This is the fourth and final instalment in our series of blogs exploring how retailers can balance the dual aim of investing in technology to improve their customer proposition, while ensuring smooth-running business operations that deliver against shareholder demands and expectations.
In this blog we look at the importance of developing the right culture in a retail business, and aligning the wider team with the company’s ultimate goals. We discover that much of being successful in this area comes down to savvy recruitment and deployment of these resources.
“There’s no point me having the best IT team in the world if the company’s failing and doing all the wrong things – and that’s as true for us as it is for retail, HR and finance. We all succeed together or fail together.” Says Andrew Rafferty, IT and eCommerce Director at northern grocers, Booths.
This underlines the importance of developing the right culture in a retail business if the wider team is to be aligned to the company’s ultimate goals. Much of being successful in this area comes down to savvy recruitment and deployment of those resources.
“Something that’s slightly harder to quantify is having the right culture of positive engagement and positive intent,” Rafferty says.
“I think a lot of people go into IT – especially developers and project managers – because they like coming up with answers and they like the kudos of being asked how to fix things.”
And when technology projects end well, helping bring positive results to a business, those directly responsible for the legwork of the development need to be given due credit.
Rafferty adds, “Pointing out the key individuals who did the keyboard work and the organisational work, the questioning and testing, by name is crucial,”
Culture dictated from the top
It seems the top-down approach to management, which is defined by practising what is preached and engaging more junior members of the team, is just as important as the IT lead’s relationship with those at the top of the business. Ask any successful business leader the secrets of their success and the less egotistic of them will often attribute it to good recruitment.
The UK’s largest retailer Tesco, in its full-year results announcement in April 2017, gave prominence to the fact 83% of all colleagues recommended the company as a ‘great place to work’. This type of acknowledgment is in part the retailer wanting to show it is a responsible employer but, more importantly, it is also recognition of the power an engaged workforce can have on an enterprise.
The technology and people combination
If general culture is dictated from the top, so too is technological culture – and the Co-op’s decision to bring in Mike Bracken as Digital Director in 2015 was done with positive business change in mind.
“It was an example of an organisation that was prepared to put significant money behind people first, rather than technology,” says Simon Burke, who was on the Co-op board that recruited Bracken.
“But it was very much in that digital transformation space, putting money behind wages to get bright people to think of things that might be useful to the business.”
Bracken was responsible for recruiting a broad range of talent from the digital world such as people who had worked for start-ups and those who had been involved in big government projects.
They worked on a whole series of ideas, ranging from smarter ways of doing things Co-op already did, including projects around stock availability and helping customers locate products in a store, to ideas for new ventures.
Burke notes: “It is moving ahead at pace and has caused quite a bit of disruption, much of which has been healthy disruption, and we’ve moved on with our ideas.”
Inspiration and guidance
Retailers and hospitality companies have multiple options when looking for help with their digital transformation strategies or advice on how to prioritise investments. And the key is to hire the right tech leaders.
“Having the right person in a senior IT role is crucial,” says John Colley a veteran of eCommerce.
As Commercial Director of Maxeda in Belgium, Colley worked closely with the senior IT team, admitting there were a lot of things they decided not to do as a company despite having the option to do so.
“We were very clinical about whether something would help us sell more products. If we thought ‘yes’ we’d think about it, if it was a ‘no’ we didn’t go near it,” Colley recalls.
He adds, “The challenge for the CEO today is how much base knowledge have they got in making these calls.
Of course, experience is essential in making the right decisions – but there are alternative options to simply relying on what has happened before and learning from mistakes.
Techniques of the trade
Retailers read the trade press to gauge the latest trends and to find out what strategies are working; retail has a very strong tradition for collaboration, knowledge sharing and networking.
The technology companies themselves, although operating with an obvious commercial interest, can double up as advisors to retailers – especially for the smaller businesses that do not boast large internal IT teams.
Côte Brasserie’s Chief Financial Officer, Strahan Wilson says: “When I first joined Côte the only major operational system we had was the point of sale (PoS) and then latterly our booking system has become a matching par – really everything we do is an extension of one of those two.”
“Both of these solution providers are technology companies so they have a much deeper understanding of IT infrastructure, set-up and so forth. I find working with them collaboratively provides an opportunity for an engaging relationship.”
Some businesses, like FatFace, lean on specialist consultancies. The retailer recruited Searchlight Consulting to ensure IT architecture/corporate alignment and to manage the implementation of connectivity technology to join up legacy and new systems.
“Searchlight has helped strategically and corporately align my IT strategy,” notes Simon Ratcliffe, FatFace’s Infrastructure Director.
“They have bridged the gap from our corporate commercial strategy, and helped us understand the practical requirements placed on IT and the changes that may be required, and how those changes could be put into a roadmap to minimise change risk.”
Like many mid-market lifestyle retailers, FatFace is exploring how to go multichannel and multi-geography, and it needs to create an IT architecture that supports these ambitions.
Bryan Oak, Chief Operating Officer at Searchlight, adds: “Consultancies bring value because of their experiences with other industries, companies and clients of what works and what doesn’t work.
“Advice issued to retailers can’t just be about standard commercial technology – it has to be about how to use the technology in innovative ways and develop building blocks from technology, rather than guidance on which fully-formed solutions to implement.”
“Amazon took a long time to make profit, but it recognised there was an infrastructure that needed to be put in place to grow the business and be a dominant player, and now they even sell that platform to other organisations,” explains Oak.
He adds: “More retailers now need to think about business technology. The days of traditional “IT” in conversations are no more – it has become a commodity and something that’s easy to outsource and make efficient.”
Digital transformation can empower as much as it can engulf retail and hospitality organisations. And importantly, there are multiple sources of inspiration and guidance to help drive the industry in the right direction.