Go Beyond Data Silos to Create a Truly Connected Retail Enterprise
How can you boost sales if your customers don’t get a consistent view of all your inventory and offers? How can you stay at the top of your game if cart abandonment issues constantly go unaddressed? How can you increase overall profits if price wars drive margins too low?
From understanding why your customers don’t complete a purchase and regulating dynamic pricing models to creating a channel-agnostic brand experience, data is at the core of everything. Retail in modern times is ruled by data and the experiences it can create for customers. This surge in demand for data-driven decision making has accelerated the emergence of data analytics solutions. There’s no dearth of products and platforms in the market that claim to convert your enterprise and customer data into actionable insights in real time. However, here’s the catch — no matter which analytics platform you use, the insights derived are only as good as the quality of your data.
While IT solutions and services firms have moved on to solving big data challenges, the majority of retail enterprises still struggle with the basic dilemma of data silos. Here’s how:
- Digital adoption by customers has complicated the path to purchase, significantly. Customer data — their preferences, purchase patterns, and histories — resides in multiple systems across various channels. It's impossible to create a 360-degree customer view unless this data is unified.
- Spreadsheets are still a go-to means of capturing information for many retailers. Product data captured in a spreadsheet can easily get lost, and may not readily available if a sales executive wants to know something in real time.
- Dependence on legacy systems is another major bottleneck. Applications created for one specific purpose, without any future scalability or flexibility in mind, can make it harder to find, access and leverage information.
Moving away from a world of data insanity toward seamless digital experiences is a long and arduous journey. Once silos take root, they grow and cripple an organization from within. And yet, they grow unabated across thousands of retail enterprises.
Which begs the question: If data silos are that hazardous, why do we let them take root in the first place?
Why Silos Originate
The way an organization is wired culturally or structurally is one of the main reasons silos originate. For a retailer operating on a global scale, geo-specific marketing teams rarely feel any need to interact with each other. In such a scenario, it’s possible for the teams to come up with regional offers in their own markets that don’t necessarily align with one another.
Intentionally or unintentionally, a department may keep information isolated from the rest of the organization. Legacy data management systems may lead to critical information being inaccessible when required. Unorganized versioning can create multiple instances of the same data, making it impossible to identify the latest or correct version. Over time, what starts as a by-product of culture or structure translates into a deep-seated siloed mind-set and tunneled vision.
Moving away from data and application silos and making collaboration a reality requires a unified top-down approach. It means understanding where the silos are originating and driving change to address the root cause of the issue. Here are steps to accomplish that goal:
1. Challenge the company culture.
Breaking silos starts with changing the perspective of leadership. By aligning leaders and teams with a consistent vision of growth, a seamless governance system can be established. This will help break political barriers and ensure data security without limiting collaboration. The idea is to enable a culture where information sharing happens easily with one common goal — driving overall business value creation.
2. Create a single source of truth.
Consolidating all data and creating a one-and-only data repository that can be accessed by various departments across the organization should be the next step. Managing your organization’s data in a central location makes a 360-degree view of your assets possible. It helps improve data reliability, reduce redundancies, and enhance visibility and accessibility.
3. Analyze and optimize the enterprise IT architecture.
The primary sources of data for any organization are all the applications that employees and customers use. How these applications interact with the enterprise and among each other determines the management of data that's captured. To ensure that relevant data is captured, it’s important to analyze the applications, do away with legacy systems, and build a strong foundation for a data-driven future.
4. Make collaboration a continuous process.
Collaboration isn't a one-time activity, but a continuous process. To keep silos at bay, it's imperative to continue identifying opportunities for knowledge sharing. Data initially captured for a specific purpose can also help unlock hidden possibilities if properly shared. Simplifying data search, translation and retrieval can make real-time collaboration a reality.
5. Keep the barriers at bay.
Once you have a central data management system in place, it's easy to maintain a single source of truth. However, it's also equally easy for the siloed mind-set to creep back in. Establishing clear decision making during and after the change process is essential to ensure that a common ethos is adopted across the organization. Priorities must be defined and all departments must be aligned. Cross-functional and inter-disciplinary teams should become a common sight.
Access to the right information at the right time is what drives differentiation in today’s knowledge-powered retail landscape. And making sure that you have the information you need at your fingertips means that there's no room for siloed structures or processes. Connecting all data streams to deliver a seamless and intuitive digital retail experience can pave the way for increased sales. And that’s just one of the ways in which eliminating barriers can change the game for you.
In summary, streamlining and integrating the data you already own is the first step toward enabling this insight-driven future. Once the data sanity is established, you can then build on top of it to grow your analytical capabilities.
Dietmar Rietsch is CEO of Pimcore, an open-source digital experience platform for enterprises.