Customers come first. Adapting to that mantra has now become a perpetual, real time task during purchases and delivery online, on mobile and in store. Companies such as Lastminute.com are producing live code in as little as 30 minutes to continually improve customer experiences. Shutl (now part of eBay) give consumers a one hour window for delivery and have a record speed of 14 minutes from click to handover. Customer facing retail is finally moving at a speed worthy of the customers they serve.
Can internal systems keep pace with these rapid changes though? And will creaking legacy hold back real time experience improvement?
But what about the rest of the company? There’s no agility and no responsiveness, much like customer facing retail was before it’s forcible overhaul. It's an iceberg of technology and process that sits beneath the customer facing tip. Supply chains are still rigid, not adapting to newly spotted trends - companies are proudly stating that they must begin Black Friday preparations a year in advance. Financial reporting systems take days (if not weeks) to close with a change in approach resulting in major projects.
The rise of the skunkworks in companies like Argos and John Lewis is the first step in addressing this problem. Creating internal teams who think solely about how to improve customer experience without consequence creates a more agile business. This isn’t breaking news, but why aren’t they tackling internal adaptability too? Web development agility has increased considerably to cope with demand so why doesn’t the same apply to operations, finance and supply chain?
Shop Direct CEO, Alex Baldock, explained at Retail Week Live that after communicating the company’s new strategy (including a more lean ordering model), buying teams working with archaic ordering systems designed to only work in bulk couldn’t make any changes. Shop Direct realized that their operations had to change as quickly as the customer facing edge and as a result they are now on the way to becoming a business that will adapt faster than any of their competition.
Finance systems may seem purely functional in the face of a happy customer but having the ability to project the profit impact of new experiments and feedback on the financial validity of numerous projects in the month they are executed gives new levels of insight. An agile company needs to be able to see where it is going as well as just being able to change direction quickly.