Technological innovation in the retail sector is ballooning, but when retailers and other businesses investigate exciting new advances, it's often difficult to distinguish true business technology from a total dud.
At the 2013 Retail Business Technology, John Lewis' Head of IT Architecture, Julian Barnett provided some insights on how retailers can quickly separate the eagles from the ducks and outlined the filtration process John Lewis use to qualify potential technologies. Before we get to that process here are two important truths about new technology:
1. All innovative technology will appear useful to you.
2. It's all new and unproven.
Here are three powerful questions, Barnett suggested retailers should ask before investing time and/or finance in new technology.
1. Does the technology fit with the business strategy?
Imagine procuring a new piece of Retail Business Technology (RBT). Undoubtedly it has benefits, undoubtedly it works well, and undoubtedly it's easy to use - but ask yourself, "does it fit into my business strategy?"
For instance, what if an aspect of your strategy is to promote your online marketing, and the technology investment only provides detailed information on the statistics in your physical store? How can that data help expand or promote your online store? Is the customer data produced useful with regards to online shopping habits?
Or what if we take another example? One business strategy used by a client was to prioritise the elderly as their core sales demographic. They invested heavily in high-tech mobile PoS devices for their outlets and then found that that the strategy had one major component missing: although the technology provided a unique and streamlined experience, they found that core customers were actually discouraged by the new technology.
Asking how relevant a project is to your business strategy will help maintain focus on business objectives and prevent distraction by other technology. Before making technological investment ensure the project is congruent with your business strategy.
2. How will the technology help realise my business strategy? Porthole Ad
After qualifying that the technology will fit into your business strategy, you need to ask "how will the technology benefit my customers?"
For example if part of your business strategy is to provide an excellent service to customers, the solution may be as simple as learning more about your customers to re-market to them effectively.
Hence technology you choose to invest in should reduce employees' time doing administrative tasks and enable the same employees to spend more time on the shop floor to interact with customers. So think about 'How' the secondary and tertiary effects of new technology will impact on your business and see how the technology will take you closer towards your goal.
3. How will it fit into my IT architecture?
Once you've found a product that is a good fit with your business strategy and you are happy with the areas in which this technology will benefit your customers, you have one last question to ask; how will the solution fit into my IT architecture?
To implement a new system may require updates of hundreds of computers, and require so much integration with a variety of legacy equipment,that it may be nigh on impossible to use.
For large retailers the question boils down to "is it really worth it?" or "Is it worth the extra man hours to successfully integrate this technology into my existing architecture?"
Small retailers have the advantage of a simpler IT infrastructure and can therefore implement new technology faster and more easily than their larger counterparts. The question for smaller retailers to ask is "how scalable is this technology?" or "how easy/inexpensive/quick is it to expand this technology?"
These three questions are Julian Barnett's filtration method for finding which technology John Lewis will even consider. There are many tempting innovative, intelligent and useful technologies that could make or detract from the focus on your business goals.
New technology is unproven and can seem like a good idea but in reality can be absolutely useless. Before considering investment, remember to ask yourself these questions:
1. Does it fit my business strategy? To determine if the technology helps you reach your business goal.
2. How will it help realise my business strategy? To determine How the technology will help you reach your business goal.
3. How will it fit into my IT architecture? To determine what you'll need to change to integrate the technology.
Finding the answers to these questions is the only way to prevent you from wasting resources on technology not suited to your business.
Nathan Benjamin Chai has worked extensively in retail, and at time of writing currently supports retail companies in their deployment of technology for Lanix UK Limited.
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