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Implementation in 21 Weeks or Less
January 22, 2009 09:00 AM

Why store managers and associates are the equivalent of the Offensive Line in American football.
Narayana Raghupathy
Senior VP, Operations and Professional Services
Reflexis Systems

“I don’t believe it, that’s incredible. But even if you have done it for other retailers, you can’t do it for us, because we are different.” This is the typical response of retail CIOs when we tell them Reflexis can implement its Task Manager solution in 21 weeks or less, even across multiple store formats. Despite our track record of 100 percent successful implementations of Reflexis Task Manager™ within 21 weeks, we continue to be flummoxed by the incredulous and sometimes hostile reaction of retail CIOs when we tell them we can do the same for their company.

Such reactions are understandable given the spotty track record of the software industry: many companies have suffered through IT implementations that went over budget, over deadline, and didn’t deliver the expected results. But after these skeptics talk to current Reflexis customers who confirm our track record of rapid, successful implementations, the next question they usually ask is, “How are you able to do it, every time?” Before we tell you how, let’s take a look at how the lives of CIOs have changed since the 1990s, when they were expected to be experts in all things technology related.

Although most CIOs still have a strong technology background, their top priority nowadays is not to be “chief propeller head” but to help improve business performance. As such, CIOs and head coaches of American football teams have much in common. Although CIOs and head coaches usually have deep expertise in one or more specific areas, their overall responsibility is to determine strategy and manage its execution. Both must lead their teams to success in increasingly shorter timeframes. Deciding who to hire and what systems to deploy are the most important tasks they face.

Consider a brand new head coach who has been hired by an NFL team coming off a losing season. The new coach is expected to have an immediate positive impact on his team and is rarely given much time to reach the playoffs. Furthermore, the new head coach is limited by the number of players he can add to his team: a few rookies and free agents each season, while staying within the league’s salary cap. CIOs face similar challenges. Resource and budget constraints limit the number of new systems a CIO can implement each year. Both the head coach and the CIO must choose carefully.

Head coaches spend significant time with their staff devising weekly game plans and brilliant playbooks for their team. Similarly, retail CIOs spend significant time and money implementing sophisticated, top-down systems to plan their strategy for merchandising, promotions, and more. A recent report by the IHL Consulting Group estimates retailers spent $120 billion on IT in 2007. We estimate $12 billion of that was spent on retail planning systems. CIOs tend to focus more on these glamorous planning systems, which enjoy similar status in retail as do quarterbacks on a football team. But planning will not help much if you drop the ball on execution.

Football coaches are keenly aware of the importance of consistent execution by the entire team. They know that even the most highly-rated quarterback will under-perform if he is not surrounded by talented players who consistently execute the game plan, including at less glamorous positions such as in the offensive line. You can’t make a good pass if you have just been sacked by a blitzing linebacker; you can’t expect your team to sustain a drive if your players are continually penalized for false starts, illegal motion, and other infractions. But with solid protection and error-free play provided by the offensive line, even moderately talented quarterbacks can succeed and manage their team to victory. Retail CIOs need take a page out of the football playbook and pay closer attention to their own offensive line.

Focus on Retail’s Offensive Line: Store Managers and Employees

The equivalent of the offensive line in retail is the unit most responsible for “protecting” the customer experience and thus the retailer’s brand– the team of managers and associates in the store. This is because 85 percent of consumer buying decisions are made at the point of interaction. When store employees provide good customer service – answering questions, finding products, providing a speedy checkout, and so on – the result is a positive consumer experience that makes everyone from merchandising to store operations look good.

But when stores cannot execute, the result is lower customer service levels, brand erosion, and reduced sales. Analysts say the cost impact of poor store-level execution is between 2-5 percent of annual sales, or at least $20 million lost per year for a $1 billion retailer. To solve these problems, CIOs need to implement a system that will enable their “offensive line” to win the war in the trenches (i.e., the stores) by flawlessly executing the retailer’s corporate strategy. They need a Retail Execution Platform that includes task management to ensure consistent store-level execution.

So How Do We Do It in 21 Weeks?

Reflexis has an unmatched track record of 100 percent on time and on budget implementations. We have never taken more than 21 weeks to implement our flagship Task Manager solution, even across multiple formats. Here’s how we do it.

1) We Draft Smart Players Who Fit Into the System. At Reflexis, we believe the ability to listen to our customers is a major component of being smart. We take great care to hire smart people, but more important is the ability to listen to our customers’ needs and respond rapidly. Taking ownership of and solving our customers’ problems is ingrained into our company DNA. This culture underpins everything Reflexis does, whether we are selling the product, discussing contractual terms, implementing, or providing customer support. It is why Reflexis received the following ratings from 236 executives in the RIS News 2007 Software LeaderBoard compared to 86 other software companies that received votes:

# 1, overall Customer Satisfaction
# 1, Recommendation (how strongly executives recommend us to their peers)
# 1, Quality of Service
# 1, Targeted Solutions (depth of features and functionality)

Reflexis was also rated in the top five of all 10 individual Customer Satisfaction breakout criteria.

Yes, having a rock solid, reliable product and proven implementation methodology are important for successful implementations. But even with those two in place, it is ultimately the culture of the software vendor and the depth of experience of its people that determines successful implementations. The culture of customer service that is ingrained throughout Reflexis sets us apart from other software companies, and not just in retail.

2) Everybody on the Same Page. Reflexis engineers do not write software in silos. Our software development is driven by business people, with new functionality added in such a way as to benefit the entire customer base, not just one customer. When a company asks for new features, the short and easy way to satisfy the request is to customize the program for the individual customer and charge extra money for services. In fact, many software companies generate the majority of their income through professional services fees, including charging their customers to write and maintain custom code – an unsustainable approach for a product-focused software company. However, writing new code for just one customer has many drawbacks:

  • Programming resources are diverted from other customers.
  • Initial development and long-term support costs are higher.
  • Custom code may have to be re-written if the customer wants to upgrade.
  • Other customers do not benefit.
A better way is to take a step back and evaluate a request from a broader business perspective. At Reflexis, whenever we receive a request for new functionality, we ask, “How can we add the feature so that the entire base of customers can benefit?” Instead of customizing our solution for just one customer, if we determine a requested new feature provides added business value for our other customers, Reflexis will incorporate it into the next upgrade. This approach enables us to build our base product so that it meets almost 100 percent of our customers’ needs.

3) Game Plans Change. What About Your Software? The golden rule in enterprise software is to give customers the capability to enable or disable as much functionality and design new workflows using drop-down software switches. Such configurability dramatically reduces implementation times and allows for easier modification by business users – instead of the IT department – to meet changing needs. Configurability gives the customer the ability to quickly modify their software to match their business processes and gain a competitive edge. Developing highly configurable software presents a challenge for a product-focused company, since it means much higher engineering costs. But Reflexis does this as its default approach.

The varied and multi-national nature of the Reflexis customer base is a testament to our solutions’ high configurability. Reflexis solutions solve problems that all retailers face while meeting the unique needs of a wide range of retail categories. Reflexis solutions have been implemented in Latin America, North America, Europe, and Russia. Our customers include retailers in the Do It Yourself, Department Store, Grocery, Consumer Electronics, Automotive Aftermarket, Books, Office Supplies, and Pharmacy categories, as well as other industries such as Financial and Healthcare Clinic categories. We have been able to configure our software to meet each customer’s needs while maintaining a common code base for all to benefit when they upgrade. By providing configurable software and listening to our customers, we are able to maximize the use of our programming resources to deliver rapid ROI.

4) Eye on the Ball. At Reflexis we take great care to ensure all of our researchers and software developers understand that our business is to help retailers execute better and sell more. Our product developers work closely with our customers, retail thought leaders, and academia to ensure our products do just that. We ensure our product roadmap is aligned with customer needs by keeping Reflexis development teams close to the customer.

Our customers’ business stakeholders have regular, open sessions with Reflexis development teams to give them real-world feedback. By aligning the product roadmap with customer needs, Reflexis is able to keep our R&D and development teams focused on how best to utilize new technology to better solve our customers’ problems.

21 Weeks or Less? You Can Bet on It

Reflexis is betting its future on the premise that retailers will give their business to software companies that solve their business problems in a short amount of time. By listening carefully to our customers, providing superior customer service, and implementing scaleable and reliable solutions, Reflexis has built a client base of 100 percent referable customers who can affirm our ability to drive rapid ROI. Retail CIOs who want to quickly improve their organization’s performance should implement the Retail Execution Platform from Reflexis.

Just as the most innovative offensive strategy will fail if the offensive line cannot protect the pocket in football, even the most brilliant merchandising strategy and top-notch manager will fail if stores cannot execute and “protect” the customer experience and the retail brand.

Football teams can quickly improve their performance by doing a better job of protecting their quarterback. Likewise, retailers can protect the customer experience and increase sales by implementing solutions from Reflexis, and they can do so in 21 weeks or less – about the same amount of time that passes between the annual NFL Draft in April and the start of the regular season in September.

IBM PartnerWorld
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