The Business Triangle: People, Process and Technology
This century has seen more technology disruption for retailers than ever before. From online shopping to self-serve ordering kiosks, the process by which shoppers interact with their retail vendors is constantly changing. Last century, location was everything and employees providing excellent customer service was next. Now online presence and easy-to-use interfaces are all the rage. However, I argue that we still face the common problems of people, process and technology — it's just the roles have changed!
A model I call "The Business Triangle" provides the abstraction necessary to understand the fundamental shift that has occurred in retail.
To implement change successfully, businesses have to keep all three sides of the triangle equilateral. So if you change the people, the other two must change with it. If you change the technology, the other two must change with it, and so on. Now consider this: In retail, we've changed the technology, the process and the people. Allow me to explain.
Previously, when we changed technology we were putting in systems for our company and our suppliers. This time we've implemented technology for our customers. We used to train our staff (or at least we should have!), but now we have a user base that's unknown to us. Thus, keeping that side of the triangle is a new problem. We now have to ensure the training is minimal as a customer goes through the process in order to be successful. The technology must be easy to use, follow their process, and run on their devices. That's disruptive change if there has ever been any. This doesn't remove our obligation to train our staff, but the training is now different. We now must train our people to be technical support as well as product knowledge. This can be the difference in a sale and a lost customer. In fact, the people side of the triangle has now increased in importance with this shift.
Processes have also changed in this new world. While I'm sure most companies have changed their internal processes to meet the needs of being in the online world, I question if they've thought much about the customer processes they're supporting. This is somewhat eclectic, but we must try to find how many different ways our customers could use the online presence and ensure that it works and that our internal process doesn’t miss the mark. In this new reality there are many processes, not just the ones we define for our staff but an infinite number of processes our customers bring to us.
Just from the technology side we have more new problems than ever before. Our customers expect our system to run on any device they have with any type of connection, regardless of bandwidth. The old days now seem simple, as we could dictate the devices, the operating systems, the minimum requirements and so on. Now we expect our IT systems to be ubiquitous. This is even true if we outsource our online presence and run on someone else’s platform. For those of us in small enterprises, this is the best possible outcome for us to be online and in the game to compete. However, it also makes the decision of which platform we choose one of the most important ones we'll make.
The considerations aren't just cost, ease of use and speed. The issues we tend to discount or forget to think about are ones that have strong influences on how well we succeed.
- What's the process this online platform goes through when new devices or operating systems are developed and rolled out?
- Are all devices supported? Are all operating systems and browsers supported? How long after a new release will my site not work with these new devices?
- What security processes are involved in “certifying” that the new platform is secure and won’t tarnish our reputation in case of a breach?
- Does the site provide a how-to guide with each step in its process and simple instructions when the user fails in the process?
- Can I change my process inside the platform or must we follow the platform’s one process?
As you can see, many of the challenges of the Business Triangle are not with the technology; they're with the people and the process that must keep up with the speed of change in the technology. I encourage you to use this model and review your processes and people, strengths and weaknesses, both in your brick-and-mortar stores and your websites, regardless of how big or small you are.
Dave Hopson, author of "Surviving the Business Storm Cycle: How to Weather Your Business’s Ups and Downs," is the managing partner at Triumphus, a company which offers IT consulting services to companies from startup through exponential growth to IPO.