be achieved by taking a few fear-busting steps which are readily achievable and, importantly, give quick results. First, do an honest audit – shine a light on every part of your IT infrastructure to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly from legacy systems to bolt-ons, patches and dormant processes. Once you can see exactly what your starting position is, it’s much easier to identify where you need to go. Then focus on the three ‘I’s:

  • Isolate the systems and technology which are obsolete or lead to a dead end and eliminate them – they will not move the business forward and could cause issues with future tech implementations. Unisys’ recent survey of more than 12,000 retail workers revealed that 56% were frustrated with their employers’ out of date tech, with obsolete devices causing them the most pain. Moving on from these would instantly improve productivity, morale and sales
  • Identify areas with room for improvement, and implement the ‘quick wins’ – proving that a strategy for tech transformation can get underway without interfering with business as usual should bolster business confidence in further-reaching infrastructure changes and innovations. Click and collect is a prime example of this – it can be up and running in weeks and you should see immediate improvement in customer experience and processing efficiency
  • Involve your IT team in setting your strategic course – they are the people who will be tasked with delivery of the necessary software, hardware and systems integrations needed to make your digital store work efficiently. Getting them on board at the very start will encourage them to think outside their day-to-day work patterns and allow them to flex their creative muscles. It will also enable you to work together to uncover areas where you may need third party help or specialist training.

Cost vs value

The three ‘I’s will enable you to overcome concerns about the practical implementation of a transformation strategy and take action to stay ahead of your competitors. But the underlying issue of managing cost at a time when every penny counts requires something more fundamental – an acknowledgement that ‘cost’ means more than just pounds and pence:

  • the missed opportunities which will inevitably occur if you delay building a digital store
  • the massive additional investment in resource and time in order to catch up with retailers who have already begun the transformation process and are moving further ahead each day
  • the threat of attrition due to staff becoming frustrated and moving on - according to Unisys, retail workers are seven times more likely to want to leave companies that lag behind the industry’s tech leaders

are all very real costs which will have far-reaching consequences for retailers – ones which will be counted in brand reputation and industry standing as well as in cash.

Tackling this issue depends on shifting business focus from cost to value. Rather than weighing up the expense of implementing your digital store strategy – traditionally a stumbling block for CIOs and the C-suite as a whole – it’s vital to assess the value of transformation across all business areas. From operations and logistics to HR and the shop floor – and even the IT department – the first question should be ‘what long-term value will this strategy give us?’.  The answers will touch every part of the business – systems, processes, stocks and staff – and will paint a far more accurate picture of what the business will become than totting up the figures on a spreadsheet.

Taking these actions to secure the future involves becoming the backbone of your retail business, and that means not only supporting the bones, nerves and heart of your organisation but also giving it the structure it needs to move forward. The only way to survive is to have the courage of your convictions in the face of a challenging industry where inertia has proved to be deadly.

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