Things That Keep the CIO Awake 4. Omni-channel

The fourth in our series of blogs on what keeps retail CIOs awake at night focuses on the demands put upon IT teams by omni-channel retailing.

There is no doubt that there has been very significant change over the last few years in the retail marketplace. Digital transformation is affecting all industries and sectors but there is an immediacy for retailers and their customers; which is leading to rapid innovation in customer journeys, transactions and interactions. This situation is only likely to accelerate in the immediate future. Customer expectations of both technology and the retailers’ ability to respond to, and utilise that technology, is sky high. Adoption of new consumer devices is extremely rapid – and is very much led by the consumer with the retailer left playing catch up if they are not careful.

This is where the CIO needs to select his or her partners carefully; a good omni-channel retail solutions company is hard to find. The real differentiators are real world experience – a few hard-earned battle scars; a pragmatic no nonsense approach and a sense of fun. This last element should not be under-estimated as, in my experience, the success of a project is directly proportional to the motivation and enthusiasm of the project team!

Previously the challenge of multi-channel retailing has been articulated but a purely opportunistic or tactical approach to retailing whilst giving benefit in the short term, will ultimately lead to complexity and costs that make sustaining those channels and the integration between them, very difficult and costly. For example, to merely recognise a channel and become present within it (such as developing a customer app) is not enough in its own right. It needs to be developed and integrated with an overall strategy in mind – a strategy which puts the customer at the heart of the retailer’s operations.

The challenge for the retailer has really become one of how to make the links between channels seamless from both a customer perspective and from the retailer’s own perspective also. This is the definition of omni-channel retailing.

True omni-channel retailing will allow customers to choose how and when they use functionality in a particular journey. Furthermore that functionality will be intuitive to use, and will be consistent regardless of the channel or point of execution.

The pressures this brings to bear on the IT team is significant. The demands to link the intuitive, super-sexy front ends to the clever and fully integrated back end systems and information, are great. All of this workload needs to be delivered at pace and with agility as the expectations of the customer and therefore the internal retail customer are for a more responsive approach.

For these reasons omni-channel retailing is certainly a ‘keeps me awake at night’ for most retail CIOs. The good thing is that the digital era is genuinely creating new opportunities for retail innovation and that these do need thinking about. Whether that thinking is done by the CIO in the daylight hours or overnight is a mute point but it is not a topic that can be ignored.

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