CIO Considerations for the New Abnormal

Larry Miller, President, Smart Retail Solutions

Is it time to refocus Retail Technology objectives?

2020 has been a roller-coaster year for retailers and consumers alike. Multi-unit retailers face supply chain and store operating challenges like never before and need new tools and practices to overcome them and achieve the sustainable growth they want and need.

This has caused all of us to proceed everyday into the unknown future questioning whether we act now to establish new growth standards and disciplines or wait? But it has also opened many doors for true solution providers to rethink the solutions we provide.

Most technology is designed for data capture and reporting to upstream users. This is part of the cure, but not the cure itself. Data capture and data reporting for human review and interpretation has been the focus for the last 10 years. The move to cloud-based access, SaaS models, real-time, going mobile to report store metrics upstream to the variety of corporate offices has become easy and is certainly important. But no hardware or software (no matter how smart) is the ultimate solution. As Tom Peters wrote in his famous book: The Pursuit of WOW!, we have to deliver the usable information as close as possible to the end-users closest to the point of impact or cure.

Here are 4 strategic building-blocks to ensure your technology works as you hope:

1. People and culture: adding hardware or BI/AI/ML software is doomed to mediocre impact if you fail to emphasize the Human Factors from the very start. People First should be top-of-mind in your technology strategies to market the What, Why and Because decision factors to establish clear standards, goals, and accountabilities for end-users.

2. Processes and Practices: consistent operational use of technology and the “how-to” for execution of proven best practices is vital. Processes and Practices are the ultimate Behavior Modification objective for technology ROI success.

3. Performance metrics: every technology and its related processes and practices must all have specific and measurable Return on Investment objectives at the heart of their value proposition. ROI and Cost/Benefit return is why we implement technology. These financial metrics are 100% dependent on People, Culture, Processes and Practices for progress toward our goals.

4. One-Voice Leadership: We have implemented technology to enable people to improve sales, profit and operating culture in hundreds of companies. The most consistent roadblock to success is failure to engage all cross-functional (unique) teams to TEAM-UP and be mutually accountable to use the technology and practices to achieve expected, sustainable ROI.

The end game must be to refocus on the goal of not just adding technology, but effectively enabling and motivating people to implement proven Human Factors of running great stores. The best technology is much more than technology; it’s a process – a process requiring internal  marketing, training, measuring effective use and accountability to continuously help store teams to grow sales, disrupt profit erosion, and to act with immediacy to deliver excellent customer service.

Today’s Challenge: The problem with technology is that it provides data, not answers. This can delay or distract end-user corrective action. Smart solutions consume data from disparate sources, analyze and correlate key performance data-points to intelligently determine behavioral causation. This is vital, because sales and profit shortfalls are most caused by a breakdown in behavioral best practices. Smart solutions lead well trained users to corrective actions to disrupt sales and profit leaks, at their root cause. 

5 questions to ask before investing in technology:

1. Will this technology enable or cause behavioral change that will grow sales, reduce profit loss (shrink), improve inventory productivity (turns) and make your store Leaders more effective?

2. Does the technology go beyond capturing and reporting data to correlating vital KPI’s and determining causation to promote immediate/daily action?

3. Most important, are you defining technology beyond hardware and software to include training for behavior modification and practices to improve your desired business outcomes (goals and ROI)?

4. How will this technology streamline, simplify, market and train better business practices? In many cases, less is more. Technology itself never solves the problem. The best technology is a combination of BI Analytics, and motivated / well trained people. Store Team Leaders must be trained to understand and embrace how and why to use technology. Understanding the What, Why and Because questions are keystone to establishing the expectations, use and accountability to achieve your business goals.

5. Make sure technology goes beyond data capture: Is it easy to access and easy to use? Does it lead to fixing real problems leading to clear expectations for operational outcomes and ROI.

Every CIO has a story about technology that was bought and either took more time than planned to implement or never really got successfully implemented to the achieve intended goals. 

So, now is not the time to slow down. Growth initiatives are critical for future growth after the 2020 roller-coaster.

Too this end, remember:

People using technology is your most important factor in designing for technology success.