Monday Jun 24, 2013

Maximizing the Value of Software

A few years ago we decided to increase our investments in documenting retail processes and architectures.  There were several goals but the main two were to help retailers maximize the value they derive from our software and help system integrators implement our software faster.  The sale is only part of our success metric -- its actually more important that the customer realize the benefits of the software.  That's when we actually celebrate.

This week many of our customers are gathered in Chicago to discuss their successes during our annual Crosstalk conference.  That provides the perfect forum to announce the release of the Oracle Retail Reference Library.  The RRL is available for free to Oracle Retail customers and partners.  It contains 1000s of hours of work and represents years of experience in the retail industry.  The Retail Reference Library is composed of three offerings:

Retail Reference Model

We've been sharing the RRM for several years now, with lots of accolades.  The RRM is a set of business process diagrams at varying levels of granularity. This release marks the debut of Visio documents, which should make it easier for retailers to adopt and edit the diagrams.  The processes represent an approximation of the Oracle Retail software, but at higher levels they are pretty generic and therefore usable with other software as well.  Using these processes, the business and IT are better able to communicate the expectations of the software.  They can be used to guide customization when necessary, and help identify areas for optimization in the organization.

Retail Reference Architecture

When embarking on a software implementation project, it can be daunting to start from a blank sheet of paper.  So we offer the RRA, a comprehensive set of documents that describe the retail enterprise in terms of logical architecture, physical deployments, and systems integration.  These documents and diagrams describe how all the systems typically found in a retailer enterprise work together.  They serve as a way to jump-start implementations using best practices we've captured over the years.

Retail Semantic Glossary

Have you ever seen two people argue over something because they're using misaligned terminology?  Its a huge waste and happens all the time.  The Retail Semantic Glossary is a simple application that allows retailers to define terms and metrics in a centralized database.  This initial version comes with limited content with the goal of adding more over subsequent releases.  This is the single source for defining key performance indicators, metrics, algorithms, and terms so that the retail organization speaks in a consistent language.

These three offerings are downloaded from MyOracleSupport (article 1564821.1) separately and linked together using the start page above.  Everything is navigated using a Web browser.  See the Oracle Retail Documentation blog for more details.

Friday Jun 21, 2013

Oracle is a Leader again in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for E-commerce

Although e-commerce represents only 10% of the typical brick-and-mortar retailer’s sales, that percentage continues to climb.  So it’s no wonder that many retailers are considering the purchase of new e-commerce platforms to provide a commerce experience that keeps customers coming back.  And once again, Oracle and IBM lead the pack, identified as leaders in Gartner’s 2013 Magic Quadrant for E-Commerce along with hybris. 

Many retailers are realizing the need to support Commerce Anywhere, allowing customers to interact with brands on their own terms.  Gartner reinforces this trend saying, “E-commerce is moving beyond just an online selling channel to integrated platforms delivering a unified customer experience. Traditionally, most organizations have been investing in the online channels with the objective of driving additional sales. However, customers increasingly are expecting a seamless buying experience across all channels, and e-commerce is a critical part of this evolution since it is a point where other channels are integrating to synchronize the customer experience across channels."

Oracle saw this trend coming and acquired ATG, FatWire, and Endeca, all leaders in their respective markets, starting back in 2010.  The assets have been combined as Oracle Commerce and represent a comprehensive solution for retailers to sell via the Web while offering the best customer experience possible.  Retailers like JCPenney, American Apparel, and Kohl’s have recently licensed Oracle Commerce as part of their transformations.

In the next two years we’ll begin to see more separation between the retailers that have a Commerce Anywhere strategy, and those that continue to flail with separate channels.  Integrating online and offline commerce, along with mobile and social aspects are becoming crucial to success in the industry.

Thursday Jun 20, 2013

The Innovation Pivot

One of the things our Retail Applied Research team tries to do is "fail fast."  That doesn't mean we're trying to fail, but we want to arrive at a failure or success assessment quickly so we minimize investments in failures.  But just because a project isn't deemed a success doesn't necessarily mean its a failure.  In many cases we can pivot, reusing some of the knowledge and technology but applied in a different context.  In some circles, entrepreneurs are encouraged to run with an idea until it fails, then pivot in a different direction.  There are many famous examples of pivots, like the emergence of from a social app targeting gay men or the pivot of Tote into Pinterest.  Sometimes the original idea just didn't fit, and other times the market changed and required re-assessment.

The Austin-based start-up Digby has pivoted twice. Digby first created a mobile marketplace on the Blackberry where consumers could order products from multiple retailers in a single application.  I once used it to order flowers for my wife.  This was in the early days of smartphones when mobile commerce was in its infancy.  Then when the iPhone was released, retailers wanted their own dedicated app so Digby moved away from the marketplace app and focused on mobilizing e-commerce sites, providing mobile apps to retailers supporting iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone. While that was a successful business, the market was shrinking because e-commerce vendors, like Oracle ATG, started offering mobile extensions so that third-party software was no longer needed.

Wanting to leverage all their experience with mobile technology, Digby next pivoted to Localpoint, a product that enables retailers to easily create geo-fences and provide direct marketing to consumers via their mobile devices. recently gave them an honorable mention in their 7 Hot Mobile Startups to Watch in 2013.  They seem to be making great inroads with retailers using this latest approach.

Conventional wisdom says you don't know what you don't know, so its best to dive in but be prepared to pivot.  (Idea-driven vs Outcome-driven is an interesting debate and something retail labs should consider.) Agile retailers need to test (a step Ron Johnson skipped over) lots of concepts before finding the ones that work, and then not stay married to those concepts forever. And don't think this advice is limited to small companies -- large companies can pivot too.

Wednesday Jun 19, 2013

Accelerating Innovation for Retailers

In today's competitive marketplace, a big differentiator can be technology, where advancements in social and mobile have opened new possibilities for increasing employee efficiency and enhancing the customer experience.  Therefore, its critical that retailers establish their own labs to track and adopt new ideas.  There are several different approaches, and there's no single right way to establish a lab.  Below I describe the most common three approaches I've seen from retailers.

1. Organic approach.  Some retailers, like Tesco and Wet Seal, fan the flames of innovation within their four walls. Using internal employees, they design and implement novel ideas that improve the business.  Tesco has continued to innovate with their website, loyalty program, and their mobile apps, much of which is developed internally.  Wet Seal, one of the early pioneers of social retailing, learns through trial-and-error, finding out which ideas have legs.  This approach requires strong leadership, vision, and a willingness to fail so its not for every company.

2. Kickstart with acquisitions.  In April of 2011 Walmart acquired Kosmix, a social startup, and formed @WalmartLabs.  This was followed by a string of additional acquisitions in the social and cloud spaces.  HomeDepot followed a similar path by acquiring BlackLocus to form a lab then following with the acquisition of Red Beacon.  This can be an effective approach if there's no existing culture of innovation, so buying the start-up mentality can form a basis for building a lab.

3. Partner collaboration.  The danger retailers face is losing focus on their core competency -- retailing.  Running a start-up within a large company can be costly, reliant on key individuals, and sometimes a distraction to the core business.  An alternative approach is to partner with technology companies so as to share some of the burden.  Lowes, for example, invites technology partners to present innovative ideas then chooses a few projects for collaboration.  This can be an excellent way to stay on the leading edge of innovation without some of the mentioned downsides.

CEOs know that standing still is not an option, so look for more retailers to establish labs where technology innovation can be better cultivated.


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