From the 19th to the 24th Centuries, from the British Navy to a space ship, a Captain’s command – ‘Make it so’ – has ushered in a non-negotiable, nature-defying instruction to deliver the impossible. As eDelivery Magazine prepares for print, Ian Jindal reflects on the challenges our colleagues in ‘retail engineering’ face to fulfil the promise of multichannel.
“Make it so” is a phrase popularised by Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise, an (allegedly) fictional star-ship captain. A rare combination of Shakespeare, Solomon and Lycra, the phrase was most often uttered to the chief engineer or helmsman, indicating that he should crack on without further ado and just implement the Captain’s intent. No further discussion, no room for debate, no room for failure. Just make it so.
That the power sources may be depleted, the hull breached, Klingons on the starboard bow – even the regular disruption in the space-time continuum… these minor details were no more than background detail once the Captain uttered those words.
Modern CEOs are not quite as imperious as our time-spanning captains, but the demands being placed upon our operational and supply chain colleagues are barely less demanding than flying through wormholes or circumnavigating the globe without a GPS. Customer expectation, allied to competitive pressures have pushed retailers to a level of demanding performance not seen in our lifetimes.
Ecommerce was initially about ‘just getting a website’, while the next phase was focused on customer acquisition, marketing, promotion and conversion. We are now ending the first phase of multichannel (where even acknowledging the store estate seemed radical). The current phase of multichannel puts pressure upon the whole retail chain. We want to have more products than ever before, more quickly made available for sale. We expect ever-increasing delivery options for those products, allied to real-time store inventory and near-psychic, zero-cost order management and orchestrations. Warehouses need to be lean and cheap, yet also flex without complaint to absorb the pressures of Black Friday and other peaks. Retail operations need to be able to handle web orders, mobile customers and know everything about everything, while our customer support, service and returns approaches need to be smooth, loyalty-focused and integrated.
The true challenge for our infrastructures however is that we wish fixed, inflexible, complex systems to operate as if they are a marketing project: in beta, fail fast, low cost of testing and a ‘good enough’ approach. This however doesn’t work for systems we depend upon – the systems that underpin the very promises we make to customers and upon which our brand value is built.
The engineering processes and skills with logistics can be made flexible to support and drive multichannel, but the demands upon our professional colleagues are legion. The challenges of changing a live system (rather than a one-off, disconnected project) are significant, the lead times are longer than we’d wish and the number of options and alternatives to consider are exhausting. However, the best retailers – as we see in our Top500 report, bound in with this issue of the Magazine – are managing to not only optimise their capabilities, but scale them too, all while building in flexibility and providing an ‘infrastructure as a service’ to the business.
It is these professionals who have inspired the launch of our new title, ‘eDelivery’. Published as a Magazine, online at www.edelivery.net and ‘live’ at www.edeliveryexpo.com in March, eDelivery will focus upon the people, then the processes and finally the technology ‘behind the buy button’. Focused on the Top500 companies, we will interview, profile and learn from those leaders in supply chain, operations and delivery. We will look not only at the smoothly executed successes of usual case study lore, but focus on the choices, the options, the experiments undertaking on the path to success – a sort of ‘laboratory notebook’ if you will to help us understand the nature of success in such a complex role – especially at scale, consistently, dependably and
While eDelivery is a resource for the professionals who fulfil the multichannel promise, we will continue to learn from them so that when the commercial leadership next thinks ‘make it so’, they understand both the extent of their request and the capabilities at their disposal – and how much further they can push the business as a result.
eDelivery is a free service for qualifying professionals – you can subscribe if interested at www.edelivery.net. Our Linkedin group is growing the conversation on http://etail.li/edelivery-linkedin-group. Suppliers, experts and speakers all meet at www.edeliveryexpo.com on March 25 & 26 at the NEC in Birmingham. Register for your free ticket.