Successful omni-channel transformation is about more than the technology stack

Software is just the first step in a successful omni-channel transformation. It is vital businesses choose the right technology, but it is also equally important that they prepare their employees, processes, and culture for the change.

From my own experience in overseeing many such projects, I have come to believe that there are seven golden tips and tricks that will lead businesses to success. Although some of the following points may seem a little obvious, it really is astounding how often they’re overlooked.

Tip 1 - Define desired goals and outcomes before the project kicks off

Before you do even start your project, take the time to discuss and agree upon a clear and comprehensive Vision Statement and Impact Statement about your omni-channel plans. You should also prepare a Numerical Business Case that justifies the investment you’re about to make, and quantifies exactly what a successful outcome looks like.

These assets should then be used to communicate the plan to your wider team. Make sure you are crystal clear about where you want to get to, why you’re doing it, and what’s going to change along the way.

Tip 2 – Appoint a Product-Owner-in-Chief and a Change-Owner-in-Chief

Many businesses are guilty of taking a lazy approach to assigning project ownership. They simply put their Sales or Marketing team in charge of finalising requirements, and their IT team in charge of delivery. This is an error, as assigning ownership in this way only serves to entrench existing organisational silos.

Successful omni-channel transformations take a different approach, working hard to break through silo walls from day one. In my experience, one useful approach is to make the Sales/Marketing leader accountable for end-to-end Product Experience, and the IT leader accountable for overall Change Management.

Getting your teams out of their usual comfort zones is a great way to encourage the cultural evolution necessary for successful omni-channel operations.

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Tip 3 – Protect your talent

Today, omni-channel talent is in high demand and short supply. It can be painful when your best and brightest are tempted away after just a few months, so when you recruit good people, make sure you’ve got a strong long-term incentive plan to retain them.

It can also be beneficial to actively train your existing employees to become experts in this new discipline, rather than always hiring from outside.

Tip 4 – Select partners for the right reasons

Never choose implementation partners just because they offer the lowest cost. Instead, make sure you choose the partner which has the best chance of maximising your success, even if they are not the cheapest.

Look for a good cultural fit, strong experience in your particular sector or industry, and willingness to join you in a long-term partnership - remember, omni-channel implementations do not happen overnight!

Tip 5 – Your roadmap should address your own weaknesses, not someone else’s strengths

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard, “Our product vision simple. We just want to build a website like Amazon.” Not only is this unimaginative, it’s also a sure-fire recipe for disappointment.

It is vital that you build realism and humility into your product roadmap. During the early stages, try focusing on two key areas: 1) addressing your most fundamental weaknesses (e.g. cleaning up your product data and PIM); and 2) delivering some tangible but bite-sized value-adds (e.g. an appointments booking service).

Try to view your omni-channel transformation as part of an on-going journey, rather than the ultimate destination. Create a roadmap that recognises this and allows you to deliver value from the bottom up, at every stage.

Tip 6 – Architecture should define timelines, not vice-versa

Like a real building, your omni-channel business will crumble if the foundations are shoddy. Before timelines are committed and expectations are set, draw up a Reference Architecture that can feasibly support your long-term business objectives.

Make sure you use this to determine delivery timelines. The (all-too common) approach of “Just do whatever it takes to launch my click & collect service by Black Friday!” might deliver a short-term win, but it rarely creates long-term value.

Tip 7 – Bring innovation and IP in-house

At some stage, most businesses will realise they need some internal coding competence to maintain omni-channel applications, and develop innovative new functionality. The sooner you start this, the better.

The best approach is to start building an in-house team during the initial implementation stage. This will be an invaluable opportunity to let your coders learn with the help of your implementation partners. It will also stop your priceless Intellectual Property from walking out the door with your partner when it eventually leaves.

Omni-channel transformations are an exciting project for any organisation and have the potential to deliver benefits across the entire business. However, starting off on the wrong foot can mean missed deadlines, insufficient performance and a poor return on investment.

Following these tips will ensure your business is well prepared to navigate most of the potential pitfalls that are out there – good luck!

Joseph Ballard, director of business consulting, hybris and SAP Customer Engagement and Commerce.