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Retail tech’s future is doomed if there’s no focus on change management.

Chris Field
Chris Field

Tech now enables people and data to be connected like never before, but where are the processes that enable good work to actually get done? Too much of the new tech is a tool not a solution.

Frustrated with the cost and complexity of so much third-party tech, more and more retailers are threatening to build in house, a threat they have yet to make good on, but they are hiring developers and data scientists at an unprecedented rate.

Huge potential of next gen tech

Change management is therefore more critical than ever to the success of the new generation of tech that for the first time has the capability to change retail forever. Process design and management is boring, but most of the new tech is destined for the dustbin without it.

I was at the Tech London Advocates event on February 26 where there was a wealth of tech on show that will enable the transformation of the store of the future. But there was very little talk of how this tech would actually be used to bring about the intended results. For instance, how can a retailer equipped with a map of where shoppers go in store be turned into value?

The first problem is the way that retailers work together or rather don’t work together. How will operations and marketing and store management actually collaborate when they don’t currently –  certainly not at the level that will be required?

Collaboration is a must

Let’s assume retailers can fix the politics to bring down the barriers between departments, but there is still a lack of process. We know this is true because so many retailers tell us and our clients that more than anything else, they wish they had spent more time on change management.

Change management is one of those things beloved of management consultants because it is profitable and it’s what they are good at. But it is easily the least glamorous and potentially painful part of any transformation, digital or otherwise. Most retailers just want to get past it as quickly as possible; after all, who wants to read the instructions when they would rather be opening the present to start pressing shiny buttons on their new solution.

Real business solutions

The tech industry cannot leave this all to the retailers and must address the problem by collaborating. Not simply partnering with other vendors because most of this so-called collaboration is really focused on getting solutions sold rather than delivering long term value; it therefore feels more like a marketing exercise than a business solution.

But it is a start, and some retailers are going along with it- collaborating to develop solutions and sharing the risk and rewards with vendors. We should encourage these trends, but there will have to be more work on process design once everyone is invested in success.

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