Achieving Innovation in Retail IT

IT innovation comes in many forms. But achieving innovation in retail IT requires a clear, proven innovation management framework.

Retail Innovation

Think about retail innovation, and what companies spring to mind? Zulily®? Gilt®? Alibaba®?

These retailers are among the industry’s most inventive upstarts. But none was founded in the past five years. Has the era of retail innovation passed?

Not if retailers have anything to say about it. Retailers need continual innovation to win in a highly competitive industry with razor-thin margins. Nowadays, they’re looking to digitalization to optimize the customer experience across online, mobile, social and other channels. 

But IT innovation can come in many forms. “Innovation is anything that’s new to your particular environment,” says Shawn Fields, CompuCom® vice president of Client Innovation. “If we implement self-service password resets for a client that was doing them manually, that’s innovation to that client. And those kinds of innovations can be as transformational as creating a new way of doing business.”

Regardless of the innovation you’re pursuing, Fields says, you need an innovation management framework that lets you manage that innovation. An innovation management framework gives you a rigorous way to:

  • Assess how well existing IT supports your desired business outcomes.
  • Establish the baseline of your current environment.
  • Determine your desired future state.
  • Identify the gaps between your current IT support and where you need it to be.

On the Lookout for Innovation

Retailers need innovation to serve customers better, to bring new offerings to market more quickly and, of course, to cut costs. One area of IT that’s ripe for innovation is the digitalization of technology and associated processes. Digitalization can improve efficiencies while measurably reducing costs.

“In the past we achieved these results through labor arbitrage — for example, moving the service desk to lower-cost locations,” Fields explains. “Today we’re extending those cost savings through digital or automation arbitrage — moving IT tasks to automated processes.”

Innovation is anything that's new to your particular environment
When retailers take cost out of IT, they can use those savings in a number of ways. They can invest in strategic IT initiatives. They can invest in other retail innovations. Or they can move those dollars to the bottom line.

But innovation doesn’t just happen. You need an innovation management framework to help you identify opportunities for innovation and reliably deliver the value anticipated from that innovation — whether it comes from improvement to the service experience or cost savings. “CompuCom has developed Innovation Delivery FrameworkTM,” Fields says, “which leverages tested methodologies to focus innovation on achieving our clients’ desired business outcomes.”

Aligning for Outcomes

To identify your desired business outcomes, you need to start with the business, not with IT. That begins with interviewing business-unit owners to find out what they’re trying to achieve — both short term (typically the next year) and longer term (from three to five years). Then you can identify the technology requirements needed to support those goals.

You can apply the innovation framework to every aspect of IT, from data storage to networks, from point-of-sale systems to service desk. “Look for specific areas where IT may be challenged in keeping up with the velocity at which the business needs to change,” Fields advises. “Identify shortcomings and the reasons for those shortcomings.” Those gaps become your opportunities for innovation.

Based on their importance to the business, you then prioritize those opportunities. By focusing on business goals instead of IT goals, you change the dynamic between IT and the business. And that change is often necessary.

“When we do workshops with clients, we ask for a show of hands of how many IT people have met with their business counterparts to understand their needs,” Fields relates. “And most of the time, very few hands go up.” That’s a problem, because if your IT people aren’t in constant communication with the business, your IT solutions probably aren’t delivering what the business needs.

Roadmap to Innovation Success

It’s one thing to identify your opportunities for change. The next step is to actually implement your innovations. And for that you need an innovation roadmap.

“Your roadmap documents how you will achieve the desired innovation,” Fields explains. “It also increases the likelihood your innovation projects are implemented on time and within budget. Most important, it helps you make sure you achieve the anticipated value, whether that’s an improvement in the service experience or simple return on investment.”

CompuCom’s innovation roadmap addresses projects from four key perspectives: governance, process, technology and culture. “Process, technology and governance changes are relatively straightforward,” Fields points out. “Cultural change is often more difficult.” And note that any activity that requires a different way of thinking potentially involves cultural change.

The roadmap should also include a means of measuring results. CompuCom uses a three-year planning cycle, with one-year implementation cycles. “We document project priority levels, roles and responsibilities, and alignment to desired outcomes,” Field says. “Then we establish the key performance indicators (KPIs) we’ll use to measure progress.”

Retail IT innovations can’t stop, because retailers have to keep innovating to survive and thrive. But truly innovative retailers will use an innovation management framework for uncovering innovation wherever new ways of operating can help them improve the customer experience, lower costs and sell more effectively.

CompuCom® is a registered trademark and Innovation Delivery FrameworkTM is a trademark of CompuCom Systems, Inc. 
Alibaba® is a registered trademark of Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. 
Gilt® is a registered trademark of Gilt Groupe, Inc.
Zulily® is a registered trademark of Zulily LLC.

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