Connecting Data, Connecting Systems, Connecting People
I recently launched my new company web-site for RIBA Retail with its overriding theme of connecting data, connecting systems, connecting people.
At RIBA Retail, we specialize in retail technology consulting, services, and development. We have been performing data conversions and data integration for retailers for a long time! It still amazes me how many difficulties retailers run into when trying to convert data or integrate systems. I don’t know about other industries, but having worked with retail systems for over 25 years, I know that retail systems can be very complex. There are many applications/systems to deal with - POS, merchandising, replenishment, warehouse, planning & forecasting, assortment planning, allocation, price optimization, business intelligence, financials, order fulfilment, just to name a few. Things get even more complex for those retailers that also operate a wholesale business like Tory Burch, Quiksilver, and Skechers. Retail is a dynamic business, with new channels and new business applications being developed all the time.
Retailers have come to understand the importance of offering a complete cross-channel shopping experience, which is no longer simply a competitve differentiator, but a retailing necessity.
According to a recent RSR study, “a satisfied multi-channel shopper can be a retailer’s most profitable customer’”.
Yet, even still, retailers struggle with data consistency and a seamless multi-channel business.
According to this same RSR study; “Retail business process disconnects continue to keep them from becoming more effective cross-channel retailers.”
For the retailer, it is becoming increasingly important that they accomplish the following in order to offer a cross-channel experience:
- Share product information across all channels for brand consistency. Descriptions, prices, and images in one channel must match other channels. Consumers are becoming savvier and expect to connect with your brand the same way in all channels.
- Inventory availability must be immediate and accurate in all channels. Customers expect to get product when they want regardless of which channel it is coming from.
- Customers must be recognized and consistent across all channels. A customer that shops in the store, is the same customer that may shop online, or on her iPhone. And the retailer better recognize and reward that customer regardless of channel.
- Lastly, retailers need to add the human side. Its not only about systems, but with the advent of social media, it is very much about people too. Retailers need to engage, inform, and ‘connect’ with their customers in all channels in a consistent manner.
So, why is this so diffcult to accomplish? Why do retail operations and channels appear to be so disconnected? First of all, retail systems are many and often disparate. While there has been a recent consolidation of retail systems and more vendors offering a full ERP solution, there are still many disconnects. Even some leading ERP vendors have difficutly connecting their own systems (but I’ll deal with that topic on another post). Inherently, retail systems can be complex. There are ERP systems, best of breed applications, homegrown systems, and retailers may have a variety of these. With all these different systems, how can retailers possibly connect all their data and all their systems in a seamless way?
Based on my experience, I would like to offer a few tips that retailers should think about when connecting data and integrating systems:
- Data must flow between systems automatically and on a timely basis. Manually entering some information from one system to another maybe acceptable in some cases, but most data should flow automatically.
- Even though systems will have different types and lengths of fields/descriptors, they must be setup in a manner that will be acceptable and consistent across all systems (finding that lowest common denominator).
- Data must be mapped appropriately. Certain entitites may have different codes or names from one system to another. If product is called ‘x’ in one system and ‘y’ in another, there must be the proper and accurate mapping mechanism in place to communicate information between systems.
- New/updated customers and inventory updates must be fed to all appropriate systems, so that all channels reflect customers and available inventory in a timely and accurate manner.
- Validate, validate, validate. All data converted or integrated must be validated and verified for completeness and accuracy.
- Efficient method for identifying and handling errors via system alerts and error logs, so that problems can be quickly identified, corrected and re-processed.
Keeping these few suggestions in mind will help significantly reduce problems and disconnects for any data conversion or integration project. Please feel free to add your own tips/suggestions based on your own experiences.