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If you run a successful retail business, you have a good reason to feel proud. Retail is a notoriously challenging industry to work in, and only the most capable business people have succeeded.
In part 2 of this report we will look at:
Adapting your business processes; Managing change at your organization; Data cleansing; After implementation; Closing
In part 1 we looked at: What is a retail management system and why do you need one?; Choosing the right retail system vendor; Keeping an eye on your purse.
If you missed it you can see it here: How To Implement a New Retail Management System – Part 1
Managing change at your organisation
As we have mentioned in the previous section, it is important to communicate effectively at every rung of your organisation in order to help the transition along. While the technical aspects of the new system will be handled by competent vendors, the onus of facilitating a smooth internal change falls on you. Evaluating readiness for change within a team can be notoriously difficult, but once you have made the commitment to push through with the necessary changes, don’t be afraid to engage the team with a clear end goal in mind.
Waiting until you receive unanimous support from your team or hesitantly feeling out their sentiments are not the right steps to take. Instead, aim to introduce the new system to the team and implement changes smartly. Here are some ways to do so:
- Have change managed by professionals– Never underestimate how well a change can be managed. Poor change management can thwart your efforts to migrate to the new system and escalate costs. As such, it is advisable to assemble a competent change management team which includes a project management professional.
- Define key steps in your change management plan– Change management should be conducted in an orderly fashion in accordance with a sound plan. In addition, all team members should be kept apprised of the timelines for each step in the change management plan.
- Engage senior executives to oversee change management implementation– Even if your change management team is handling most of the key areas in the plan, it is important that the entire process be overseen by key persons in the organisation who can ensure that their team members are cooperating well internally and with the vendor.
- Use the system to drive business change– If you’ve picked a great new system and a vendor who are right for your business, then you have created a solid base to enhance not only your systems but the business as a whole. Your task is to effectively communicate this to your team and help them to understand how they will benefit from the move and the impending changes.
- Remember that integrated retail platforms work best when deployed across the entire business– The more facets of the business over which you deploy the new system, the greater the benefits and the more smoothly your business processes and departments can be connected and synchronised. Bear this in mind if you encounter resistance from certain departments in your organisation. It is not uncommon for the departments to try to hold on to their old departmental tools and demand that they be integrated with the new system instead of being replaced by it.
Cleansing of the existing data is one of the first challenges you’ll encounter on the road to successful implementation. As a functioning business, you are likely to have an extensive collection of records which constitute an asset and need to be retained within the new system. But, not all of the old data is valuable. Data cleansing covers the process of identifying obsolete records and correcting discrepancies, inaccuracies or corrupt information in your existing records.
The importance of conducting a thorough data cleansing exercise prior to, or as part of migration to a new system cannot be overstressed. Usually it is very difficult to estimate the amount of time and resources needed for data cleansing, as unexpected issues have a habit of cropping up during the process of progressive discovery.
A shoddily-completed data cleansing exercise can hamper the effectiveness of the implementation and staff training. It can also negatively impact system operations after it goes live. As such, it is crucial that data cleansing be taken seriously and solid plans put in place before it begins.
Here are the data cleansing activities you’ll typically be required to engage in:
- Discovery to identify all the existing data types, their formats and the level of consistency
- Data interpretation and mapping between the old and new system
- Selection and development of conversion tools
- Trial runs, data and process refinements
- Live conversion.
Note that you should expect the new system to be equipped with a range of tools to allow for easy import, validation and upload of the data from your legacy systems. In particular, you’ll need to take note of the following points:
- Never skip on planning and defining the data uptake, as hours saved at the start can result in days lost later on. Retail businesses typically deal with considerable volumes of legacy data, and this has to be worked through systematically.
- Some of the biggest challenges you’ll have is the need to deal with dispersed legacy systems and data and creating the requirements for an iterative data migration. Some of the data in the existing systems will be repeated and it will be inconsistent. All such inconsistencies will have to be investigated and rectified.
- It is possible to begin data cleansing anytime. For instance, any inconsistencies such as the absence of standard addresses can be corrected starting from today, well before the implementation of the new system starts.
When your new system provider has given the green light that the system has been implemented, there are still a few things that must be done to ensure that the system runs as smoothly as possible.
A good system should have come complete with built-in tools for auditing and consistency proofing, meaning you should not have to conduct your own general system tests after implementation. You should be able to just conduct User Acceptance Tests to satisfy yourself that the parts of the system you will use behave the way you expected.
User Acceptance Testing (UAT) process requires your super users to verify their parts of the new system. Following the UAT, volume testing needs to take place as well.
Once all the necessary verification has been carried out, it is time for your system to go live. While you may be tempted to immediately deploy the system in its entirety, it is worth noting that gradual deployment is preferable to making the entire system go live at once, even after multiple rehearsals, as problems invariably emerge during the cut-over. It is wise to keep the number of the emergent issues at a minimum, by deploying the system in stages.
Remembering that a successful retail system relies on four pillars, make sure that once it runs live, all of them are managed. Whilst your software vendor needs to look after the software part, you must make sure that your organisation handles the other three on an on-going basis. Processes must be followed, people must be competent (trained or re-trained if required) and data needs to be meticulously maintained. The latter covers both: all your reference data and transactional information.
Successfully implementing a modern and proven retail system can revolutionise the way your business is operated and unleash the full potential of your retail business model and strategy. As you can see, all this doesn’t come without extensive preparation and diligent planning. If you’re up for the challenge, however, facilitating a successful implementation can be a huge achievement and a career highlight.
We hope that this guide has been useful in making you aware of the challenges you and your team are likely to face prior to, during and after the implementation of a new system. We would like to emphasise that all the activities you will engage in, while demanding, are by no means impossible, and a lot of the difficulty of successfully pushing through a new system can be alleviated by proper planning and attention to detail.
Any retail business, no matter how brilliant, can benefit from a sound, efficient management system. It takes courage to dive in and reap the benefits, but it needs to be done. If you are a great merchant, you still need good tools. Like with a great musician—if you have to play on a bad instrument, your performance will be ruined. Get yourself a good one!
Finally, we need to state the obvious: while all the advice in this article is likely to work well for you, we don’t know your particular situation or challenges. So, before you act based on our suggestions undertake your own research and enquiries. It never hurts to seek a broad range of insights. Also, at any time, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We are very experienced in retail system implementation and may be able to help you.
About the Author
Andrew Gorecki, MD of Retail Directions, is a passionate commentator on a wide range of business and management issues. He has been working with the retail industry since 1985. Living and breathing the business of retail, he also provides strategic business advice to large corporations. In June 2010 he was nominated for the Australian Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
[…] In part 2: Managing change at your organization; Data cleansing; After implementation; Closing […]