So you have a modern retail business, and you know it inside and out. You have built it up, established its identity, crafted its brand, and defined its unique experience. And now you have decided to take the journey to omni-channel retailing. You might have even started that journey. But between where you are and where you want to be, there’s that box. That shiny, black box of IT and systems integration secrets you’ve been warned about. You’ve heard the stories from fellow travelers. You know the box holds the enabling technologies that you need. But if you crack open the lid, will you unleash chaos, complexity, and uncertainty upon your business?
Going omni-channel involves work at many levels, but ultimately, a seamless customer experience has to be enabled by tightly integrated IT systems and tools. That means, at least, integrating business systems; linking unlinked processes; and reconfiguring inventory management, warehousing, and delivery systems. Yes, it is complex. But when we strip away the mythology, the nervousness, and the cautionary tales, the black box on the road to omni-channel is not as scary as it sounds. With experienced support, a structured approach, and an understanding of the vendor marketplace, the technologies inside the black box can be a lot more straightforward to select and implement than you may have heard. Opening the box can let in light.
It all starts with understanding what you want to achieve. Different definitions of omni-channel are fine for different types of business, but, internally, your whole team needs to be clear about your shared vision. This can be one of the first sticking points. While the technology needed to enable omni-channel retailing is sophisticated, many major aspects are well established. But your technology choices will only work if they are tuned to your vision – and vice versa – so you have to get your strategic and IT people working in harmony. The skills and mindset of a great marketer or retailer are not the same as those of a great IT leader. So it makes a huge difference to enlist support from someone who understands both facets of the business and can translate internal information flows into powerful insights.
Of course, many retailers may not have significant internal IT resources or knowledge. Small and medium retailers, in particular, find themselves in a weak buying position. Furthermore, the outsourcing choices are often relatively fragmented across many players, offering a mixture of standardized and custom solutions. Without the right preparation and support, too many retailers find themselves in a poor bargaining position and may be led towards one-size-fits-all approaches that turn out not to fit anyone so well. Any business can improve its position with a well-articulated vision, a full understanding of the available technologies, and effective project management. This can reduce provider dependency and eliminate lock-in effects.
Your vision is unique, but this path has been travelled before. You can change your view of the black box from something to be feared to something that enables your vision. The systems, the technologies, the overall integration challenges are complex, but they are knowable, and doable. So find your guide, open the box, and accelerate you omni-channel journey.