The message to retailers is clear: digital transformation is key to future success.
As familiar names disappear from the UK high street, the race to keep up with both employee and consumer demands has never been more challenging.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, voice tech, mobile check-out, multi-channel integration, personalisation.
The opportunities can be overwhelming.
And Mike Ashley can’t be every struggling retailers’ cash-wielding knight in shining armour.
“There is a tangible sense of urgency in the retail tech communities,” says Deon Moodley, Chief Operating Officer (Technology) at REPL. “Retailers must have the confidence to respond to market change quickly or risk falling behind.
“The focus needs to be on enablement: having the fundamentals in place to successfully adopt new systems, change existing systems, experiment and learn in double quick time.”
Here we explore how to prepare your retail business to welcome the tech it needs to stay relevant and ready for the challenges ahead.
Introduce Agile Transformation
The very first step towards retail future-proofing requires a basic mindset shift. One that filters throughout your entire organisation.
In order to become leaner, faster, adopting an agile approach is critical.
But it’s more than simply having a daily stand-up or allocating items to sprint. Instead, it should flow through every corner of your business, influencing each day-to-day decision. It’s the coming together of talent, process and tools in a manner that facilitates learning quickly and solves prioritised business problems quickly.
Agility has been described as “the ability of an organisation to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment”.
Embracing it will inevitably involve a period of deep change, turning old habits and ways of working on their head. But this cultural reset is essential and will keep you more than one step ahead of the competition.
Deon said: “We’re being inundated with companies who want to know how they can do this. We’re organised in small high-performing teams and people are intrigued by how much a small team can get done within an agile framework.
“We’re seeing two types of organisations now, both of whom are trying to prepare for change. First, those that are trying to figure out how they’re going to free up their current teams to introduce transformational change.
“Then there’s the other guys, who are saying to us: ‘We know how important this is but are too busy to do it by ourselves. How can we get the right people to come in and help us?’ This is the group that will get the best results.”
External support can help you undertake change safely and quickly, delivering improvements sooner. Deon added:“We firmly believe in learning fast to succeed sooner.”
This comes in the form of backfilling BAU functions to free up employees, bringing in specialist talent for a temporary period to get initiatives underway and delivering value before handing over to in-house teams, or continuing side by side.
From as little as six weeks to longer projects, retailers are making significant inroads by creating the headspace to implement real change.
With this agility in place, you’ll be fully prepared to respond to the fast-paced evolution of retail with confidence.
Next we’ll explore three areas whose potential is unlocked when you welcome agility into your world.
- Embrace DevOps
This cornerstone of the agile framework can be applied to application delivery, reducing the time between a system change being proposed and being implemented.
Partnering with DevOps specialists improves predictability, quality, speed and security. Increasing automation offers more headspace and opportunity for innovative, value-add ideas. Continuous integration, continuous delivery and continuous deployment:some or all of this can make a significant contribution and give organisations the confidence to be brave and take on change.
Another big tick on your ‘be prepared’ list.
As Deon explains: “Ultimately an organisation’s objective is to get to a position where CEOs and business leaders are meeting the needs of consumers who expect change and expect it quickly. DevOps is another of the instruments they need to make this happen.
“There is a slight sense of panic out there. There are leaders within retail wondering how they’re going to unlock the capacity they need to innovate and put all this amazing tech they hear about in place.
“DevOps is a way to facilitate moving forward faster with confidence. The smart guys are recognising this and making investment decisions now to work with the experts who can make it happen.
“Those who are trying to do this internally without the right in-house skills will get there eventually but how far behind will they be at this point? They need to allocate budget now to ensure they are ready for the future and the daunting pace of change required to compete.”
- Automate Testing
Central to fortifying your business against relentless retail pressures is automation, another process that agility can simplify. Beyond management and team processes, customer service and stock control, it also needs to be applied to software testing.
Manual testing has been the traditional go-to for large, complex projects. But it has potentially costly limitations: a time-consuming task prone to human error. If you consider multiple cycles of manual testing, elapsed time is one of your major issues.
Instead, embracing automation provides a rapid, adaptable, accurate and repeatable approach that saves both time and money.
Test automation establishes an immediate understanding of your needs, equipping you with the knowledge and understanding to get your project off the ground quicker. Testing early and often allows you to respond swiftly to market demand, driving continuous improvement and transformational change.
Deon said: “Once you have agile processes in place and working well, you can add test automation to the mix to give you even more confidence.
“Used within a project, it minimises delays and reduces costs especially if you roll in a shift-left strategy; test early, test frequently. And if anything does go wrong, you’ll know about it sooner and be able to resolve the issue before it becomes a major problem. This kind of flexibility is priceless in such a volatile environment.”
- Initiate Integration
You may be under the illusion that to introduce game-changing tech you need to invest millions and it will take a very long time. Without this huge cash injection, you might feel unable to take that first step and be ready to respond to market change.
But untangling a complex legacy system might feel too risky, even when it’s essential to survival.
“Some organisations are simply paralysed by fear,” explains Deon. “They know they need to make changes but are worried because they’re saddled with complex legacy systems.
“They simply don’t have the confidence that they can satisfy customer demand and keep up with rapid innovation. It’s a massive problem but there is a solution.”
Step forward integration. If a lack of systems synergy is restricting operational efficiency or holding back innovation, it’s the simple way to future-proof your business.
Instead of spending millions on a major re-platforming programme that could be out-of-date by the time of launch, integration provides a quicker, more affordable solution.
Connecting the old to the new using agile principles can deliver rapid results at scale. Innovation is unlocked thanks to expanded API-driven functionality which encourages experimentation.
Systems will be linked and new apps created and connected within weeks rather than years. Accessing the valuable information previously confined in a cumbersome legacy system will be simplified and streamlined. And making informed decisions will be easier thanks to a complete overview of the entire systems infrastructure.
A dynamic and quick-to-implement integration platform, such as Mulesoft, can introduce fresh and profitable methods of dealing with your data and valuable business logic. Forward-thinking retailers are already using integration to unlock important legacy solutions, gaining a competitive edge and cementing their survival chances.
The insight it delivers could make all the difference between sinking or swimming. Solid foundations to ride the retail storm.
So, before you start picturing checkout-free stores, virtual reality mannequins and voice-controlled ordering hubs, get the basics in place.
“To move forward and introduce change safely, and with as much confidence as possible, takes preparation along with change to both company culture and attitude,” says Deon.
“Transformation won’t happen without this shift and a firm belief in its potential. At REPL, we recommend embracing agile transformation and with that in place, the opportunities offered by DevOps, test automation and systems integration.
“Wrap them all up together and you’ve got the right package and the necessary know-how to bravely face the future.”
Discover more about how REPL’s experts can help your business.