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Retail technology: How complex do you want your simple to be?


Technology is supposed to make our lives simpler – both as consumers and as professionals. It is technology which is bridging the gap between the store and online, between supply and demand, between consumer expectations and retailer capabilities. However, delivering simple solutions is not always easy in today’s complex and rapidly changing business world.

Today, retail organizations are faced with a plethora of decisions when it comes to bringing new software into their business. Will the solution fit their particular business needs? What’s the differentiator between the many products available on the market? Will the system implemented today be able to support the business infrastructure in three years’ time?

E-commerce projects in particular are wrought with complexities, as retailers search for a platform that will enable them to respond quickly to the ever changing online landscape. Even solutions implemented 18 months ago may already be obsolete, as they lack the agility to meet rapidly evolving consumer demands.

In order to meet new commerce challenges, many retailers have invested in a customized solution, developed for their specific requirements. Customization is great in theory, as long as it supports the greater good of the business. However, there is a fine line between supporting productivity today, and interfering with development in the long-term.

Throughout the implementation process, high levels of customization have the power to not only slow progress, but impede business growth. For instance, high levels of complexity involved in creating tailored e-commerce platforms can cause roll out projects to overrun, while unforeseen obstacles can lead to delivery costs soaring.

These challenges don’t stop once the system is live, either. Highly customized software is an ‘all or nothing’ solution; when it’s working well, there’s little to do in terms of intensive management. When it goes wrong, fixing the problem can be a complex and expensive job.

Not only that, but the levels of complexity built into customized technology can impact changes being made to other elements of the business back-end. Most retailers today are working toward integrating operations across all channels. With a customized solution, its fragility means making a small tweak to one aspect of the ecommerce ecosystem can upset the dynamic in another. This can result in hours of downtime to fix, again at a significant cost to the retailer.

So if over-customization is slowing progress, increasing costs and generally causing hassle, why are retailers still opting for highly tailored technologies? The answer lies not always in the solutions themselves, but in the organization’s choice of implementation partner.

Service providers should know the solutions they are deploying inside-out – not so they can radically change its structure, but so that they can leverage built-in capabilities. The comprehensive nature of off the shelf ecommerce solutions such as Oracle Commerce mean they have a vast number of capabilities and features, which retailers may not be fully aware of.

Rather than creating complex systems that are difficult to manage and maintain, skilled partners can install a tried-and-tested, integrated solution that is robust enough to deliver the features retailers demand, with minimal tailoring where needed to make it work their business; treading the line between customization and over-complexity.

In addition, harnessing the capabilities of an established solution makes it easier to maintain and upgrade platforms as new features become available – enabling e-commerce technology to grow and flex alongside retailers’ changing priorities. It should be that simple.

Gerald Heath is e-commerce practice principal at OLR.

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