Opportunities for retail IT departments in 2017

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In the corporate world of now-a-days, there are rarely any processes that do not depend heavily on IT technology. Ranging from purchase systems, CRMs, ERPs and all other decision and relation supporting systems through in store equipment like POSes, up to corporate core functions like data, communications and reporting.

The range of IT responsibilities in a corporation is vast and while IT departments tend to be rather large and crowdy and the annual IT budget growing year-by-year, most of line of business managers say that their corporate IT is a show stopper. None-the-less there are many opportunities to improve that impression.

Driving innovation

With the increasing push from corporate boards and shareholders for innovation, many companies think of and discuss different ways how innovation can be achieved and accelerated. Innovation is a very modern buzz word of now-a-days. But far from a simple hype, many of the world biggest companies invest heavily their resources to stay ahead of their competitors. Driving innovation is a demanding process with many risks and pitfalls.

There are three basic steps that help you to ignite innovation: allocating needed resources, creating and maintaining a spirit driving new ideas and allowing new concepts or ideas that are not “conform” to your company’s current strategy.

IT departments can play a vital role here as many Innovations are aided in their core by IT technology. Especially for retail IT, there are many new windows of opportunities open here … In-store analytics is a new and promising way to explore one’s customer journey in the brick-and-mortar stores.

Clearly articulate the value of tech innovation

This is a vital point for all innovation activities. There are many excellent ideas out in the world with little to none practical use. Even things that worked for one company might not work for another. During the innovation process sooner or later every idea will be presented in front of the board to ask for funding and approval.

It is hard for many IT executives to clearly articulate the value of tech innovation, or even to explain the core idea. Speaking IT jargon and technical language in front of the board is never a good idea as it simply will not be understood. Business executives need to hear their language – costs and profits, risks and opportunities, legal and compliant views as well as impact on customers and competitors.

Making business

Many things sold now-a-days are offering IT related services. Who is better suited then IT to suggest and prepare IT gadgets? Head up displays in cars and even autonomous driving would be impossible without strong IT and business partnership. While connected cars are already reality, automotive data brokering might bring in the near future more revenue than selling cars.

Kiosks enabling customers to design and order customized meals directly in restaurants are new channels to generate revenue and Blockchain might be even the new business for banking.

Using strength of a brick-and-mortar store

Even legacy assets and systems can be a source of competitive advantage, especially when facing new digital and disruptive competition. Brick-and-mortar bound discounts are impossible to duplicate for on-line retailers and generate new traffic to one’s stores.

Agility

In the fast paces business world of today … it is no longer possible for IT departments to work in the old, reliable but slow way they did for the last 20 years. Working on system specifications for 2 months, doing the programming for 6 months, testing with users for another month and resigning the system to what the customer really wants for another 3 months makes up a year. Within this year, business has no solution and probably loses even the need for the system.

IT departments should strive to give the business a minimum viable product within weeks of communicating the need, adding functionality and stability with each iteration on a monthly basis and securing compliance and necessary paperwork at the end.

Even in the IT daily business there is a need for increased agility. As today’s businesses are more and more dependable on a round-the-clock working IT environment, response to major IT outages must be swift and well ahead of agreed service level agreements (SLA).

Educate the board

Many boards see technology as an IT issue. Understanding how to integrate technology innovation into the corporate business model is often left to lower levels of corporate hierarchy, leaving many possible gains and chances out of board’s radar. It is vital for IT execs to continuously educate the board so corporate leaders might become tech-savvy to see the potential of technologies for their business areas and the corporation as a whole.

Attracting top talents

The matter is of high importance to HR and even the whole board as attracting top talents gets harder with each generation. Gen X, Y, Z … each target group of potential employees has its own desires, specifics and quirks. In the modern world of social networking and shared feelings and experiences, employees have it easy to find job offers, salary comparisons and (ex)employee feedback on your vacant positions.

IT departments have always struggled to find and attract top talents. Best of the best were often taken by IT giants, dot.coms and Silicon Valley start-ups and facing the truth … often are corporate IT departments seen only as a costly bunch of weird nerds from the basement … tending to computers and printers. Seldom are they seen as an asset to company growth and even survival.

A common mistake in the corporate world and IT especially is the habit to try to find the fitting people for defined functions … all ignoring the fact that top talents are unique and seldom fit in corporate hierarchy layers and predefined roles of responsibilities. Even the more, growth and evolution of one’s top talents is limited and hindered by corporate HR guidelines, eventually leading to talents leaving the company. IT execs should strive to take a role of HR business partner, assuming responsibility and proactively attract and retain their key talents.