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Retail Technology in India – from there to here

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Evolution does not stop, there is no getting off the treadmill

Wiser from the experience, CIOs drove into the emerging convergence that promised to once again change the way people used technology. Enterprises were challenged to create a strategy around SMACS – Social Mobile Analytics Cloud and Security. The combination was expected to be a potent force that would create success.

The questions and counter-questions around these had everyone scrambling for action:

1. How do we leverage Social media to attract and retain customers? How do we limit the negative comments and trolling on Twitter and Facebook ?
2. More followers were celebrated, consumers expected some gratification for their “Likes”. What is the value of one Like on Facebook ?
3. How do we translate “Following” and “Likes” to incremental revenue or increased customer satisfaction ?
4. Smartphones explosion implied consumer shift from fixed to mobile internet. The opportunity: how to get onto the mobile of the customer ? Mobile is the future !
5. Large volumes of transactional data and some customer loyalty data; how can we use Analytics and Big Data to get actionable insights ?
6. Why are we spending on infrastructure ? Can we not leverage the Cloud ? Capital Investment is bad, Operating Expenses are good became the mantra.
7. Finally how secure is our data ? Target (hacked in December 2013) has already been targeted ! But how do we prevent data leakage from internal users ?

Retail Technology in India – from there to hereInvestments in analytics beyond the reporting is critical for every retailer; transactional data juxtaposed with customer information, embellished with social media listening, and finally topped up with demographics and psychographics is a winning proposition that many retailers are using globally to sustain their competitive advantage. The chart courtesy MIT Sloan Management Review provides the use cases and benefits that an enterprise can accrue. Analytics can be the difference between being the number 1 or an always second aspirant in quest for the customers business. Analytics is not basic transactional reporting, it requires careful thought on insights that impact and aid decision making; the difference between knowing what happened to why it happened and what will the future hold. IBM Watson was the first to excite the world on possibilities with Machine Learning and Deep Learning based analytics – possible with low cost high powered compute capacities and evolving models of analysing data.

Efficiency improvements were expected with the help of technology thus improving profitability; Social, Mobile and Analytics should contribute to revenue growth, metrics that most CIOs were not comfortable with. The Leaders in embracing technology were able to translate their investments into meaningful KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). How do we improve supply chain efficiencies, what can we do to improve inventory turns, what can be done to improve margins by staggering markdowns or discounts; these questions thrown at CIOs expected use of innovative new tools and technologies with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

While improvements in IT infrastructure, particularly in hardware, help reduce the risk of catastrophic failures, there are still legacy tools, technical debt and manual processes where mistakes small and large could lead to big-time failures as projects come online. In the end, it’s important to remember that whatever the reason for the failure when it comes to projects that involve technology, IT is likely to get the blame if it doesn’t work out — whether it’s fair or not.

The bigger challenge faced by CIOs is to ensure that existing teams can be reskilled for the new normal and they are able to participate in and contribute to the new initiatives. According to Economist Intelligence Unit study in 2017, one of the biggest threats to success for companies is the ability to ensure that current teams are trainable on new skills that matter for the future. Finding talent from outside is extremely difficult especially for some of the new technologies. Limited talent being wooed by multiple interested organizations outprices affordability for most. Organizations need to be visible as innovative and great places to work to attract and retain the right people.

Lesson for CIOs: Business as usual is basic expectation from IT teams; CIOs need to stay abreast with potentially disruptive forces, assess their impact, and educate the organization on how and what is the probable impact of doing something or inaction/maintaining status quo. Be a talent magnet by projecting your company as the place for innovators and highly skilled people to find their careers. This is a continuous engagement that requires convincing skills, great articulation, and networking. It requires giving up the Left-Brain mentality and moving towards Right-Brain behaviours.