The vast majority of retail business transformations are technology led, placing CIOs in strategic partnership with leaders across their organization.
As retailers enter new markets, improve the online shopping experience, or expand a product category, underlying technologies can determine the success, speed to market and profitability of each venture. In his annual list of strategic issues for the CIO, tech blogger and Oracle Chief Communications Officer Bob Evans estimates that CIOs will fulfill multiple roles and tackle some key business priorities as they work alongside their peers to effect business change and growth.
Based on Bob Evans’ annual list of strategic issues for the CIO, here are seven priorities and immediate actions retail CIOs are focusing on today:
1. Secure Your Data
A recent NRF CIO survey found that 97% of retailers consider data security one of their top five priorities, so it was easy to list this one as the top priority for 2015. Data security extends beyond simply card data and includes any personally identifiable information. Retail CIOs are staying abreast of emerging threats and trends by joining the NRF IT CIO Security Council and reviewing breach response procedures to ensure their organization is prepared for the likely breach event. Reacting quickly is paramount to surviving a data breach.
2. Plan For Convergence
The separation between selling channels is disappearing quickly as retailers integrate merchandising, inventory management and supply chain operations supporting customer fulfillment across channels. Next, CIOs can expect to see the convergence of now separate e-commerce, mobile, and store-based POS with selling systems that share tax engines, pricing and promotions, and item information to name a few. The data silos will be merged, and handoffs between customer touch points will be seamless. Now is the time to establish a vision and establish a multi-year strategy.
3. Analyze The Consumer Journey
Many retail CIOs and CMOs now find themselves collaborating almost daily to define, influence and enable consumer journeys with respect to their brand. It’s important to understand the different ways in which consumers interact with the brand, using different channels to research, purchase, and service products. Once these are known, it’s easier to look for ways to enhance processes to better serve consumers. By collaborating on end-to-end journeys, both will see the larger picture and uncover more opportunities to grow sales.
4. Embrace Mobile
Mobile is important to the retail enterprise in two ways. First, your customers want to use mobile devices to interact with your brand, either on your website, your mobile app, or social sites. Retailers are using responsive design to cover different form-factors of devices. When developing apps, look to reduce costs by abstracting away from native apps and toward HTML5. Consider how a consumer’s mobile device might make the in-store shopping experience better. Should you be using QR codes for product information, beacons for contextual offers, and NFC for checkout?
5. Leverage Big Science
Much has been said recently about Big Data, but most retailers have been dealing with Big Data for years. Data by itself isn’t terribly valuable until it becomes actionable, and the key to converting data into action is science. Big Science might be the better term since it focuses on the results and not the data itself. Retailers should always be looking for ways to draw conclusions from the data to help make better decisions. Evaluate how data is being used to make decisions, and look for better ways to apply science. Automate analytics, and make BI accessible to everyone in the organization.
6. Increase Inventory Visibility And Fulfillment
Presenting the brand in a unified way allows customers to research and buy with the most flexibility. At Oracle we call this Commerce Anywhere, and it’s predicated on the ability to know where every product resides in the supply chain. Retailers have to predict the demand, order/make the right products, and have the flexibility to sell them via multiple channels. This entails many applications working in concert. Service-enable (SOA) all inventory systems so accurate and fast answers are available to other applications, and look for ways to bring both forecasting and planning for digital and stores together.
7. Remove Costs And Lower Total Cost Of Ownership
As is always the case, CIOs must prioritize ways to reduce system and operational costs throughout the organization. Server consolidation, either on-premise or via a cloud deployment, is always a good place to start. Standardization also helps to drive down costs, so set enterprise standards for database, middleware, programming languages, etc. Modernize and simplify. Consider where server consolidation and/or next-generation hardware reduces overall costs. Form a strategy for moving certain systems to the cloud, either hosted or SaaS.
Tech-savvy consumers and a highly competitive global market keep retailers on fast-forward adoption of the latest technology solutions. As a result, retail CIOs often lead other industries in using new technologies to enable business strategy and growth for their organizations. Security, convergence of shopping channels, inventory visibility and big science will drive retail priorities well into 2016.
David Dorf is Senior Director of Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail where he focuses on the strategic planning of technology adoption for retail applications. He specializes in architecture, technology, and security for the retail industry. Before joining Oracle, Dorf worked for 360Commerce, Circuit City, AMF Bowling, and Schlumberger's Retail & Banking division developing Point-of-Sale systems using various technologies.